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Reviewing Apollo 18 last Saturday got me thinking about other “found-footage” Horror movies. A lot of people I know can’t stand this type of film; the shaky camera and low-budget feel can be nauseating. I’m not a huge fan of this sub-genre, but I don’t hate it. I agree that this approach has been extremely overused since the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. More like done to death actually. Nonetheless, there are some definite Horror winners hiding amongst the piles of found-footage crap.
For this list, I am also including mockumentaries and POV films. Enjoy!
10 Pretty Damn Good “Found-Footage”/Mockumentary Horror Movies
10 Pretty Damn Good “Found-Footage”/Mockumentary Horror Movies
[REC]/Quarantine: While these are two different movies, Quarantine is basically a shot-for-shot American remake of the original Spanish film [REC]. So similar are these films, in fact, that my mind can no longer differentiate between the two. Both films follow a young news reporter and her cameraman as they tag along with a band of local fire-fighters. What seems like a minor call quickly escalates into a life and death struggle for our protagonists as they find themselves quarantined in a building where a fast-acting virus is turning residents into rabid zombies. Even though found footage is not my favorite sub-genre of Horror, [REC] is one of my favorite Horror films of all time.
[REC] 2: The sequel to the amazingly successful Spanish film [REC] picks up literally minutes after the first movie ends. This time, an elite paramilitary group with live-feed helmet-cams provide the footage. While not as good as the first [REC], [REC] 2 still packs a mighty punch—and a few surprises to boot. Someone we thought was dead makes a reappearance. I wasn’t particularly thrilled by this film’s mesh of science and theology, but the twist ending is great and the final scene is awesome (as well as gag inducing). [REC] 2 leaves the door wide open for the next installment [REC] 3 Genesis which hits theaters overseas later this year. BTW, there is an American film called Quarantine 2, but it goes in a completely different direction and bears no resemblance to [REC] 2, even abandoning the found-footage format for a traditional, omniscient perspective.
Cloverfield: While collecting pictures for last week’s list of terrifying creatures, I realized that the monster form Cloverfield looks suspiciously similar to the Impossibly Tall Monster from The Mist—especially the way they have backwards elbows on their front arms. Cloverfield is a great wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time scenario that starts off at a party and ends beneath a pile of rubble. For a while, Cloverfield is rather slow (character building), but once the terror starts, the pacing is awesome. While most found-footage movies are filmed on a shoestring budget, Cloverfield had big money all the way. Thus, the effects are amazing, both in terms of the creature and the scenes of a decimated Manhattan Island. Hidden gems: The creature’s pit-bull sized lice fall off and attack people on the ground. If they bite you—your head will explode. No shit.
Lake Mungo: One of my all time favorite After Dark selections, Lake Mungo is arguably not a Horror movie at all. That being said, this film is so spooky I had to turn the lights on to watch it. There are no monsters or slashers in Lake Mungo—just a single death. This film explores the concept of Spirit Photography and, incredibly, seems to both prove and disprove this phenomenon simultaneously. Amazingly, the final shocking twist isn’t revealed until the credits roll. Lake Mungo is a mockumentary of the highest caliber that focuses on a seemingly normal family dealing with the untimely drowning of their 16-year-old daughter/sister. While shot in a news magazine interview format, Lake Mungo still manages to incorporate the creepiest elements of found footage. This is a must see for Horror fans and anyone with an interest in spirits. No violence, no scares, no loud noises. Still, I couldn’t shake this movie for weeks after I watched it.
The Last Exorcism: While all exorcism movies pale beneath the triumph of The Exorcist, The Last Exorcism is nonetheless a great film in its own right. Another mockumentary, The Last Exorcism follows an admitted charlatan of an Exorcist as he justifies the service he provides to families in crisis. This “documentary” was meant to chronicle this character’s final ritual before leaving the game. The irony is that while attempting to disprove the phenomena of demon possession, this movie unintentionally offers evidence of its reality. The Last Exorcism is surprisingly restrained for a film about possession, but this less-is-more approach really adds to the realism. Very creepy, very unnerving, and very much worth a watch.
Paranormal Activity: The little Indie that could, the global success of Paranormal Activity surprised even the filmmakers themselves. Test audiences were so unnerved that many walked out of the theater. Paranormal Activity takes a long time building up the tension, making just a handful of frightening moments excruciatingly intense. What I find most interesting about Paranormal Activity is the way it subverts the concept of a haunted house. While supernatural events do occur in this domicile, the structure itself is not the magnet. In essence, Paranormal Activity introduces the concept of a haunted person. As opposed to a cursed person who is plagued by misfortune and hardship, a haunted person is dogged by a single malevolent entity that follows no matter where they reside. You can’t run away from yourself.
Paranormal Activity 2: Often erroneously referred to as a prequel, the events of Paranormal Activity 2 take place before, during, and after the events of the first film. Instead of a single camera, the action in this film is recorded in several places simultaneously through the use of a high tech surveillance system. A great upgrade, in my opinion. This allows the audience to be frightened by supernatural occurrences that the family in the house might not even be aware of. Paranormal Activity 2 delves deeper into the cause of this family’s haunting. Paranormal Activity 2 also benefits from something the first chapter didn’t have: A large budget. Paranormal Activity 3, a true prequel that will take us back to 1988, is set for theatrical release this October. Once again, the action will center on sisters Katie and Kristie. And, once again, this film will be presented as found-footage.
Diary of the Dead: I know the title is ridiculous, conjuring images of a zombie writing in a journal, but Diary of the Dead has been vastly underrated. It’s a great movie, but in the world of found-footage film, Diary of the Dead is awesome. I know that the market has become ridiculously saturated with zombie films, but this one comes straight from the twisted mind of George A. Romero, the man responsible for the original Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and City of the Dead. Not only is Diary of the Dead extremely well-paced and entertaining, it’s flush with social commentary. Characters in this film are constantly putting their lives (and the lives of others) in danger just to get more shocking footage. Hey, some people say they’ll do anything to make it big in Hollywood! The main characters are all members of the internet generation, addicted to receiving and transmitting information immediately, along with the instant fame the world-wide-web purports to offer. If you think most zombie movies these days are trash—I’d have to say I agree with you. This film’s cheesy title probably kept it off Horror aficionados’ radars. Nonetheless, I recommend this film as a great example of found-footage, a great example of the zombie-genre, and a great movie all around. If you haven’t seen it, give this one a whirl. Best, most telling line of the film: “If you don’t get it on camera, it’s like it never happened.”
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: I’m bending the rules just a bit to include Behind the Mask. While it’s got a solid mockumentary premise about a film crew following an aspiring serial killer (not unlike the French classis: Man Bites Dog), this movie takes place in an alternate reality where movie slashers are real. So it’s a mock-mockumentary. Behind the Mask is also filled with social commentary, addressing the idea that those who make violent movies are, in fact, guilty of perpetuating violence in society. The film’s crew eventually becomes participants in Leslie Vernon’s crimes, completely obliterating the objective stance of true documentarians. Behind the Mask is to the found-film genre what Scream is to the slasher genre, pointing out the “rules” while simultaneously breaking them all. Behind the Mask is also a great black comedy with a cast that includes Robert Englund (that’s Mr. Freddy Krueger to you!).
The Blair Witch Project: What can I say about The Blair Witch Project that hasn’t already been said? Not much. Even though I was underwhelmed by this movie, its influence on popular culture cannot be ignored. And even though The Blair Witch Project is not the first found-footage Horror movie, it certainly had a game-changing effect on the cinematic landscape when it was released in 1999. At the time, Blair Witch was such a novelty that some folks left the theater uncertain if what they had just seen was real (a thought that no modern audience would possibly entertain). Nonetheless, The Blair Witch Project inspired legions of budding filmmakers, proving that even a micro-budget film can make a big splash. Unfortunately, too many of the found-footage films of the past decade do little to expand on the formula Blair Witch established. But for better or worse, every other film on this list would probably never have been made were it not for this movie. And for this, we give thanks.
Honorable mentions go out to Apollo 18 and The 4th Kind.
Thanks for tuning in. Have a great weekend Every-bloody! See you next Friday!