We get it, you’ve watched both seasons of Netflix docu-series Making a Murdererand want to tell everybody what you think. Join the club.
The case of Steven Avery transfixed millions of people, and as much as it has made them angry about injustice, it’s also made them… want to watch more. Misunderstood families, dubious evidence, conspiracy - that show has it all, and reaching the end leaves you with a true-crime itch to scratch. As luck would have it, Netflix is a truly magnificent itch-scratcher…
As compelling and frustrating as Making A Murderer is The Staircase, the story of the murder of Kathleen Peterson and subsequent arrest and trial of her husband, war novelist Michael Peterson. The perpetually pipe-smoking Peterson is an infuriatingly mysterious figure with a closet full of skeletons and a biography of lies, but dishonesty does not a killer make… Or does it? Just like Making A Murderer, there’s a breakout star of a lawyer, in this case the Sam Rockwell-like David Rudolf, a man as likely to dazzle a courtroom with his legal brilliance as to get confused by PowerPoint and start swearing at it.
The story of Brian Wells, aka “the Pizza Bomber”, who robbed a bank with an explosive device around his neck, is one of those “you couldn’t make it up” kind of tales, a twisty-turny, ultimately tragic story of ploys on ploys, double-crosses on double-crosses, a small-town, low-rent, real-life Tarantino plot of betrayal and gullibility. It’s all explained here, but the series is only three hours or so, go for it.
Presented by Nelufar Hedayat, this eight-part series looks at the many things people can illegally acquire, transport or coerce if they have the cash. From illegal adoption to backstreet organ transplants, guns to rhino horns, it’s bleak proof that there aren’t a lot of things money can’t buy. You’ll come out of the other end with a really, really low opinion of humanity and a surprising amount of information about pangolins and the godawful things people do to them.
The only murder documentary in which Seinfeldco-creator Larry David plays a pivotal role, this 40-minute one-off tells the incredibly unlikely story of Juan Catalan, falsely accused of murder. The less you know about it, the better - in fact, don’t even watch the trailer above.
First and Last
Like Orange Is The New Black without the levity, First and Last follows prisoners from the day they enter prison to the day that they leave. Hey, it’s really upsetting! Hey, being in prison seems completely awful! Hey, isn’t it nuts that if you have enough money you don’t need to have as harrowing an experience as people that don’t?
The Central Park Five
And you thought Steven Avery was unfortunate to spend over a decade behind bars for somebody else’s crime. After the violent assault and rape on a female jogger in Central Park in April 1989, FIVE juvenile males were tried for the incident and handed sentences ranging from five to 15 years each, only being exonerated in 2002 when DNA evidence incriminated a man named Matias Reyes as the sole culprit. Charting the case, the backstory, and the group’s subsequent multi-million dollar legal action, you will certainly be reminded of Avery’s own legal campaigns. This pulsating doc will make you furious and ecstatic at the same time and may even offer a glimmer of hope for Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.
There are a few Lock Up series on Netflix (Lockup: Raw, Lockup: World Tour, Lockup: Extended Stay, Lockup: Disturbing the Peace, Lockup: Special Investigation, and Life After Lockup), made initially for MSNBC and each following the inhabitants of a different prison.
Despite their incredibly hyperbolic titles that make them sound more like WWE wrestling events, there’s all the bleakness, brutality that you’d expect, as well as some extraordinarily chilling parts you wouldn’t necessarily see coming. A good example being an imprisoned murderer, post-fight, blood all over him, outright promising to kill someone. It’s shoestring-budget telly that feels like it’s at least in the ballpark of exploitative, but it’s very compelling and budgetary issues aside, pretty insightful.
The Keepers looks at the unsolved 1969 murder of Baltimore nun Sister Cathy Cesnik. Moving between now-and-then timelines and creating a vivid, scary picture of the events, cover-ups and evasions of justice that came after the killing. It’s deeply upsetting yet somehow avoids feeling sensationalist or exploitative, always ultimately feeling respectful towards Cesnik (and, not to ruin too much, other victims).
The Fear of 13
This one-man-show-type film tells the true story of Nick Yarris, a young criminal who, in trying to reduce his chances of imprisonment after an arrest, found himself instead convicted of murder and sentenced to the electric chair, spending 22 years on Death Row, eventually petitioning for his own execution to bring his sentence to an end.
The fact that he’s on-screen telling his story gives away some of what happens - DNA evidence is a great thing - but it’s such a powerful journey to go on with Yarris (nobody else is seen throughout the film) that it isn’t really about what happens so much as how he tells it. It’s hard to get to the end of without a tear-streaked face, let’s put it that way. Inventive, articulate and powerful story telling.
The 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher made headlines all over the world, with suspect Amanda Knox being given the tabloid nickname “Foxy Knoxy”. Lurid details of the case were pored over, hideous prejudices on the parts of prosecutors came into play, and Knox spent four years behind bars.
Netflix’s feature-length documentary has incredible access to Knox herself, as well as slimy Daily Mail dirtball Nick Pisa, a reporter with all the ethics of a dog turd, an ethical black hole of a man rubbing his hands with glee at the hideous details of the murder and his great luck that everyone involved was photogenic. Knox is extraordinarily compelling when she talks about her experience, which has led her to dedicating her life to helping those that are falsely imprisoned, a nightmare nobody ever thinks could happen to them: “Either I’m a psychopath, a wolf in sheep’s clothing… or I’m you.”