This month, the most famous and influential found footage horror movie of all time, The Blair Witch Project, turns 20 years old. Crazy to think that somewhere in a Maryland forest, Mike has been stood in the corner of a dilapidated, abandoned shack for two decades. Bet his legs hurt.
To celebrate this landmark in horror movie history, we thought we’d pay tribute to ten great found footage horror movies. Found footage, as we’re sure you’re aware, is a hit and miss genre. It’s a medium where movies are easy to make, difficult to excel in. Not to mention one that takes a helluva suspension of disbelief. Why is everyone keeping the camera running? Does nobody run out of batteries in these films? And yet all these movies offer something that we think is just that little bit special.
Mind the camera wobble, we’re going in…
As much of a character study as it is a found-footage horror movie, 2014’s Creep (and it’s perhaps-even-better 2017 sequel) is essentially just a couple of hours of the ever-excellent Mark Duplass and a handycam trying to weird you out. Very effective it is too. And funny! In truth, Duplass – who co-wrote the thing alongside debuting director Patrick Brice – should have got some kind of Oscar shit for giving the world ‘Peachfuzz’.
Best bit: We thought the bath scene in Nightmare On Elm Street was the pinnacle of soapy frights. We were wrong.
Noroi: The Curse
Director Kôji Shiraishi is a found-footage auteur. He’s made tonnes of the things (and in 2009 a film called Grotesque which may well be the most extreme horror movie NME has ever watched). But his best remains his first, 2005’s Noroi, a uniquely complex (the film has over twenty-five characters), meta (the movie being a mockumentary about a documentary being made by a noted paranormal researcher) example of J-horror’s take on the found footage genre.
Best bit: The film’s final frame is one of the most extraordinary payoffs to ever feature in a movie, horror or otherwise.
The OG of the genre still stands up almost 40 years since Italian director Ruggero Deodato sent his actors to the Columbian rainforest and asked them to mingle with genuine indigenous tribes. In truth, this flirtation with reality both helped and hindered the film’s notoriety. After the film’s premiere in Italy, Deodato was charged with multiple counts of murder, with police convinced the violence on screen was legitimate snuff. Even in proving otherwise, the film was banned in over 50 countries. Which is pretty cool! It also features real footage of a turtle being killed, which isn’t.
Best bit: The bamboo impalement scene is such a brilliant bit of physical SFX, the methods needed to create it had to be explained in an actual court-of-law!
This 2013 film is known as The Final Prayer in the United States and concerns a number of Vatican priests investigating a British church thought to be the site of a miracle. It’s a slow burn, for sure, with more than a hint of The Wicker Man to it. But if you invest in the story, you’ll find a tale that’s both chilling and far more innovative than it’s given credit for. The ending, for example, is completely unique/batshit.
Best bit: It’s hard to write ‘when the boys set fire to the sheep’ after the words ‘Best bit’, but…
Made in 2008, this Australian ghost story is a rather touching mediation on grief and family dynamics. And yet that’s not to say that it’s not absolutely petrifying too. Brilliantly acted (by a cast that sadly haven’t really gone on to do much else of note), superbly directed by Joel Anderson (ditto), Lake Mungo is a incredible movie. Perhaps even a perfect one.
Best bit: Doppelgangers were scary long before Jordan Peele got his hands on them, y’know…
On the evening of Halloween night, 1992, the BBC screened a programme called Ghostwatch. The Beeb made no secret in presenting the programme as drama – despite it playing out as a live paranormal investigation, staring real-life TV anchors Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene and Mike Smith – and yet within one hour the BBC switchboard received over 30,000 complaints from people essentially asking, “What the fuck is going on?” Mention the name Mr. Pipes to anyone who watched the show that evening and even now, a chill will engulf them.
Best bit: The Welsh man who ‘calls into’ the show to explain that his cheese toastie has just ‘flown across the room’ helped blur the lines between fiction and reality.
Not so much a horror movie as a faux eco-documentary, this 2012 film is positioned as footage confiscated by the US government, then subsequently leaked, after an environmental disaster engulfs a Maryland town. Director Barry Levinson (who also made Bugsy and Good Morning, Vietnam and thus may well have the best CV ever) decided upon using the found footage format after thinking of the Pompeii disaster, noting that if such an event happened today, it would be documented on cell phones, digital cameras, text, Skype, tweets and everything else. A cool aside is that at least 80 percent of the movie was shot by the actors, using their own phones and the like.
Best bit: The underwater shot, where you can kind of see what the camera is looking at, but also kinda not, is wild…
Like any movie that exits the orbit of just entertainment and becomes a phenomenon – made for just $11,000, Paranormal Activity took home a whopping $193,000,000, making it the most profitable movie ever made – Oren Peli’s directorial debut has come in for a tonne of ridicule (the 82nd Academy Awards saw Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin spoof the movie). The flurry of lazy found-footage horror movies Peli followed it up with certainly diluted the genre (2012’s Chernobyl Diaries, 2015’s Area 51, the wretched, one season ABC-aired found footage TV drama The River). But don’t tell me that the first time you watched the scenes shot in the bedroom – sped up and shot in night vision – you didn’t feel an urgent need to call your mum.
Best bit: In truth, the film’s five sequels, with the exception of 2011’s third instalment, are all pretty bad. And yet the kitchen cupboard scene in 2010’s second film is a helluva scare.
It’s kinda crazy that a film directed by Zed from the Police Academy franchise (that’ll be Bobcat Goldthwait) has directed a movie that has ended up on this list. Also, it’s not even that good of a movie – it’s not as good as 2015’s JeruZalem, 2013’s Europa Report, 1998’s The Last Broadcast, nor Troll Hunter in 2010. But it makes this list, because right in the middle of it, there’s a scene with just two actors, a flashlight and a torch, that is just nerve shredding horror. Also, the film is about Bigfoot and Bigfoot is the bomb.
Best bit: What we can’t see is always scarier than what we can. Which brings us back to that tent scene.
Another film with sequels that followed that were so bad – for some reason, the third film, in 2012, not only jettisons the found footage style of the first two movies, but loses the horror theme and recasts itself as a black comedy! – as the years have passed, it’s sometimes been difficult to remember what you liked about this Spanish zombie movie in first place. And yet the first film, set in an apartment in Barcelona that’s been overcome by the infected, remains as fresh a take on the genre now as it was at the time. Manuela Velasco is an incredible lead. And yet Carlos Lasarte, as snobby apartment dweller César, steals the show.
Best bit: What’s that up in the attic? Clue: it’s not mice.