With Halloween upon us, millions of American households are pulling out all the stops to make the holiday as spooky as possible. But in some places around the world, this won’t require any extra effort.
From the world’s most polluted city to an island where creepy dolls make up the majority of the population, we’ve tracked down five documentaries that examine frightening phenomena around the globe. Warning: Learning about these places might make you uncomfortable because the conditions are real. The following videos – selected from media partners of The I Files, The Center for Investigative Reporting's investigative YouTube channel – differ drastically in terms of scale and subject matter, but all of them will introduce you to places that seem eerie year-round.
What are some eerie places that we missed? Tweet us at @ifiles and @CIRonline with your thoughts.
"Ghost Rapes of Bolivia," Vice
In Bolivia’s Manitoba Colony, women awoke to find bruises on their bodies, pieces of rope tied to their wrists or ankles, and blood and semen on their sheets – and with no recollection of sexual activity. This Vice documentary goes inside an ultraconservative Mennonite community to investigate how hundreds of women were raped in their homes while their husbands and families slept nearby. The attacks seemed so improbable that, initially, many believed demons were responsible. While the culprits were all too human, the colony’s patriarchal system has hampered efforts to catch and convict all of the rapists involved, as men and women are strictly segregated and women are discouraged from speaking out in public. In the absence of a police force, the only authority in the colony rests with a group of older men who are appointed for life.
"Island of Dead Dolls," Michael deMeng
In this short film, artist Michael deMeng travels up the canals of Xochimilco near Mexico City to a small island, commonly known as Isla de las Muñecas, or Island of the Dolls. The island is said to be haunted by the spirit of a little girl who drowned many years ago. A hermit living on the island became fixated with her story and came to believe that he, too, was haunted by her spirit. Bent on appeasing the young poltergeist, he started collecting dolls from the surrounding area and stringing them up in trees. Today, the island is home to thousands of dolls and perhaps, not surprisingly, few human residents. Chucky, eat your heart out.
"Inside China's Most Polluted City," Channel 4 News
You’ve heard it before: China’s smog problem is so bad that you can see it from space. But in the city of Shijiazhuang, about 180 miles south of Beijing, you actually can taste it. Channel 4 News travels to the pollution capital of the world and the epicenter of what residents call the “airpocalypse.” An air quality index of 500 is considered the worst possible, but in Shijiazhuang, air quality can reach upward of 1,000. (By comparison, New York’s air quality registers at 19.)
Walking downtown is like navigating a real-life ghost town – the air often is clouded with inky soot, and the streets are haunted by wraith-like pedestrians in face masks. Even more frightening than the pollution is the way that state-owned enterprises – particularly oil and power plants – put profit above health regulations, and many are given prominent roles in environmental policymaking.
"Suicide Forest in Japan," Vice
After the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the world's most popular site for suicides is the beautiful Aokigahara forest below Mount Fuji in Japan. Since the 1950s, at least 500 people (often Japanese businessmen) have walked into the forest, never to return. Named after Seicho Matsumoto’s novel "Kuroi Jukai," in which a young lover commits suicide, the forest is sometimes referred to as “the perfect place to die.”
This Vice documentary follows the forest’s “nature guard” as he patrols densely packed foliage that is littered with the decaying skeletons of those who have hanged themselves over the years.
“In the old days in Japan, suicide was mainly known as a samurai's act, as in seppuku (harakiri),” he explains. “In other cases, poor families would abandon their elders in the mountains. That’s how it was back then. They weren’t killing themselves because they couldn’t adapt to society. That didn’t happen like it does now. It’s a modern phenomenon.”
"China’s Ghost Cites and Malls," SBS Dateline
Glittering high-rise apartments remain unoccupied. Shops are devoid of customers. The streets are silent. Zhengzhou, Dongguan and Ordos are Chinese megacities that all have this in common: They are largely empty.
As part of the government’s grand plan to relocate 250 million people from rural areas to cities over the next 12 years, experts estimate that 10 new cities are being built in China each year. Malls, apartments, offices and skyscrapers have sprung up overnight around the country – far outpacing the population meant to inhabit them – leaving the country dotted with vast uninhabited metropolises, essentially modern ghost cities.
In Dongguan, inside what was intended to be China’s largest shopping mall with space for 2,350 shops, the owner of a toy store says that on some days, he sells only one toy. With far too many days like this, it is “boring, lonely work.” It’s also just plain spooky.
These ghost cities have become an unexpectedly popular tourist destination, proving that creepy places are a draw in just about every culture.
The I Files selects and showcases the best investigative videos from around the Web and across the world. Major contributors include The New York Times, BBC, ABC, Al-Jazeera, NPR, Vice TV and the Investigative News Network. You can subscribe to The I Files here.