Found Footage Genre in Hollywood is so popular these days. They are less expensive to produce and based on the success of films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, these films have raked ample amount of money. Inexpensive Production with profitable outcome? That’s good business for you.
The guys from IGN look back at the long history of found footage films and pick out the Top 10 examples. If you’re planning a Halloween movies marathon, these movies might fit the bill.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes turns the traditional found footage movie on its head by having the killer be the one who films the movie’s gruesome events. In this lesser known horror flick, criminal investigators are forced to sort through hundreds of hours of disturbing footage left behind by a serial killer dubbed the Water Street Butcher. The killer remains elusive throughout the film, but his many terrible acts take their toll on both the investigators and viewers. Unfortunately, the movie was never released on DVD, making it a bit of challenge to actually watch the movie legally.
Years before The Blair Witch Project came onto the scene, a group of Belgian student filmmakers crafted this low-budget, but inventive found footage flick. The movie purports to be a documentary about the exploits of a depraved serial killer named Benoit. The camera crew accompany Benoit as he showcases his bloody work habits and murders numerous victims. The movie certainly attracted its share of controversy for its graphic content (including the implied murder of a baby), but Man BItes Dog also has a very black sense of humor. As the filmmakers are slowly drawn into Benoit’s world, the movie becomes a satire on the media’s fascination with violence.
We’ve seen numerous attempts over the years to replicate The Exorcist formula (including multiple lackluster Exorcist sequels). The Last Exorcism succeeded where others failed by taking the found footage approach to demonic possession. The movie is framed as a documentary as a film crew follows a preacher (Patrick Fabian) who is prepared to reveal that his flashy exorcism rituals are staged. But to his chagrin, the preacher encounters his first true case of demonic possession, and the result is a desperate and very chilling battle for the soul of an innocent girl (Ashley Bell). If found footage and exorcism movies are two things Hollywood had done to death, the two elements combined here to form something more memorable.
Cannibal Holocaust was one of the first movies to showcase the potential of the found footage format. Unlike more contemporary found footage films, Cannibal Holocaust divides its focus between a present day faux-documentary covering the disappearance of a group of filmmakers and snippets of footage recovered from their cameras in the Amazon rain forest. Little by little, viewers discover just what terrible fate befell the filmmakers in their attempt to document the cannibal tribes of the deep jungle. The movie was so disturbing that many accused it of being an actual snuff film upon its release. Though that was eventually disproved, it was banned in multiple countries for its graphic depictions of violence, sexual assault, and cruelty to animals.
Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal found a new angle on the found footage horror genre by swapping out demons for trolls. This faux-documentary saw three Norwegian college students film the exploits of suspected bear poacher Hans (comedian Otto Jespersen). Instead, they discovered that Otto hunted trolls for the government. Together, the group encounter one bizarre monstrosity after another.
The trolls themselves aren’t overtly scary, due both to the limited special effects and the fact that trolls simply aren’t as ingrained into American folklore as they are in Norway. Nonetheless, the tension is palpable as the intrepid hunters find themselves deep in troll country and in over their heads.
Found footage and superhero movies are two of the most popular genres in Hollywood these days, so it was only a matter of time before someone decided to combine the two. Not that there’s anything terribly heroic about the stars of Chronicle. The movie presents amateur footage of a group of high school teens as they encounter a mysterious object and gain telekinetic powers. After the initial rush wears off, one of the teens begins using his powers for increasingly sinister purposes. Though the movie’s careful, grounded tone slips away in the final act, Chronicle managed to breathe new life into the superhero genre. It also paved the way for director Josh Trank to helm Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot.
Paranormal Activity helped further popularize the growing found footage craze when it finally saw wide release in 2009. The concept is simple. A young California couple (Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat) notice a series of unexplained disturbances in their household. Micah’s attempts to document the disturbances on camera only exacerbate the situation, and soon the pair realize they’re being hounded by a demon that wants Katie for itself.
Paranormal Activity has quickly grown into an annual franchise, which is no surprise given that the original is estimated to be the most profitable film ever made. Each new sequel is tied to the original in some way and offers inventive new camera tricks to spook viewers. But none of these sequels have managed to fully recreate the simple terror of the original.
Far more creatively successful and entertaining than the 1997 Americanized Godzilla movie, Cloverfield is a glimpse of what might happen if a gigantic monster started rampaging through Manhattan. The entire film is framed from the perspective of a group of young Manhattan friends who dutifully document the unfolding chaos even as they fall victim one by one. The found footage format works well, and for much of the movie, viewers only see the evidence of the monster’s destruction, not the beast itself. The cryptic marketing campaign also lent the movie an aura of mystery leading up to its 2008 release.
The Blair Witch Project didn’t invent the found footage formula, but it certainly popularized the genre. It arrived a decade before annual Paranormal Activity sequels were the norm, and thanks to a clever marketing campaign, many viewers were convinced the movie actually was compiled from real footage of three teens lost in the Maryland wilderness while being pursued by a murderous recluse.
Another element working in the movie’s favor was the authenticity of the performances. The three actors were stranded in the woods with little in the way of food or directions while they filmed their travels. By the end, the screams of terror and the general sense of desperate fear were no longer being faked.
[REC] is the standard by which all found footage horror movies are judged. This Spanish horror movie presents footage from a news reporter who accompanies a fire crew into an apartment building.That supposedly routine call quickly degenerates when it becomes clear something in the building is turning the residents into rabid killers. With the protagonists trapped inside, the result is a nonstop wave of terror and bloodshed. The sense of isolation and impending doom really adds a lot to the overall impact of the movie.
[REC] offered a simple but very effective formula. To date, it’s inspired two sequels (with a third on the way in 2013) and a slavishly faithful American remake in Quarantine.