the 6 best documentaries about cults to watch on netflix

1. A (1998) Director: Tatsuya Mori

Born in March 1955, Chizuo Matsumoto was the son o

Born in March 1955, Chizuo Matsumoto was the son of a poor weaver. By the time he was 30 years old, Matsumoto has faced many failures and rejections in his life. He didn’t pass the entry-level exams to study at Tokyo University. He graduated with a diploma in Chinese traditional medicine and acupuncture, but his business venture offering quick health remedies went bust when he was charged with a felony case for his fraudulent activities. Matsumoto had a large family, a wife and six kids. He eventually decided to start teaching yoga from a single room apartment. Matsumoto later changed his name to Shoko Asahara. Ten years later, Asahara, now aged 40, was known as the founder of Aum Shinrikyo, a religious organization that transformed into a doomsday cult. He drove around in Rolls-Royce and turned his organization into a multi-million dollar business empire (recruited 17,000 members in Japan).

Of course, Asahara didn’t just stop there. On 20 March 1995 members of Aum Shinrikyo committed an act of domestic terrorism by releasing poisonous sarin gas on Tokyo subway system during rush hour, severely injuring 54 (some of whom later died or brain-damaged) and affecting 1,000 more (causing temporary vision impairment). The subsequent raids on the cult compounds revealed the grand, horrific scale of activities planned by Aum (although some of the claims were a mere exaggeration, police found huge stockpiles of chemicals to produce enough sarin to kill huge population.

Tatsuya Mori’s documentary ‘‘A’ is a multi-layered, behind-the-scenes exploration set in the aftermath of these shocking events. Mori largely follows Aum’s PR spokesman Hiroshi Araki and has unprecedented access to Aum’s compounds. The documentary unfolds a year after the gas attacks with the members of cult living their dull life, meditating, eating a bland vegetarian diet, and comes across the angry public and media picketing the premises. Mori’s perspective is interesting because he doesn’t focus on the details surrounding the gas attacks which might have been the primary topic of discussion in Japanese media at the time. It’s a bit frustrating at times, but Mori shines a light on parts of Aum’s story that may not make it to the prime-time news.

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)

The 2014 documentary explores the rise and fall of Bikram himself, the man who popularised Bikram yoga. Bikram Choudhury may seem rather innocent when compared to the likes of Charlie Manson or Joe Exotic, but the “hot yoga” guru was more predatorial than you’d think. Some of his actions included luring young women into his cult and gaslighting them into being part of his nubile harem.

Watch it here.


Inside a Cult: Messiah on Trial

What’s the only thing better than a good cult documentary?

A cult documentary sequel!

That’s exactly what Inside a Cult: Messiah on Trial is – a follow-up to The End of the World Cult (so watch that one first!).

The documentary tracks the fallout of crimes Michael Travesser admitted to in the first documentary. This includes the trial and sentencing, something you rarely get to see in the world of cults.

In addition to footage of proceedings, you meet former members of the cult that have come to see their one-time Messiah finally pay for his crimes.

If you were captivated by The End of the World Cult, then you will love this follow-up. Add it to the queue!

Holy Hell

Holy Hell tells the story of the Buddhafield cult, an unsuspecting Hollywood cult led by Michel Rostand that managed to evade detection….well, basically forever.

What is so shocking about the Holy Hell documentary is realizing just how pervasive cults actually are.  They don’t all end like Jonestown or Rajneeshpuram with suicides or fugitives.

But they do often leave ex-members scrambling to piece together a life that they were robbed of. Which is exactly what happened to many of the former Buddhafield cult members that are featured in Holy Hell.

This cult documentary is weird and disturbing (with tons of inside footage), but will keep you captivated until the very end.

7. The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter (2009) Director: Michael Dorsey

On August 8 & 9 in 1969, the ‘Manson Family’,

On August 8 & 9 in 1969, the ‘Manson Family’, a group of followers of cult leader and criminal Charles Manson, murdered in cold blood seven people, including the pregnant actress and wife of film-maker Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate. It is said that Manson often spoke to his ‘family’, comprised mostly of young woman, about an apocalyptic race war – which he referred to as ‘Helter Skelter’ – and the frenzied killings in Hollywood were done to incite a race war. Of course, there are different theories to why the killings were committed (some disturbingly pragmatic than the belief in ‘race war’) or on who controlled whom. Nevertheless, Charles Manson is the infamous American bogeyman (although he didn’t actually kill the seven) still haunting the nation’s collective psyche 50 years after the killings (or at least continues to capture the attention of American film-makers and writers).

There have been many movies and documentaries on this particular subject, from the Oscar-nominated documentary Manson (1973) plus the true-crime drama Helter Skelter (1976) based on Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s book to the recent Tarantino film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Yet Michael Dorsey’s The Six Degress of Helter Skelter offers a fascinating albeit slightly exploitative take on the Tate/Labianca murders. The documentary led by Hollywood historian and tour guide Scott Michaels follows the footsteps of the Manson family, visiting more than 40 locations related to the infamous August 1969 killings.

Dorsey’s documentary not only focuses on the detailed knowledge of Michaels on the Manson case but also explores Michaels’ own fascination or obsession with the crime (the man shows off some of his unique death memorabilia). This is may not be the right documentary to watch if you have never heard of Charles Manson, but those who have already read about the Manson family can find this to be a distinct take on one of the grisliest chapters in modern American history.

5. The Lost Women Of NXIVM

NXIVM is one of the latest cults to make headlines. Founded by Keith Raniere in 1998, NXIVM was originally marketed as a ‘personal development company’. However, it has since been revealed that NXIVM was actually involved in human trafficking, forced labor, and other illegal activities. The Lost Women Of NXIVM centers around four women who were part of the cult who have since died or disappeared under unusual circumstances.

2. Cults – History Channel Cults Documentary

Are you being curious about how cults are formed and how each cult member behaves? If so, then the Cults – History Channel Cults Documentary could be the greatest documentary of cults you should watch. This documentary discusses cult inception to their ruination. If you have not watched any cult documentary before, then this could be the greatest documentary you should watch alone or with your friends who also want to know more about cults.

The said documentary discusses the dark world of these malicious groups of people. It displays extreme beliefs that they pass on from generation to generation. Perhaps, one of the most eye-catching aspects of this cult documentary is that they are diving into the deepest hole of cult characteristics and the psyche of its members.

Enlighten Us

Anyone who has trouble understanding the hold a cult can get on your mind only needs to think about self-help sessions, gurus, and books, and how crazily intense people can get about those. Everyone knows someone who reads some shittily titled, delusional book that’ll claim to fix everything for them, then get way too into it. People like James Arthur Ray are exactly like that. They can get people to pay ten grand to not drink water for two days, not eat for a day and a half, then cram themselves full of food at breakfast and sit in a sweat lodge. It’s a minor miracle only three people died. Ray went to jail afterwards and Enlighten Us shows some of how he’s seeking redemption, but mostly it asks difficult questions of both Ray and the people who followed him. Netflix

2. Wild Wild Country

When Wild Wild Country was released on Netflix in 2018 it quickly took the world by storm. The documentary told the story of Rajneesh who started a religious community in Oregon called Rajneeshpuram. Although the organization initially appeared to have created a legitimate real-life utopia, things eventually started to change.

Witches: A Century of Murder, 2015

Often, the rise of strict religions comes with a body count. In the case of Puritan Christianity in Britain, women were tortured and killed under the suspicion that they were witches, possessed, or were otherwise communing with the occult.

Witch trials are a common subject in creepy pop culture, but Witches: A Century of Murder makes the subject feel freshly disturbing, by setting it outside the American colonies and in rural Britain. Though it’s not technically about a cult, Witches explores what happens to a group of people when their new ideals override their shared humanity.

The Family (2019)

An enigmatic conservative Christian group known as the Family wields strong influence in Washington, D.C., in pursuit of its global ambitions. The Family examines the conservative group—also known as the Fellowship—its history, and investigates its influence on American politics.

Watch it here.


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