Shock Docs closely examine some of America’s most infamous hauntings and horrifying tales of true crime. Going more in-depth than many other paranormal investigations have dared to, the 21 documentaries in the Shock Docs umbrella series bring new evidence to light and reframe well-known incidences of evil.
With a captivating cast and content, and four seasons worth of documentaries aired on the Travel Channel, Shock Docs has drawn in viewers with a blend of information, exploration, and investigation. From the blood-soaked homes of serial killers to potential alien abductions, the series commands an audience from all corners of the paranormal genre.
However, with drastically different topics from one documentary to the next and many viewers lambasting the lack of critical analysis of evidence, is Shock Docs a series you can watch from start to end without losing interest? Let’s take a closer look at the documentaries and find out…
Shock Docs Air Date
On July 23rd, 2020, Discovery announced they would be premiering a block of two-hour documentaries exploring well-known incidences of American evil on the Travel Channel. The first documentary, Devil’s Road: The True Story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, aired on September 7th, 2020.
Shock Docs pulled in viewers with exclusive archive footage of the Warrens and interviews with their family and the people they attempted to assist. Despite this, the Shock Docs premiere received mixed reviews from viewers, one commenting that the creators fell into the same trap the Warrens did: “accepting one version of events without applying critical thinking.”
Creation and Production
With the individual ‘episodes’ darting from one topic to the next, each Shock Docs documentary has a different director, producer, writer, and cinematographer. The series has 9 directors, 9 writers, 16 cinematographers, 30 editors, and 104 producers, as well as a cast of 210 paranormal investigators, reenactment actors, and parties related to the cases being explored.
There are a few individuals who have worked on more than one Shock Doc, and these are:
- Tom Jennings – Known for just under 60 TV documentaries, majorly in the true-crime genre, Jennings directed 3 of Shock Docs’ season 1 episodes.
- Brian Coughlin – Having written for various non-fiction TV series, including Solved and America: Facts vs. Fiction, Coughlin joined the Shock Docs crew as a writer for 3 of the documentaries.
- Cecile Bouchardeau – Working as a producer since 2000, Bouchardeau doesn’t stray far from the paranormal. His name appears in the credits of Into the Unknown and A Haunting, as well as 6 episodes of Shock Docs.
- Anthony D. Call – Beginning his career as a sitcom actor, Call now lends his distinct voice to various projects. He narrated 8 episodes of Shock Docs.
- Tim Fenoglio – Unlike some of the other Shock Docs crew members, Fenoglio has worked on documentaries and TV shows in a variety of genres. He served as director of photography on 5 episodes of Shock Docs.
- Brian Kallies – As well as working as a producer and cinematographer, Kallies is a prolific editor of TV documentaries. He edited 4 Shock Docs episodes in the first season.
Shock Docs episodes also have a visual effects department, art department, set decoration, makeup, and wardrobe departments, as well as a substantial sound design department, giving each documentary a distinct feel that still plays into the overall tone and theming.
Shock Docs’ Cast Members
Many of the documentaries in the Shock Docs series rely solely on the narration of Anthony D. Call to guide viewers through the stories. However, some episodes are led by hosts. Two of the most prominent hosts are:
Beginning his career as a radio host in the paranormal niche for Darkness Radio, Dave Schrader has gone on to lend his ghost-hunting abilities to shows such as Paranormal State, Paranormal Challenge, Ghost Adventures, and Destination Fear. He provides evidence and stories of his experiences, leading investigations in the Shock Docs episodes This is Halloween, The Curse of Lizzie Borden, and Demon in the White House.
As an evidential medium, a psychic that provides evidence of their connection to the beyond, Cindy Kaza has long been a reliable addition to paranormal investigations. After having her first experience with a spirit at just 10 years old, she has gone on to co-host paranormal shows such as the Holzer Files and provide assistance to investigations in Portals to Hell. She appears in several Shock Docs episodes, including This is Halloween, The Curse of Robert the Doll, and Michigan Hell House.
Primary Focus of the Show
Shock Docs focuses on a variety of paranormal phenomena, such as demonic possessions, alien abductions, and hauntings. They often document the true stories that inspired hit movies such as The Exorcist and Scream, conducting their own investigations to uncover further evidence and provide new takes on age-old stories of true crime.
The documentaries usually begin with a refresher on the most well-known elements of cases, building a narrative that blends what actually took place with what was widely publicized at the time. When it comes to paranormal investigations, as well as presenting expert testimony, a team of investigators delves deeper into haunted locations and objects to provide never-before-seen evidence and add truth to the way these stories are remembered.
The investigative teams use a range of equipment well-known to fans of the paranormal genre. These include camera setups around haunted locations, EVP readings, and psychic testimony from the most active areas.
However, given the series release in 2020, many of the tools used could be considered ‘old school’, with very sparing evidence gathered by more up-to-date equipment such as spirit boxes, geoports, and REM pods. Fans largely don’t mind this approach, believing the documentaries are “most engaging when they stick to the historical documents and “classic” paranormal investigation techniques.”
Shock Docs’ Impact on the Paranormal Community
General manager of the Travel Channel, Matthew Butler, stated that “Travel Channel fans have an insatiable appetite for the classic cases that even the paranormal investigators revere.” By pairing well-known investigative teams with infamous and easily accessible paranormal instances, Shock Docs combines the best of paranormal TV shows with a new, more informative, and slightly more credible format.
Paranormal TV fans embraced the format, claiming Shock Docs’ focus on a vast range of topics provided “a good blend of real life, horror movie inspiration, true crime, and the paranormal.” Critics also commented that the documentaries are well produced and high-quality viewing, even if they do fall into genre tropes such as eery music, spooky sound effects, and hammed-up acting from hosts. Much praise has been given to the narration, which is “filled with surprising gravitas as each unbelievable layer unfolds.”
Despite drawing in a large audience of fans of both true crime and the paranormal, many viewers felt that the show fell too much into less-than-credible conventions, calling Shock Docs “hokey and just silly.” Horror journalist Dev Crowley attempted to explain why this combination of documentary formatting with tried and tested paranormal styles has proved popular with audiences. She commented that Shock Docs are “VERY dramatic and the reenactments are almost TOO much, but that’s what calls all ghost lovers to the yard.”
Shock Docs’ Seasons and Episodes
There are four seasons of Shock Docs documentaries released between September 2020 and February 2023. Due to Shock Docs’ designation as an umbrella series, the number of episodes per season tends to differ. Season 1 has six episodes, season 2 has seven, season 3 has six episodes, and season 4 has two.
The Most Popular and Well-Rated Episodes
Despite its airing on the Travel Channel, viewer numbers for individual episodes of Shock Docs are hard to come by. According to IMDb reviews, the top 10 highest-rated episodes are:
- Season 3, Episode 4 – The Visitors
- Season 2, Episode 4 – The Devil Made Me Do It
- Season 1, Episode 1 – Devils Road: The True Story of Ed and Lorraine Warren
- Season 2, Episode 2 – The Exorcism of Rowland Doe
- Season 2, Episode 5 – Alien Invasion: Hudson Valley
- Season 4, Episode 1 – Michigan Hell House
- Season 2, Episode 1 – Amityville Horror House
- Season 3, Episode 3 – Alien Abduction: Travis Walton
- Season 3, Episode 2 – Alien Abduction: Betty and Barney Hill
- Season 3, Episode 5 – The Curse of Robert the Doll
Famous Guest Appearances
By the nature of Shock Docs documentaries, every installment is filled with talking head segments and interviews with famous figures related to the cases at hand. Some of the most hard-hitting guest appearances are:
- Whitley Strieber – Famed author Whitley Strieber rose to prominence with his non-fiction book Communion, an account of his experience with extra-terrestrial beings. He appears in the highest-rated episode of Shock Docs, The Visitors, which centers around his traumatic experience.
- Jeff Belanger – Another paranormal author, Jeff Belanger is considered by many an expert on supernatural phenomena. He hosts the paranormal TV show New England Legends, which was nominated for an Emmy in 2015. He appears in 7 episodes of Shock Docs to provide expert analysis of findings and give his opinions on hauntings.
- Paul Eno – A paranormal investigator for over 40 years, Paul Eno, was one of the first on the scene. Having worked closely with giants such as Ed and Lorraine Warren, his own stories of the supernatural are as intense as the myriad hauntings he’s investigated.
Controversies and Criticisms
Despite documentaries often being more thoroughly researched and better presented than other examples of paranormal TV shows, many Shock Docs episodes fall victim to similar criticisms. Some reviews are searingly harsh, critiquing the evidence gathered and stylistic choices.
One such example explains the show is “Loaded with continuity errors, bad musical cues and cheap editing; this was embarrassing on so many levels. They talked a lot about evidence, but there really wasn’t anything.”
The accusations of fakery continued, with the hosts and investigators being called actors and the actual actors in the reenactment scenes not faring much better. One review highlights this, stating, “It’s the same old creaky formula. Overdramatized re-creations of an allegedly paranormal event, re-described in excruciating detail by self-proclaimed “experts”, who either come off as completely delusional or just being there for a paycheck.”
Other reviews chastise the show for profiting off the hype of blockbuster movies like Scream. The series claims that this hit film’s notorious villain was based on the Gainesville Ripper. This is actually an oversimplified explanation pushed by the Shock Docs episode to capitalize on the interest of Scream fans. Hauntjaunts.net also pointed out that the episode Demon in the White House is almost entirely based on a fictional novel, The Residence, lending ever more credence to allegations of deception.
As of July 2023, there has been no confirmed return for Shock Docs. With just two episodes in its 4th season, perhaps the end of the Shock Docs series is in sight. However, as each episode is a documentary in and of itself, generic renewal likely isn’t possible, and the Travel Channel could release new episodes at any time with no obligation to stick to a release schedule.
With so many paranormal TV shows losing viewers over perceived fakery and fraud, Shock Docs had the opportunity to fill this space with hard-hitting, reliable, and accurate documentaries that bolstered and restored faith in the genre. For the most part, in fans’ eyes, they achieved this. “Not only did they provide the real evidence of the case, but they also follow stories from the beginning to the end.”
However, it seems Shock Docs also fell into the trap of providing empty shocks and spooks with not much by way of real detail to make up for it. Though the individual episodes are entertaining and informative for those who know nothing about the cases, Shock Docs episodes rarely make as much of a splash as they should.
The genre is seemingly saturated with similar offerings, many of which fans prefer over documentaries that flit between different topics and themes from one episode to the next. When it comes to the paranormal episodes, they even follow the same format as other popular investigative shows, chasing empty thrills and failing to critically analyze their findings.
Paranormal documentaries such as Shock Docs are few and far between, especially those that pair actual investigations with such high production value. This is perhaps why it’s so disappointing that Shock Docs episodes rarely bring anything new in terms of style or evidence to the genre.
The variety of hosts means fans can’t become familiar with individuals, eliminating the entertainment value usually gleaned from paranormal TV shows’ ghost-hunting teams. However, the stories are interesting, well-presented, and easy to digest, with primary sources such as archive footage and eyewitness testimony strengthening the already powerful narrative offerings.
While certain documentaries under the Shock Docs umbrella, such as The Visitors and Devils Road, are certainly worth your time, it may not be as enjoyable an experience to start with episode 1 and watch the series until its conclusion. Instead, pick the episodes that interest you and see whether you like the format enough to dive into the others.