Alice Oscura, Paranormal Investigations Head Writer
If you’re in the market for some creepy-as-heck paranormal documentaries, then you need to check out the Shock Docs series available on Discovery+. Each special has a run time of just under two hours. They are a terrifying yet riveting journey into some of the spookiest true-life hauntings in American history. Shock Docs have a particular formula in the execution of their hair-raising re-enactments that are more than helpful visual aids to back the intimate interviews from eyewitness accounts and varying experts within the relevant fields.
When it comes to the paranormal investigation, they are conducted by Steve Shippy, a paranormal investigator with almost 30 years of experience within the paranormal field. Shippy is almost always accompanied by world-renowned psychic Cindy Kaza. Kaza’s main methods employed are automatic writing, which is a claimed psychic ability allowing a person to produce written words without consciously writing, and psychometry (a form of extrasensory perception) by making physical contact with an object. There are a few episodes that just manage to stand out among the crowd for their long-lasting aftereffects. So, here are the top seven episodes in my opinion that are guaranteed to provide you with the most chills up your spine! And we are doing seven because we are celebrating seven years of Robot Mango Reviews with Seven Top 7 lists. Now on the list!
7. Ghosts of Flight 401
Eastern Airlines Flight 401 was a scheduled flight from New York JFK to Miami. Shortly before midnight on the 29th of December 1972, the plane crashed into the Florida Everglades causing 101 fatalities. It was discovered that the aircraft lost altitude suddenly because the flight crew was preoccupied with a burnt-out indicator light for the landing gear and failed to realise that the autopilot had disconnected.
Shippy and Kaza try to uncover the truth behind the tragic crash that night and investigate claims in hauntings reported both at the crash site in the Everglades and among other planes in Eastern Air Lines where parts from the wreckage were re-purposed. The episode is emotionally charged with survivor testimonials from both the flight crew and passengers.
During the investigation in the Florida Everglades, the duo was able to contact the spirit of a grieving mother who was unable to hold her baby after she passed on. The baby was orphaned in the crash and rescued by one of the surviving flight attendants. Also making contact was the flight engineer Donald Louis “Don” Repo who was consumed by guilt over the crash. Repo’s spirit has been sighted on numerous occasions on different aircraft where the parts from the crash were re-purposed by flight attendants and passengers. The pain and confusion felt by the crash victims are palpable in the recordings and EVPs that were captured. Eastern Air Lines has refused to confirm or corroborate the ghost sightings experienced. The airline company has been dissolved since 1991.
6. The Amityville Horror House
Dubbed the evilest house in America by renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren is the Amityville Horror House located in Long Island, New York. The infamous story behind the DeFeo murders is that Ronald DeFeo Jr. claimed to be possessed by a demon. One year after the murders, the Lutz family bought the house at the suspiciously low price of US$80,000. The family spent a total of 28 days in the murder house before they fled in terror in the middle of the night never to return.
The Dutch-style colonial house was built in 1928 and since the Lutzs it has been renovated several times including the removal of the “evil-looking windows” that have become so synonymous with the appearance of the Amityville horror house. The documentary goes further in-depth into the investigations led by the Warrens, as well as the father of the paranormal himself Hans Holzer who brought along his very own psychic medium Ethel Johnson. The Warrens were adamant that evil entities resided at the Amityville House and continued to do so for many years. Holzer and Johnson claimed that the demonic disturbances were caused by the fact that the house was built on an ancient burial ground, a claim that still hasn’t been substantiated to date and many other investigators have poked holes into the theory as well.
The controversy that followed the Lutzs after detailing their experiences to DeFeo’s defense attorney William Weber, and the publication of a best-selling novel didn’t help to fortify their claims. As such they have been on the receiving end of many criticisms and even been accused of fabricating the entire experience to gain fame or notoriety. All this and more are explored in this Shock Docs series addition.
5. The Devil Made Me Do It
The Devil Made Me Do It documentary is based on the 40-year-old murder of landlord Alan Bruno. Bruno was brutally murdered by his tenant Arnie Johnson. Johnson claimed to have been possessed by a demonic entity at the time of the murder, a demon that he antagonised during the exorcism of David Glatzel, the younger brother of his then fiancé Debbie. The demon in question has been dubbed “The Beast”. A fictionalised version of the murder case is the subject of the third installment of The Conjuring films also titled The Devil Made Me Do It.
In the summer of 1980, the Glatzel family moved into what they thought would be their dream house. But things quickly turned into a living nightmare after the youngest member of the family, little David, became the target of a demonic presence residing within the home. At the time Arnie Johnson was dating David’s sister Debbie and became a firsthand witness to the demonic possession of young David. The Warrens were called in to investigate the possession of David and oversee his exorcism. After a series of harrowing events, David was finally exorcised. However, the Beast quickly shifted its attention to Arnie Johnson after he antagonised it during David Glatzel’s exorcism.
The documentary goes on to reveal just how supportive the Warrens were of Arne Johnson’s case and “The Devil Made Me Do It” defense in the court of law. However, the judge would never accept that line of defense so Johnson’s lawyer, Martin Minnella, had to switch gears to the plea of self-defense. Minella stated in his interview that he was a skeptic at first but when the Warrens presented him with the audio recording evidence of David’s exorcism, he became a believer after he heard the demonic voice being spoken out of the mouth of a child.
Debbie Glatzel is still noticeably shaken during her interviews after witnessing her fiancé turn into a completely different person during the disturbing incident years ago. She repeatedly struggled to maintain her composure while speaking. That in itself is more than enough evidence to corroborate the fact that something extremely terrifying occurred on the day that Johnson/The Beast murdered landlord Alan Bruno.
4. The Exorcism of Roland Doe
The true story behind one of the most terrifying horror movies of all time, The Exorcist (1973), remained obscure for many years. In this Shock Docs special the true story behind the exorcism is finally revealed in detail. In 1949, a family living in Cottage City, Maryland had their lives turned upside down when their 13-year-old son became possessed. The details of the possession were only revealed upon the discovery of the diary kept by Father Raymond Bishop of one of the attending priests to Roland Doe’s exorcism and Father Walter Halloran’s eyewitness testimony shortly before his death. As an only child, Roland did not have a lot of mutual company other than adult family members. He was especially attached to his aunt who was a spiritualist and taught Roland how to use the spirit board. It is believed that the reason for Roland’s possession was instigated through one of these spirit board sessions and was only activated when his aunt suddenly died.
With the use of disturbing re-enactments, it is clear to see why the horrifying case of possession would become the inspiration for the infamous horror film. The documentary reveals a few disturbing secrets that were kept hidden for many years, including that a priest had made the ultimate sacrifice and absorbed the demon that once possessed Roland Doe. That priest was kept locked away at an undisclosed location until he eventually died. This story was used in William Peter Blatty’s, The Exorcist III (1990) as a huge plot reveal to bring back one of the original characters in the Exorcist franchise.
While Roland Doe went on to live a completely normal life after his brutal possession and subsequent exorcism specific details behind his exorcism are still kept under lock and key in the Vatican. The Roman Catholic church still refuses to confirm that the case of Roland Doe was a bona fide demonic possession.
3. The Visitors
If you are familiar with movies like Wolfen (1978) and The Hunger (1981), then you’ll know that they are movie adaptations of horror novels of the same name. They were both written by the American writer/novelist Whitley Strieber. Another popularly known fact is that Strieber is also famous for his 1987 best-seller named Communion: A True Story. Why is this so significant, you may ask? Because the subject matter of Communion contains Strieber’s alleged encounter with aliens. This encounter is explored in more detail in this Shock Docs special titled The Visitors.
The existence of extraterrestrial life has been a curiosity of many, but some have experienced strange phenomena of gaps of time being lost and flashbacks of seeing beings with almond-shaped black eyes and greyish-hued skin. The novelist experienced a terrifying abduction at his upstate New York Cabin in 1985. The documentary features one-on-one interviews with UFO investigators, other people who have experienced similar contact, and Strieber himself. The Visitors adds to the intense atmosphere with some creepy abduction re-enactments adapted from excerpts from his book Communion.
Most of the screen time is allotted to Whitley Strieber and researchers Jeff Belanger (he shows up frequently in the Shock Docs specials) and Melissa Tittl. They discuss and analyze Strieber’s experience and eventually do a bit of investigating at the site where Strieber marked the actual location of his abduction.
While the theory of alien abduction is still viewed with some cynicism, over time I believe that society has become more open to the idea that we are not the only living beings that exist in this entire universe. UFO sightings are becoming more frequent and whether or not you think that the whole idea is just some outlandish scheme to garner attention, some people genuinely believe that what they experienced was not of this world.
The Visitors keep you grounded by simply being able to touch the viewer by the fact that another human being was left truly traumatised by their experiences. Whatever they’ve been through left a permanent mark upon them that has managed to affect the way that they view life as a whole. There are even questions that arose during the documentary about the connection between the extraterrestrial and parapsychology. It’s an intriguing watch, to say the least, and the varying theories manage to suck you in even if you don’t believe in Strieber’s story.
2. The Devil’s Academy
At the height of the Satanic Panic era in the United States, cases of demonic possessions were at an all-time high, especially in the city of Miami, Florida where many immigrants from the Caribbean managed to settle down. They brought with them the ancient practices of Santeria, Voodoo, and Obeah. One such immigrant was an exiled Cuban named Evaristo Marina aka El General. Marina was the Director of Public Order under Cuba’s ex-President Fulgencio Batista. When Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959, he fled to the United States when Castro put a price on his head. Because he had gotten a taste for political power, he craved it for the rest of his life. He found ways to bring himself back into the political limelight.
He eventually opened a military-styled school that would use a unique blend of Cuban and military discipline. The school was named the Miami Aerospace Academy. Marina gave himself the fictitious rank of general and his teachers, who were no more qualified than he was, were given the ranks of majors and colonels.
The school was known for dishing out different forms of physical or corporal punishment. And even though it has been vehemently denied by both Marina and former staff, they encouraged the practice of Santeria among students at the school. The students on the other hand used the rituals of Santeria as a form of escape from harsh disciplinarians and rigid school activities. They were known to also play with the Ouija boards and play a game known as “Bloody Mary”. The culmination of these rituals came to a head on the 25th of October 1979, when all hell broke lose at the Academy. A strange mass-possession-like event took place that day at the school after a science teacher forced a female student to undergo hypnosis to help her overcome a traumatic event that took place at a Halloween party the night before.
In The Devil’s Academy, this Shock Doc explores the possibility that the event was either a triggered mass-demonic possession or it was the mental breakdown and frustration of students who were simply tired of being abused mentally and physically at the Miami Aerospace Academy. Chocked full of interviews with past students, archival clips, and pictures, along with vivid re-enactments this one is not to be missed. The history of the Academy and Evaristo “El General” Marina is fascinating, yet disturbing.
1. Scream: The True Story
I bet lots of you didn’t know that the killer in the 90s slasher horror Scream (1996) was inspired by a real-life serial killer. Danny Rolling aka the Gainesville Ripper brutally murdered five Florida University students in four days in August 1990. He also committed a triple homicide in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, and tried to murder his father.
Scream: The True Story follows paranormal investigator Steve Shippy and psychic Cindy Kaza as they try to get to the bottom of Danny Rolling’s claim to have been possessed by a demonic entity that called itself “Gemini” at the time of the murders. During their investigation, Steve Shippy uncovers the family’s sordid past. Rolling’s father James Rolling was a Shreveport police officer who was extremely abusive to both his wife and sons. The family contains more twisted tales of James’ grandfather slitting his wife’s throat in front of him as a child, an uncle shooting himself in the head, another uncle dying in a mental institution, and James’ mother suffering from schizophrenia. With a legacy like that, no wonder Danny Rolling turned out that way.
The duo head to Rolling’s childhood home in Shreveport where he attempted to murder his father in May 1990 before fleeing to Florida. The home’s current owners suffer from violent poltergeist activity and are constantly attacked while sleeping in the main bedroom. The couple were unable to move out due to financial constraints but one thing that struck me and kind of disgusted me a bit was that they kept the original curtains in the house that Shippy discovered to have a small blood stain on them. First of all, yuck, and second of all no wonder the place is so haunted. Shippy and Kaza contact something evil that even identifies itself as Gemini. They soon bring in a Catholic Demonologist who finally cleanses the home.
As for Danny Rolling, he was executed on the 25th of October 2006 by lethal injection for his crimes. Although the documentary portrays Danny Rolling as a brutal killer that was created by being a victim of multi-generational possession and the highly abusive environment that he was raised in, one must remember that he was still a murderer. The story and paranormal investigation are frightening and disturbing and make you wonder if an entire family can be victims of demonic possession or if they all suffered from an inherited mental disorder.
These Shock Docs specials are very interesting and creepy, to say the least. They are definitely for fans of both the True Crime and Paranormal genres. Minus any shouting and extra gimmicks that you might see out of other paranormal shows, Shock Docs prefers to go with their method as a means to inform without coming across to too campy and loud. Their specials are easy to get caught up with as they only release about five or so per season.
So, that’s my list. Any other Shock Docs that kept you up at night? And you can check out more great paranormal content below:
Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump. I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. Read More