This subgenre is hit or miss, in my opinion.
You can have underrated ones, popular examples or ones that miss the mark and it can be because of something minor. I think what makes these films in general scary is that it is possible, more possible than anything else. You can come across old tapes anywhere and watch it, not thinking anything of it and it can be something horrifying on your screen. Someone recorded their last moments before disappearing, or they see something themselves, or you are watching an event and it’s up close, personal, no cutaways, just tragic or scary.
It reminds me of a segment from Unsovled Mysteries where a young boy and his older brother or father found a tape while walking along the street and when they watched it, it was just a scene of blatant arson. And the person who was recording and speaking in a growly voice, talking about Satan.
Yeah, we’re gonna talk about found footage horror, some of my favorites and ones I’d recommend and some that I just cannot get with.
Just a few minutes ago, I thought about the film Sinister (2012). Now, that isn’t a found footage film in a typical sense but Ethan Hawke’s character does find the film reels (super 8’s) and is watching other families succumbing to their deaths in very disturbing ways. I figured this is worth mentioning, it is a good horror film otherwise, I really like it.
A big one I am a fan of is Hell House LLC (2015). I watched this during the early months of pandemic quarantine aka 2020 and I had no big expectations but I saw a lot of buzz about it on instagram and I had to see it. This first one is a fun ride. I like the concept of it, we’re watching a group turn a “haunted” house into a “haunted house” attraction and we just watch crazy shit go down with possession, disappearances, the CLOWN which are still the scariest part to me still. I can’t give the same praise to the sequels which are just a rehash of the first and the third one was… I still don’t understand what I watched.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007) are in the same boat for me as these are the standards, these are the grand poobahs of found footage. Blair Witch, to me, really utilized marketing to its advantage. These are “actors” we haven’t seen or met before, we really believe they went missing, this footage was real and in some ways, this movie is real. They didn’t have a lot of money, they were making up things on the spot because they were dropped in the middle of the woods and scene. There are real elements in this and I’ll defend this movie. Those who think this movie is overrated were not around when this was dropped in 1999. Paranormal Activity gives the same kind of energy. Limited budget yet it made over almost $200 mil overall? We focus on the two characters, we don’t leave them, we watch things happen to them and similarly to The Blair Witch Project, it set a standard.
What’s more terrifying? Being lost in the woods and hunted by a mythical witch figure or haunted by a demon who wants your significant other at any cost?
Similarly to The Blair Witch Project, I wanted to shout out Cloverfield (2008). Thanks to marketing using the internet to its advantage as well, I still don’t fully understand the Cloverfield mythos and its various sequels and whatnot. It’s more of a “we’re watching our characters filming what is going on” than a strict found footage and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Grave Encounters (2011) is a fun, mockumentary found footage film very inspired by Ghost Hunters or specifically Ghost Adventures and I like the night vision look of the film. I also like some of the special effects as well.
VHS (2012) is for fans of anthologies, my favorite segment is the last one, “10/31/98” and second favorite is “Amateur Night”.
Following in the footsteps, aesthetically in my opinion is the 2020 film “Host” which is found on Shudder. This is a short film, less than an hour yet it is a huge favorite of the 2020s films so far for me. It’s all taking place over zoom calls, shot during the pandemic, and it showcases that you don’t need a big budget or a lot of chaos behind the scenes or in front of the screen to make a movie.
Creep (2014) and Lake Mungo (2008) were late bloom watchers for me but there’s something sinister about both. I don’t know what you’d do in a situation like Creep; like my red flags would have been going off immediately! Lake Mungo is sad, just overall sad. We can establish that the brother is a bit untrustworthy, right?
There are others like The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007/09), REC (2007) and even Spree (2020) are a few more honorable mentions. I haven’t seen them (minus REC which has been a long time) and I had just bought Spree from Dollar Tree the other day and it’s on my to do list to watch but Spree did inspire this post.
Before we conclude, I feel obligated to speak about Cannibal Holocaust (1980) which is a tough pill to swallow for some people. I have seen this film once and only ONCE. It’s not an easy film to watch which is why I put it in this category of “one time watch films”. It’s in there with A Clockwork Orange and Terrifier and even The Last House on the Left. But Cannibal Holocaust is a found footage, there’s some animal cruelty and some scenes that downright look real enough that this film was brought to court. So be warned if you haven’t seen it and you want to check it out!
Found footage in horror, there’s only so many that do the subgenre justice or incorporate elements of it into something special. It’s hard to find the gems and not be bored by them. One big complaint that I have and I believe a lot of fans have said this as well, the glitching/vhs effects being overdone or it’s too fake looking. I remember seeing it more in Hell House 2 and I wasn’t into it as much.
But if there’s a good story to be told, good filmmaking and there’s uniqueness, a found footage film can be great. What films have you seen that you’d add or suggest? What’s a potential gripe you have with found footage?
Leave a comment below!