The Good, The Bad and The Terrible ; Found Footage
Welcome to the The Good, The Bad and The Terrible in this feature we will take a well known horror movie trope and look at the films that excelled and did something wonderful with the concept, those that well, didn’t and those that monumentally cocked it up..Today’s topic is not so much a horror movie trope but a genre: Found Footage
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
One of the most iconic found footage films ever,The Blair Witch Project unfortunately in recent years has become a victim of time. Time has not been kind to the film, apart from appearing dated and overdone to new audiences, the film has been harmed by being viewed years after its initial glorious moment in time. It was the most talked about film of 1999 and whereas with period dramas and bio pics this can simply lead to being a shoe in for an oscar, the word of mouth surrounding horror film Blair Witch created something much more potent ; hysteria. This was not the first found footage film, the technique is considered to have been originated by 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust (more on that later). But this was one of the first films to utilize a limitless and expanding medium ; the internet.
In 1999 the internet was still blossoming, it was not yet readily available in every home, in every persons pocket. While some could argue that it was primarily revolutionizing the porn industry, it was also being used as something very insidious and influential ; a source of information. On the cusp of the new millennium before it bloomed into a true peer to peer sharing tool, the internet was a trusted source and few truly questioned the information it provided, this can be equated to the fact that information had up until this point almost exclusively been delivered to society through fact checked, T.V and Print news sources. So when ‘the internet’ said that three film students had gone missing in the woods in 1994 while filming a documentary and their lost footage had now been found, many believed it. The story of course is now a famous guffed internet fable ; ‘Ha ha those antiqued pre – Google nineties people thought it was real!’ but imagine those who watched Stars Wars in the 1977 on the big screen having grown up on Star Trek’s fishing wire suspended Space ships. Minds. Were. Blown. That was my personal experience of The Blair Witch Project at 14 years old,I experienced something I had never seen before, the fourth wall had been crushed to dust, I was not sitting cozily on my cinema seat popcorn in lap, I was stumbling along with the helpless people on screen trying to get out of the woods, I was so emotionally involved I was crying. As for the film’s ruse, master minded by two young graduates Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick it held through the Sundance premiere, where people still tentatively questioned its authenticity. By its theatrical release news of the clever deception had spread but people were still left with the knowledge that the film was so authentic that you could believe it was real. Of course in a lot of ways it was real. The actors had been left in the woods with only cameras, tents and clues leading them to their next location and with the promise that they would never break character their true confusion, frustration and fear of the situation came together to create one of the most unique movie experiences of all time.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Considered to be the first Found Footage film in cinema, Ruggero Dedato’s horrifying film terrified the living hell out of everyone who saw it at the time who believed that what they were seeing was real and it got itself stamped with a video nasty brand and was frequently referred to in arguments against horror on film. I can’t truthfully say I’m a fan of it (or that I’ve watched more than two minutes of it, I’m a PETA member and I value my sanity) and Dedato has said that he now can’t stand it and regrets making it (you’ll see why in a moment) but its effectiveness founded this genre. Now lets talk about the incredible story behind the film, No one had ever claimed fictional footage was real in cinema before and director Ruggero Dedato quickly paid for his ingenuity. Two weeks after its premiere in Milan the director was arrested and initially charged with obscenity and later murder charges, as the Italian courts truly believed that the actors of the film had died on screen. Facing life in prison Dedato seriously began to regret that to keep the ruse that the footage was real, he had made the actors sign secret contracts promising that they would disappear for a year, meaning that many of their friends and even in some cases family hadn’t seen then in some time and feared them dead. Oh dear. Thankfully for Dedato he managed to track down one of his actors, who then informed the others that the director was about to be tried for all of their murders. The actors showed up in court at his actual arraignment for their deaths and made it clear that they were in fact alive. The charges were then dropped. I don’t know about you but frankly that sounds like a better movie than Cannibal Holocaust to me and I’d rather watch that.. *side note* I didn’t add a screen grab from the film because ; 1. Gag 2. There are literally NO screen grabs of the film online that aren’t lose your lunch disgusting 3. A person should be able to choose whether or not they see that, so I’m not going to subject anyone to it.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Paranormal Activity, the film that reignited the Found Footage trend, went through a very similar conception to The Blair Witch Project . It started as an idea in the head of computer programmer Oren Peli who with no backing and very little financing hired some unknown actors and shot the film in his house, editing it on his computer. It went on to make $107,917,283 and like The Blair Witch Project it publicized itself almost exclusively through word of mouth and an online campaign. I highly recommend viewing the film with Peli’s director commentary as it makes it clear that the entire project was a total labour of love made by a devoted fan of scary movies. To me Paranormal Activity will always be a innovative, thrilling, terrifying masterpiece but to some it remains the lame horror movie about banging doors and a blowing sheet, oh well, haters gonna hate!
Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Masterfully constructed as a companion piece rather then a sequel, the film is a prequel to the events of the first film. It carries through the original film’s sense of building fear and restrained terror and is equally affective. Unfortunately that’s the last we’ll see of the Paranormal Activity series on the good list..
The Conspiracy (2012)
Up there as one of the greatest found footage films of the last decade, the film presents us with an innocuous documentary about conspiracy theories and then takes you to a shockingly dark and unexpected place. Wonderfully played and directed this is a film that deserves to be seen. Writer/Director Christopher McBride took a gamble and released his film onto the festival scene with very little marketing or backstory in order to maintain the authenticity of the documentary. Fun game ; while you watch the film look up the websites that the characters visit (Mc Bride cleverly used Wikipedia to his advantage). The film is a chilling must watch that FINALLY answers the Found Footage question ; ‘who put this footage together?’
Alone With Her (2006)
Writer/Director Eric Nicholas’s affectionate nod to Peeping Tom lets the viewer see into the mind of an obsessive stalker who plants hidden cameras in his victims home and worms his way into her life, manipulating it from the inside. The film which was very sadly overlooked (I once saw it in a bargain bin in Poundland, why?!) does something completely innovative with the Found Footage genre and with a stand out turn from a creepily prefect Colin Hanks, it remains with you after the credits.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
The attention to detail of this mockumentary horror about a serial killer who’s personal tapes have been found, is so tightly constructed and convincing that by the thirty minute mark you’ve forgotten that it isn’t a real documentary. Yes it has to be said that the ‘Found Footage portions of the film have been somewhat overly altered and distressed but its a small blimp in an other wise unique and terrifying film. It’s a real shame about the absolute cock up that occurred with the distribution rights, as it was released only to cable television four years after it was made. But thankfully it is on youtube in its entirety, I highly recommend checking it out.
Not a traditional film of the genre, Sinister instead intersperses it’s story with mesmerizingly terrifying found footage clips. Honestly just writing about the film makes me want hide in a corner and cry. *sob*
The Bay (2012)
Barry Levinson took a very successful leap into the unknown with his found footage eco- horror. Genuinely scary with some very creepy little critters causing havoc, The Bay brought some coherency back to the genre, by providing a narrator for it’s retrospective footage.
Lake Mungo (2008)
This Aussie chiller told in the style of a very straight faced documentary, is a difficult film to categorize. The only horror of the film comes from the real life fear of losing a loved one but this theme is examined and explored in very realistic detail. It is certainly an effective, moving film but my only complaint would be that it has been so cleverly constructed that it feels simply like a documentary film and never perverts the genre for scares as many faux doc found footage films do. Still highly worth a watch.
Home Movie (2008)
Creepy kids are given the found footage treatment and it pays off better than expected, tightly wound and unpredictable, the film is chillingly effective.
Coming in on the cusp of the found footage revival (of which it played a part in) the film was a wonderful commentary on the camera phone generation (film everything) and a shockingly affective thrill ride. It has lost some of its power now due to many shoddy imitators but still holds its own.
Grave Encounters (2011)
This straight to On Demand horror shocked many with its ability to rise above the utter bile that was merrily clogging the Found Footage genre. I think it succeeded as a successful found footage piece because it took the time to build it’s world which was a familiar one (Reality T.V) a technique it had clearly learned from Paranormal Activity but at least they put it to good use.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
With wire tight tension, excellent attention to detail and perfect character development as well as stand out scary moments this Eli Roth produced horror was everything that a good found footage film should be. Shame about the sequel.
Megan Is Missing (2011)
Strangely there are many reasons why this film should be on The Bad List, retrospectively telling the tale of two teenaged best friends who met a man online and became a cautionary tale, the film is incredibly clunky and clearly not very in touch with todays youth (yes teenage girls enjoy a good FaceTime as much as the next person but not quite this much). Also I have yet to meet a teenage girl quite as naive as the two represented here and the film’s insistence that it has been inspired by true events begins to become exploitive and damn near disrespectful, when you know that it is simply based on the fact that there are predatory weridos on the internet. BUT for all that I can’t deny how disturbing the finished product was and how it effected to me, so its makes the ‘Good List’
Troll Hunter (2010)
Hilariously conceived but delivered with a straight face this unique Norwegian film takes us on a barmy and brilliant journey with a wonderfully embittered Troll Hunter who’s doing his best to rid Norway of (not youtube unfortunately) Trolls.
Smart, sharp and shocking this Italian horror and its excellent sequel left the audience helpless and fumbling in the dark as it made horrifyingly effective use of night vision and zombies.
This Spanish horror divided peoples opinions and to be honest my jury is still out and they’re drinking a loooot of coffee but I feel it received enough positive buzz to earn a place on this list and I found it to be an be effective and atmospheric horror.
Paranormal Activity 3
There’s a simple reason that this film heads up our bad list ; dishonesty. This film, watchable as it may be pulled a very dirty trick. There is not a single scene that appears in the trailer that was in the finished film, EVERY single scene from the trailer is NOT in the film. It’s widely believed that the film makers did this to make people think that the third installment would answer questions about the series and bookend the story (as the trailer suggests) but in fact the finished film actually just treads water and has a very unsatisfying open ending, allowing the series to carry on for the rest of time. Why would they pull a trick like this? Money, money and yep money. Bastards.
The Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
I can’t be the only one who viewed the first trailer for this film in open mouthed horror ; You’re going to base a fictional horror film on one of the most tragic disasters of our time that still negatively effects thousands of people AND you’re going to portray supposed victims of this tragedy as crazed deformed monsters? Seriously? And you don’t see anything wrong with that plan? Really? Never mind the fact that the film is badly acted, shot and directed, it’s whole premise is so insulting to humanity that it never deserved a chance.
The Dyatlov Pass incident (2013)
Renny Harlin made a damn fool of himself with this awful mess of a film. Harlin was clearly well out of his depth in the genre as he (seemingly) knowingly and without a sly nod in sight trotted out every awful Found Footage cliché that has ever been put to film.
Yep Chronicle has made the bad list even though I am aware that it proved popular with many. The reason for its placing here is due to the fact that I believe it was hampered by its device, as it spent much of the film drawing attention to the (improbable) presence of a video camera and tried just a little bit too hard to justify its entire existence.
John Erick Dowdle director of the excellent Poughkeepsie Tapes let his talent slip with this needless, near scene for scene remake of the brilliant Rec.
The Devil Inside (2012)
We’re going to make a pointless satanic (sort of) found footage film and you’ll have to go to our website to find out how it ends.. No! Get of my house, get off my television and fuck off, this is not what people watch films for!
Diary Of The Dead (2007)
Romero embarrasses himself by suggesting that todays youth are so stupid and self involved that they would continue filming while a zombie eats them. (actually happens).
Pointless, overly earnest Paranormal Activity rip off that’s not fooling anyone.
Same as above. Road trip gone bad nonsense but it goes a little bit further towards making you want to throw yourself off something high.
Stop. You’re killing meeeeee.
Paranormal Entity (2009)
Asylum Films the film studio equivalent of ambulance chasers who release ‘Mock Busters’ to cash in on current popular films, really outdid themselves with this piece of shit.
Apollo 18 (2011)
Astronauts go into space, it turns out they’ve never seen Ridley Scott’s Alien and they’re surprised by what they find there. I honestly had one of the greatest naps of life during this film, so I’m grateful to it for that.
The Amityville Haunting (2011)
A No-budget Found Footage waste of time that tries to use The Infamous Amityville title to confuse people into watching their awful, awful film.
The Tapes (2011)
This is literally all you need to know ; a bunch a deeply stupid young people crash what they believe to be a kinky swingers party and the film proudly carries the declaimer ‘No pigs were harmed in the making of this film’. Trust me, that’s all.
Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
Fans of the original Paranormal Activity had their hearts broken by this terrible addition to a series that is steadily getting progressively worse with each release. It was devastating to see a film associated with the series that was actually worse then some of the muck that’s tried to rip it off. And personally I think that Henry Joost and Ariel ‘CatFish’ Schulman should stick to filming online love stories about fapping.
I’d like to end this piece by sharing a very important message;
As you read this hundreds of needless and awful found footage films are being green lit and going into production. Please help end the madness don’t watch them.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments!