As has been mentioned here before, I am a huge fan of the found footage, or shaky cam, genre of horror movies. Found footage is a genre of filmmaking, especially horror, in which all or a substantial part of a film is presented as an edit of recovered footage, often left behind by missing or dead protagonists. The events onscreen are seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, who often speaks off screen. Filming is often done by the actors themselves as they recite their lines, and shaky camera work is also often used to maintain realism.
Films that you should be familiar with, which fit into this category are horror films such as 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust (which is considered by many to be the Godfather of found footage films), 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, the 2007 Spanish film REC and it’s sequel, 2008’s Quarantine (which is an American remake of REC), 2008’s Cloverfield, and 2009’s Paranormal Activity. The 2009 sci-fi/horror film The Fourth Kind is done in a similar fashion. There have even been television shows that have used the found footage technique, shows such as the current Animal Planet series, Lost Tapes as well as the eerie 1998 “one-off” show, titled Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, which featured the found home movie of a family who had supposedly disappeared after seeing a huge explosion outside of their small country home
With the exception of the grossly overrated Paranormal Activity, I have been a huge fan of all of these sort of films. Paranormal Activity, and it’s equally bad sequel, are the only found footage films that I felt truly failed at being suspenseful or even entertaining. For me, they both failed on every level. Cannibal Holocaust is not my kind of movie, as it contains the killing of actual animals, but it does succeed at truly horrifying it’s viewers. Remove the gratuitous animal slaughter scenes, and you have the perfect found footage film.
I decided to put together a list of the best films of the found footage genre.
# 10 – The Last Broadcast – The Last Broadcast was original released in 1998 and was digitally produced with the use of rather inexpensive PC-based software and hardware. In The Last Broadcast, documentary filmmaker David Leigh sets out to film a documentary on a true crime case known as “The Fact or Fiction Murders”, in which two television hosts of a not-so-popular paranormal investigation cable access show and another man were brutally murdered. A man who was brought in to assist the team, serving as a psychic, as they did a live telecast of their investigation in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey searching for the famed Jersey Devil was the lone survivor of the brutal murders, and was subsequently arrested and convicted of the crime. The purpose of Leigh’s documentary is to seek out the entire story of these murders. During his work on the documentary, Leigh uncovers a missing video tape from the night of the murders. The tape is heavily damaged, and a video restoration expert is brought in to attempt to salvage this tape, thus uncovering the secrets of this grisly multiple murder! If not for the climax of the film, I’d consider this to be the best found footage film ever made. The ending took too much away from the film for me to list it any higher than 10, but for the most part, it’s an excellent film.
# 9 – Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County – After a mysterious blackout, a young son goes out to investigate and captures footage of actual aliens. When the aliens follow he and his brothers back to their home all hell breaks lose. This film originally aired on FOX and although the acting may not be on par with that of other films within the genre, the fact that this 60 minute film had many viewers convinced that it was real earns it a spot on this list.
# 8 – Cloverfield – On the eve of his departure for Japan, a man named Rob sees his going-away party as an opportunity to confess unresolved feelings and tie up loose ends. His agenda takes an unexpected turn when a jolt shakes the revelers. The crowd quiets down to watch news reports of an earthquake, then rushes to the roof to assess the damage. A fireball explodes on the distant horizon. A power failure follows. Confusion gives way to panic as the partygoers stumble through the blackout and into the streets. Amid the human screams and one inhuman roar, Rob and his friends must traverse a landscape that has changed, overtaken by something otherworldly, terrifying, monstrous. One of my favorite aspects in many found footage films is the ending, or lack thereof, which leaves the viewer with more questions than it does answers. Cloverfield has just such an ending. It leaves you wanting more.
# 7 – 8213: Gacy House – A group of television paranormal investigators set up their equipment in the empty house that now sits on the foundation where notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s home once sat. They are there to film their attempt to prove whether or not the home where many young men met their demise is actually haunted. The crew soon learns the answer to this question. If more people would realize that just because Hollywood, and the media as a whole, tells you that the Paranormal Activity films are good doesn’t mean that they actually ARE, more people would give films like 8213: Gacy House a chance. And if they did, they’d then learn that the P.A. films are NOT well done found footage paranormal films. Gacy House, on the other hand, IS.
# 6 – The Blair Witch Project – Three young filmmakers set out to make a documentary about a legend that haunts Burkittsville, Maryland. The legend of the Blair Witch! The kids end up lost in the heavily wooded area, eventually becoming separated and disappearing, one by one. The Blair Witch Project was the first small, independent found footage to become a mainstream phenomenon and as much as I tend to dislike most mainstream horror, this film making it’s way into the mainstream served to garner more attention for the genre.
# 5 – The Last Exorcism – The story surrounds a Protestant reverend named Marcus Cotton, who had performed exorcisms for the Church, for money, throughout his career, despite the fact that he does not believe in exorcism, demons or anything of the sort. Cotton wants this story of fraud to be known, so he invites a film crew to accompany him on his last exorcism, where he is to “cure” the daughter of a farmer whose livestock have been mysteriously slaughtered, and he believes his daughter is responsible for these killings. However, this unveiling of the “truth” does not go exactly as planned, and the priest’s faith is put to the test. Although many areas of the film fail to have that what I’m watching is real feeling to them that a found footage should have, The Last Exorcism is still one of the best of the genre.
# 4 – REC 2 – Sequel to the film that occupies my number 3 spot, REC 2 takes the viewer back inside the infected apartment building where the first film took place. A group of SWAT team members, led by a rather mysterious man who is definitely aware of exactly what had taken place in the house where the residents, as well as a TV crew and a group of firemen, had met their demise in the original film. He is calling the shots, and will stop at nothing to find the “antidote” to whatever it is that is transforming the infected into hideous monstrosities. The REC films are not only some of the best found footage films, but they are also two of the best horror films of the modern era.
# 3 – REC – Angela, a television reporter, is along on a ridealong with a local fire department when they receive an emergency call from an apartment building. It would seem that something has been unleashed into the building that appears to be infecting the residents of the building. The story is not as simple as a zombie outbreak type of film. There are many twists and turns, as well as some great scares. The American film, Quarantine, starring Dexter‘s Jennifer Carpenter, is a remake of the first REC film. Quarantine would have come in around number 11 on my list. It’s a good film, but it’s no where nearly as amazing as REC or REC 2.
# 2 – Cannnibal Holocaust – The Grandfather of the found footage genre. “In New York City, a TV news reporter recounts the details surrounding the mysterious disappearance of a documentary film crew who has gone missing in the jungles of South America for two months. They were last seen departing from the remote Columbian town of Leticia which sits deep in the jungle on the border points between Brazil and Peru, to document the existence of cannibal tribes in the jungle. NYU’s noted anthropologist Professor Harold Monroe is assigned the task by the university to find out what happened to the conceited, and over-confident film crew.” While searching for the missing film crew, their camera is found. The horrors that befell this film crew have all been captured on film. My only complaint, or issue, with Cannibal Holocaust, is that there were a number of animals who were actually killed in this film. As an animal lover, I found those scenes to be very uncomfortable to watch. Other than that, it is indeed the Godfather of the genre, and for that, it deserves to be listed at number 2 on my list.
# 1 – August Underground’s Mordum – When I decided to do this list, I knew which film I had to list in the top spot. That film is August Underground’s Mordum. According to their official website, “August Underground’s MORDUM” is “sequel to the cult classic “August Underground”, is a character study in the sick: an amoral, putrid, masturbatory fantasy. The found footage contained in “August Underground’s MORDUM” documents extreme deviant sexuality, torture, and murder, while unfolding a classic tale of a man and woman in love. However, the woman cannot give up her other lover, who also happens to be her younger brother. Exploiting the trio of killers and their deviant ways with issues such as child abuse, incest, rape, and their effects on the human psyche, “August Underground’s MORDUM” will vomit all over you and leave you for dead.” The film is done in the ‘found footage’ style, and is essentially 90 minutes of a simulated snuff film, detailing the murderous exploits of a psychotic trio of sadistic, sexually deviant people who, when they’re not rocking out at death metal clubs, or robbing their local retailer, are on the prowl for their next victim, searching for someone whom they can abduct, chain up, vomit on, rape, torture, cut up, force into self mutilation and eventually murder. And these three do not discriminate. No matter your age or sex, you are a potential toy/victim. It’s sick. Offensive, hard to watch at times, and it’s the best found footage film ever made!
That’s it. My list of the ten best films of the found footage genre. Paranormal Activity fan boys can now procede with their hatred for me. I don’t mind.
Below are links to reviews that I did for some of these films:
- The Last Broadcast review
- 8213: Gacy House review
- The Last Exorcism
- REC 2
- August Underground’s Mordum
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