You’re sound asleep in bed and oblivious to your partner’s breathing pattern. There’s not a sound inside or outside, but in a split second, all that changes. Suddenly, you’re being pointed with a strange laser, getting strange demands, and amidst the panic, you can’t help but notice these are very strange captors. You don’t even notice if there’s more than one. You get some notes as you start to fall asleep. When you wake up, you can’t call the police because your partner, who has been kidnapped, is at risk. What do you do?
This inconsistent blurb of information is the only thing Aaron Quinn can share with the police, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the extraordinary case depicted in Netflix’s latest true crime show, American Nightmare. The series takes the viewers on a cleverly edited journey in which the audience peels away the layers of a horrific case that involved kidnapping, sexual abuse, and unbelievable police incompetence.
- Release Date
- January 17, 2024
- Bernadette Higgins, Felicity Morris
What Is American Nightmare About?
The three-episode show tells the story of Denise Huskins’ kidnapping in March 2015 in the small city of Vallejo, California. At first, Aaron, Denise’s boyfriend, shares his convoluted story with the police, who immediately accuse him of murder. Denise’s body is nowhere to be found, but still, “it’s always the boyfriend.” But then, clues appear. Clues that make Aaron’s defense more viable. However, all that changes when Denise walks up to her father’s house.
The true story of the “real Gone Girl” case of Denise Huskins and the terrible ordeal she went through is the basis for one of Netflix’s most important shows in recent years. It’s anything but formulaic, well-paced, and features a great conclusion that will leave you gasping for breath.
It was only natural for us to take a dive into the Netflix shelves to find some more true crime series you can enjoy if you found American Nightmare to be a fascinating and gripping example of the true crime subgenre.
The following list includes documentaries dealing with issues of sexual abuse and violence
10 Keep Sweet: Pray & Obey (2022)
Keep Sweet: Pray & Obey is the Netflix docuseries that takes viewers inside the mechanisms of a religious cult known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS Church. The sect is known to practice polygamy, a fact that drifts into a gray area because of its legal implications. But more than anything, the show sheds light on the sexual abuse allegations against its founders. When it comes to compilations of courageous testimonies by cult survivors, it really doesn’t get better than this.
What Does Evil Look Like?
The show goes deep inside the foundations of a religious movement whose most conservative views seem to be a thing of the past, but they’re actually not. It’s unbelievable how an organization like this one can exist in modern times. Where it digs deep is in the downfall the church suffers when its leader, Warren Jeffs, becomes much more than just a wicked man with many views. He’s actually a convicted felon who’s spending the rest of his life in prison, and it’s all because of the words spoken by the brave survivors showing up in the documentary. Keep Sweet: Pray & Obey doesn’t filter out anything, so be aware that it may be triggering for some viewers.
9 Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019)
In Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, the story is told by internet fans who one day evidenced the birth of a monster. In 2010, a video showed up online, where a sociopath killed kittens. This launched a journey for online sleuths who would never stop until finding who was the man responsible for these heinous acts. They used just about everything in the video to try and get some clues. But then the culprit made the entire world stop, when he didn’t just torture animals to death.
A Fascinating Hunt for a Monster
Without question, Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is one of the most underrated shows on the list because not many people know what it is about, and others don’t give it a chance. The hunt for the Canadian pornographic actor known as Luka Rocco Magnotta should have been recognized as a worldwide effort led by social justice warriors, whose only talent was shown through social media. The series isn’t a regular documentary because there are no narrations, or talking heads. It mostly features reenactments of their work trying to find who was the dude in the videos who later turned out to be a coldblooded killer responsible for the death of an international student called Jun Lin. This Netflix docuseries is as unsettling as it is exciting.
8 American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing (2023)
The great docuseries American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing puts us in the middle of Boston on April 15, 2013. At 2:49 p.m., two bombs exploded during the annual marathon, and the attack caused dozens of injuries and three fatalities. What followed was a six-day manhunt in which law enforcement tried their best to catch the terrorists. Sure, eventually they would be caught, but the documentary is a detailed document that proves how some horrible events could have been prevented.
A Great Cat-and-Mouse Show That Could be Hard to Watch for Some
The docuseries is a very thorough piece of investigation that perfectly depicts the events that went on after Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev planted a bomb and activated it. But it also reveals how law enforcement agencies failed to agree on strategies that would have made the hunt more effective. The brothers murdered more people in their rampage, until one of them was killed in a standoff and the other was captured soon after. All this is told by the people who lived through the horrible ordeal of a terrorist attack that’s very well documented in one of Netflix’s most underrated series.
7 Tiger King (2020 – 2021)
- Release Date
- March 20, 2020
- Main Genre
Tiger King (also known as Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness) tells the story of a very peculiar character. His name is Joe Exotic, and all his life he’s dedicated himself to putting up shows that are neither ethical nor controlled. He really is the Tiger King, and his business endeavors include animal shows in which risk is just a suggestion. However, Joe’s also a huge competitor to another peculiar character by the name of Carole Baskin. Their hatred for each other has made them accuse each other of everything, including murder. A great example of truth being stranger than fiction.
Decadence in Americana
The extremely successful show Tiger King ran for two seasons, plus what can only be characterized as a spin-off focusing on another participant in this wild scheme. As laughable as some of the facts are, season one takes us through a world of mayhem, in which two shady people compete against each other to see which one ends up being less ethical. Joe was put in prison, and that’s something for another documentary. However, Baskin’s role in the disappearance of her husband is just too obvious, and the documentary also sheds light on that. In conclusion, it’s a bizarre ride through the world of decadent entertainment on the outskirts of decent America, where characters like Joe can torture animals for his pleasure and shoot the most ridiculous music videos you’ll ever see. All while Baskin tries to hide her true nature.This is a show you will never, ever forget.
6 Carmel: Who Killed Maria Marta (2020)
In Carmel: Who Killed Maria Marta, we go back 20 years to a time of absolute opulence on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The place was the Carmel Country Club, a gated community in Buenos Aires where nothing bad could happen. That was until the body of María Marta García Belsunce was found dead. Everything pointed to the death being accidental, but then evidence was found that proved she was shot. This is the documentary that tries to reveal what happened in one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in Argentine history.
A Looming Mystery
Netflix heads over to South America for a high-profile true crime documentary in which testimonies are of golden value. Everyone gets to speak their mind, and as promising as this sounds, the mystery is still very much alive. The docuseries grabs the viewer from the very first moment when Argentina’s upper-class society is shaken by such a horrific event in which an innocent woman gets killed in what should be the safest place. Nevertheless, you will get enough information to put together your own theories as to who did it. Yeah, it’s a no-brainer because of how well done and objective the series is.
5 The Staircase (2003 – 2018)
On December 19, 2001, Kathleen Peterson was found dead by her husband. She was a bloody mass that had once been alive, contorted in a strange fashion that confirmed she wasn’t alive anymore. Michael called the police and then began his ordeal to try to prove to authorities, jurors, and just about the entire world that he hadn’t killed her. In 2004, French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade entered the Peterson home and started documenting what went on to become one of the greatest true crime documentaries ever made. The Staircase was such a strong feature that in 2018, Netflix picked it up and commissioned the director to expand the history in what is now a 13-episode TV series that will satisfy your true crime thirst.
The Great Endeavor that is The Staircase
It’s not exactly a matter of believing Peterson’s story. That’s something very personal. But The Staircase is an extraordinary exploration of Peterson’s life beyond the crime that defined it. It’s intimate and raw, and it reveals plenty about the family’s household. Of course, it flows at the same pace as Peterson’s trial, and time isn’t exactly a factor to be taken into account. But the whole arc of Peterson’s journey to claim his innocence is perfectly depicted in hours and hours of edited footage that won’t tilt your opinion one way or the other. This is one we have to thank Netflix for, because if it weren’t for them, the case wouldn’t have become as well-known.
4 Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal (2023)
A dynasty crumbles until it finally falls. Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal takes viewers to South Carolina, where the Murdaugh family is a well-known empire of wealth and tradition. Alex is the leader, and in February 2019, his son Paul made a wrong decision. He bought alcohol and decided to take his friends on a boat ride, where teenager Mallory Beach perished after the boat crashed. Paul was instantly accused of the crime. But the scandal goes beyond a simple accident.
If You Still Have Doubts, then a Rewatch is Necessary
On June 7, 2021, the bodies of Paul and his mother, Maggie, were found on Murdaugh’s ranch. They had been shot to death, and everything pointed to Alex being the man holding the weapon. The fascinating documentary series illuminates viewers as they try to solve a mystery. But not about who did it. It’s pretty certain that Alex was the man behind the murder. But the mystery is why. Was it a matter of shame he wanted to avoid in keeping the family safe from an indictment? Or was it something else? Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal expanded in a second season that shed more light on Alex’s trial, but it wasn’t as well done as the first one. This is one twisted family mystery you will be fascinated with.
3 Making a Murderer (2015 – 2018)
Making a Murderer tells the story of Steven Avery and the conviction that he will never recover from. Having spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Avery would later be accused of murder. This time he would not escape so easily, as his nephew Brendan Dassey was coerced to give a confession. The documentary tells the story of Avery and his several attempts to prove his innocence when fighting against a justice system that does not accept his allegations. As effective and successful as the show was in its two seasons, it has been criticized, to the point of lawsuits, because it’s supposedly a subjective take on a criminal case.
Injustice has Been Served
But the fact is, you should make up your mind. Of course, to decide against or in favor of Avery implies the necessity of further research, but the documentary is clear enough to show there’s a lot of police ineptitude involved, something that’s also visible in American Nightmare. It won several awards upon its release, and reaction was unusually divided. It’s one of those cases that everyone seems to have an opinion about, but season one of the show is a great starting point to meet the man behind the murder accusation.
2 Wild Wild Country (2018)
The Netflix docuseries Wild Wild Country requires us to go back to 1968, a time when religious freedom was the rule and several gurus came out of India, claiming to hold the absolute truth. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, forms a commune that immediately acquires thousands of followers, including many Americans who identified with Osho’s teachings and lifestyle. The result was their installation in rural Oregon as the Rajneeshpuram community.
What followed was a bizarre case of a religious leader making lots of money and the government’s investigation of a series of strange events having to do with Osho’s ways and his relationship with his assistant, Ma Anand Sheela. The woman gets her story together and decides to speak for the first time in Wild Wild Country. This is one series you will never forget because of its truthful depiction of a relevant past.
The Dangers of Religious Sectarism
The documentary series mixes reenactments and archival footage to paint a picture of what it was like to live in a commune like Rajneeshpuram. Ideal? Perhaps, but Osho was enough of a strange figure to draw the attention of the more skeptical members of the community who saw the dangers of his reach and scope. It’s a great piece that works as a history lesson about the dark side of sectarianism that, weirdly, is very much alive today. You won’t believe your eyes as you see people defending what was absolutely threatening. One of the most disturbing true crime documentaries ever made.
1 Till Murder Do Us Part: Soering vs. Haysom (2023)
Till Murder Do Us Part: Soering vs. Haysom is a very particular case of a documentary series that, even if it seems partial to one party, is still an objective glance into a criminal case that should spark some questions. In March 1985, the parents of Elizabeth Haysom were brutally murdered in their home in Virginia. One year later, their daughter and her boyfriend, Jens Soering, were arrested because authorities believed they were connected to the murders. When Soering was interrogated, he confessed to the murders but would later take it all back during the trial. It seems he did it all for love.
Love Gets Extreme and Weird
Haysom testified that she was an accessory to the crime and that Soering was guilty of the murders. They were both convicted of the crime but were released in recent years and deported. The documentary Till Murder Do Us Part: Soering vs. Haysom is based exclusively on Soering’s decision to speak. However, the law forbids him from making an accusation against Haysom, so most of the documentary is based on his reasons. Sure, his argument of “I had to confess to protect my girl because I loved her and thought I would get away with it” is kind of dumb, but the whole case is bizarre enough to make you think twice about their relationship. This relationship is better understood when observing the thousands of letters they sent to each other back in the day, which also make for great reference in the show. You won’t believe your eyes.
To stay in tune with the true crime documentaries produced by Netflix, here’s a video about the best ones you can watch on the streaming service today:
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