Tag Archives: dangerous cults

13 Cults and Secretive Religions, and the Best Documentaries About Each

“Wild Wild Country” is earning strong buzz on Netflix for investigating the rise and fall of a spiritual cult that made headlines in Oregon throughout the 1980s. The documentary is one of many titles in the fascinating subgenre of controversial religious documentaries.

RAJNEESH MOVEMENT, “WILD WILD COUNTRY”

Netflix’s six-part series chronicles the rise and fall of the Rajneesh movement, founded by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the 1980s. The cult established Rajneeshpuram, a 64,000-acre Oregon ranch, and poisoned the local community in order to win a political election.

BUDDHAFIELD CULT, “HOLY HELL”

Will Allen was a member of the Buddhafield movement for 22 years and the footage he recorded inside the cult provides the basis for “Holy Hell.” Allen also shot interviews of ex-members to paint a chilling portrait of group founder Michel Rostand.

SCIENTOLOGY, “GOING CLEAR”

Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear” is considered the definitive Scientology documentary with a thorough history of the religion, founder L. Ron Hubbard, and its manipulative and life-threatening policies under current leader David Miscavige.

FLDS, “PROPHET’S PREY”

Amy Berg’s film takes aim at Warren Jeffs, leader of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Jeffs currently runs the cult from prison, where he’s serving a life sentence for raping two teenage girls. 

PEOPLES TEMPLE, “THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PEOPLES TEMPLE”

Stanley Nelson’s Tribeca-winning documentary centers on Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones, who established the Jonestown settlement in Guyana. Jones famously carried out a mass suicide, poisoning 918 members in 1978.

THE FAMILY, “CHILDREN OF GOD”

John Smithson’s 1994 “Children of God” interviews one family about being raised in The Family, a cult in which sexually abusing children was common practice. Rose McGowan and Joaquin Phoenix were born into The Family, but fled with relatives when they were children.

BRANCH DAVIDIANS, “WACO: THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

William Gazecki’s 1997 Oscar-nominated documentary looks at the 1993 Waco incident with the Branch Davidians, a religious cult run by David Koresh. An ATF raid led to a shootout and a 51-day FBI standoff that resulted in the deaths of Koresh and 82 of his followers.

MANSON FAMILY, “MANSON”

Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick’s 1973 Oscar-nominated documentary provides an intimate look at the Manson Family with interviews with Charles Manson and his former members, plus footage that takes viewers inside the family’s Devil’s Canyon compound. 

HEAVEN’S GATE, “HEAVEN’S GATE: THE UNTOLD TRUE STORY”

“Haven’s Gate” was a San Diego-based UFO religious cult founded in 1974 by Marshall Applewhite. Sergio Myers’ film tells the origin story leading up to March 1997, when 39 members participated in a mass suicide in order to reach an extraterrestrial spacecraft.

THE SOURCE FAMILY, “THE SOURCE FAMILY”

Jodi Wille’s 2012 documentary tells the story of Father Yod, who founded the group and created a commune in the Hollywood Hills. After clashes with Los Angeles authorities, the cult ultimately fled to Hawaii.

AUM SHINRIKYO CULT, “A”

Tatsuya Mori’s 1998 documentary about the Aum Shinrikyo cult follows a 28-year-old group spokesperson who had to sever all family ties to join the sect. The cult carried out the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack, which killed 12 people and affected over 1,000 others.

STRONG CITY, “THE CULT AT THE END OF THE WORLD”

Strong City, aka the Lord Our Righteousness Church, was a remote religious community in New Mexico founded by Michael Travesser. Directed by Ben Anthony, the 2007 film follows the cult in real time as Travesser tells his followers that the world will end in October 2007.

SYMBIONESE LIBERATION ARMY, “GUERRILLA: THE TAKING OF PATTY HEARST”

The Symbionese Liberation Army was a domestic terrorist organization active between 1973 and 1975. Robert Stone’s PBS documentary investigates the SLA’s kidnapping of Patty Hearst when she was 19, where she was sexually assaulted and brainwashed.

Reference