Top 10 Found Footage Films You Should Watch This Halloween
When I agreed to research and write a top ten Halloween list of found footage horror films for MovieFloss, it turned out I was in for a couple of surprises. First, I didn’t expect to enjoy as many of the films as I did. Don’t get me wrong, I had seen some films in the genre I genuinely liked, but I expected the good to be fewer and farther between. My overwhelming attitude was that found footage was the cheap and lazy stepchild of the horror genre, but now I know that isn’t necessarily true. That honor probably goes to zombie movies now*. The truth is, there are a number of clever and original films in this genre and others that are just too fun not to enjoy. The second thing I was surprised to learn was that I have already seen way more found footage horror movies than I would have thought. This isn’t to say I didn’t do any research for this column, I’m just saying I had already laid down a foundation I wasn’t even that aware of. But I did do research too. Hours of research. I have to be honest, I started to feel a little weird about it. It’s harder to distance yourself from what is ostensibly other people’s home movies than it is some other types of films.
I didn’t set a lot of rules up for myself when making this list, but before you ask I did tend to shy away from sequels and foreign films as much as possible if not completely. I watched some, but decided against them. I know some people will probably cry about it, but them’s the breaks. My list, my rules. That being said, here’s my super spooky Halloween top ten list of found footage horror films.
This is my Bigfoot found footage entry, because I felt I had to have at least one. I chose the one written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, because the man deserves at least that much respect for Police Academy 4. Willow Creek takes the subtle, slow burn approach of yet another film school student out to make his name with a documentary about the unknown. Jim and “aspiring actress” girlfriend Kelly road trip out to Bigfoot country to interview the natives and visit the site of the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage of the infamous but elusive Sasquatch. Needless to say, things do not go according to plan and much woodland terror ensues. Willow Creek has a nice simmering build up that lets you get to know and develop a bit of empathy for the characters before trouble finds them. What works best about this film is the way it allows the viewer to fill in the gaps. The payoff is only as horrible as your own imagination allows. Neat trick.
I’m going to get beat up for picking Quarantine over REC, but while I appreciate the original Spanish version, I’ll usually pick a well-crafted American remake (admittedly rare) over subtitled foreign affairs merely for the fact I don’t have to read. This Americanized version of a story about an apartment complex overrun with a sort of super rabies zombie-like infection is worth the watch. Featuring strong acting from pre-Dexter Jennifer Morgan as the hopeful up-and-coming TV journalist doing a story on the local fire department, Quarantine is packed full of suspense and splashed liberally with brutal imagery and solid scares as the madness spirals out of control.
8. V/H/S The main plot of V/H/S is not important. Thieves break into home. Thieves find trove of old tapes. Horror ensues. But as a series of creepy horror vignettes, V/H/S is surprisingly original and well done. One might call it found footage Twilight Zone, but I prefer Treehouse of Horror with less cartoon violence, more real violence and even a smidge of nudity. Violence and nudity? A winning combination if ever there was one.
Well you gotta have an exorcism film in the top ten; I think that’s healthy requirement. The Last Exorcism has the interesting premise of a faithless reverend out to save the religious children of the world by proving that exorcisms are hogwash that get people killed. Documentary crew in tow, the reverend answers a call for help from rural Louisiana only to find himself in the midst of something truly disturbing. Has the devil come to the Bible Belt or is everybody just a bunch of crazy yocals? You’re going to have to watch to find out. The Last Exorcism is well put together and exceptionally acted. The story is creepy as hell and all of those things make this movie one worth looking into.
Okay, I intended to keep this list free of sequels, but it’s hard to call The Marked Ones a true sequel in the Paranormal Activity universe. Sure, it manages to tie itself loosely to the lore of the other films, but it’s impossible to find much common ground between the locales and lily-white suburbanites of the earlier films and the urban Hispanic setting and characters of this film. This is what happens when demonic possession finds the barrio, and the characters here have a lot more fun with the premise. While you might find your “Don’t go in there!” alarms blaring throughout the movie, it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride here. The Marked Ones is by far one of the most engaging and downright fun films in the found footage pantheon and it isn’t short on scares either.
There are no shortage of found footage films regarding close encounters with visitors from another world, but this movie about a family who gets caught up in a mass abduction in rural North Carolina, home of the infamous “Brown Mountain Lights,” is the best one out there is you ask me. It’s not as subtle and mysterious as some of the others, but that’s what makes it the most fun. There’s no skimping on the bad guys and there are some surprisingly nice effects and camera tricks. The tension rarely let’s up throughout as the punches keep coming as soon as the action begins. Of course, my favorite part is the friendly-not-friendly hillbilly who pops in and out like a video game NPC throughout the film. Hands down one of my favorite found footage characters of all time.
This movie caught me way out of left field. A couple of friends recommended it to me when I told them I was writing this piece, but since I hadn’t seen much else about it out on the interwebs and there were so many other movies and recommendations to go through, I almost passed on it completely. Through some sort of divine intervention or technological demonic possession, the movie happened to show up in my amazon queue after I watched a much lesser film and I thought, “What the hell, I got one more in me tonight.” So I fired her up. I’m glad I did. Creep is unsettling from the get go. This is the story of a man who hires another man to film his average life as a testimonial to his unborn son, only to form an eerie bond with his camera-for-hire that grows into something more sinister. The protagonist, played by Mark Duplass-an accomplished actor many of you will recognize-, leaves you constantly wondering whether he is truly unhinged or just socially awkward. You’ve met people like this before, and that makes the experience all the more frightening and uncomfortable. This film is a testament to what good acting can bring to the table. Most found footage auteurs prefer to cast unknowns in their films, presumably to lend more authenticity to the seemingly random nature of the stories, but a lesser actor here would have sunk Creep. As it is, this movie turned out to be the most welcome surprise of this entire experience for me from beginning to end.
Part Indiana Jones, part descent into the hoary unknown, As Above, So Below is fairly unique among found footage fare. This is the story of the Scarlett, an archaeologist child from a family of archeologists, and her search for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone in the catacombs below Paris. While many found footage films use the premise of documentary and the search for the unknown (search for ghosts, search for aliens, search for Bigfoot…etc.) this film actually gives more than lip service to the quest at hand. And it really is a quest, with twists and turns and clues that take wit and knowledge to decipher. Of course, it ultimately devolves into the typical chills and thrills, but for once you actually find yourself at least somewhat engaged and interested in the characters and their goals. It’s not the scariest film here, but it’s a pretty fun ride into a not so fun place with an outcome that might actually surprise you.
It’s almost a crime not to rank this movie number one. If you don’t know, this is the story of intrepid documentary film crew Heather Donahue & Co. heading out into the wilderness to tell the tale of local legend, the Blair Witch, only to meet an uncertain fate while leaving behind sparse video evidence of their peril. This is the granddaddy of all found footage films and it’s as deserving of its fame as it is of its infamy. If you manage to make it through this shaky cam film school experiment without vomiting, you’ll no doubt find yourself harboring oceans of ill will towards its presumably doomed players. That’s the charm, though, really. This is probably the most honest reaction you’ll ever see from the cast of a found footage flick, largely because the entire production was so loosely scripted and heavily improvised. Now, many years and a hundred clones later, Blair Witch stands the test of time better than one would probably imagine due to the fact that it can never be truly replicated. Not to mention the way this movie tied into the infancy of the World Wide Web, becoming the first true multi-platform success of its kind. At the time a healthy portion of the film’s audience believed what they were watching was real, and that’s the kind of publicity money can’t buy. Above all of that, Blair Witch is still a pretty creepy movie.
1. Paranormal Activity
When all was said and done I really had no choice but to rank this as the highest found footage horror film to date. This is just your basic haunting premise, but it uses so many simple yet clever tricks that left a lot of filmmakers wondering why they hadn’t thought of it first. Its innovative use of not only hand held cameras but fixed security monitors and laptop cameras helped defeat the often off-putting shaky cam footage of other films in the genre, providing for a much more watchable film. The setting and characters are so understated as to make the story relatable and as with many of the other well made movies on this list, the buildup is the key. The effects are minimal as the tension mounts and the explanations are few and far between. Later on in this series, the story gets fleshed out more, but the sense that this exceedingly average couple just randomly won the haunted house lottery might be the most chilling aspect of this installment. It could happen to you. Of all the found footage movies I’ve seen, this one stayed with me the longest, and I didn’t even bother to go back and re-watch it for this piece. Don’t need to. Don’t wanna.
*There are currently zombie movies about beavers, about boy scouts and about elementary school kids. I will watch and respect them all, but that is super lazy.
**Editors note, this article earlier reflected a poster for Creep (2004) and not Creep (2014) we apologize for any confusion or mis-direction to found footage horror it isn’t Steve’s fault his editor didn’t know the difference between two horror movies.**