Found footage horror spent many years as an obscure subgenre thanks to lurid films like Cannibal Holocaust. When The Blair Witch Project exploded into public consciousness in 1999 found footage suddenly became a big deal. Over the course of the next decade found footage saw its share of triumphs such as Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, but seemed to languish under the weight of dross such as the infamous Devil Inside and the sometimes inconsistent quality of Paranormal Activity’s various sequels.
But now the familiar stick figures are rising again with the imminent release of The Blair Witch, a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project. The film – directed by found footage veteran Adam Wingard – promises plenty of screaming and claustrophobic terror and could give found footage horror the boost in interest it has been needing. But just because found footage horror has kept a low profile for a few years does not mean there isn’t a wealth of material to tide viewers over until they can finally get their Blair Witch on. Enjoy the latest The Blair Witch trailer, but then venture onward into the dark where some truly menacing gems of film making await:
5) Lake Mungo (2008)
This Australian import is not your typical found footage horror film. No one frantically runs through the woods, only to have the camera fall and lie still on the ground once its operator has been struck down. It is instead presented as a documentary film chronicling the struggles of the Palmer family whose teenage daughter Alice drowned while swimming. But details of the quiet girl’s final months don’t seem to add up and neither do the strange occurrences around the Palmer’s home in the wake of her death. Did Alice know more about her own approaching death than she let on? This complicated character study with its believable depictions of grief over the long term makes for compelling viewing and invites uncomfortable questions about the nature of time and what we truly know about the ones we love.
4) The Den (2013)
What begins as carefree sociological study about behavior in internet chat rooms soon has graduate student Elizabeth fighting for her life against a truly psychotic cyberstalker. This fast-paced parable for modern times is told exclusively via webcam and Go-Pro footage, creating a sense of isolation and helplessness regarding Elizabeth and her plight. The film spares no love for the modern technology we take for granted and vigorously questions the reality we’ve built around them. Has Elizabeth simply stumbled onto someone’s sick attempt at a viral video, or is the virtual chat room known as The Den the beginning of something much, much worse that runs far deeper and more complex than she can possibly imagine? This is one movie that will have you questioning whether your phone or tablet with its trusty, unobtrusive little camera eye is really your friend.
3) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1985)
Long before his scene-stealing roles in The Walking Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy actor Michael Rooker donned the horrific title role in one of the most notorious cult films of all time. While not a found footage movie in the strict sense, this sickening tale of an endless killing spree somehow manages to take an even darker turn when Henry and his simple-minded sidekick Otis (Tom Towles) steal a video camera and begin filming their crimes for later enjoyment. Real-life murderer Henry Lee Lucas, upon whom the character of Henry is based, did not leave behind such hard evidence for his fanciful (and ultimately-deemed fictitious) accounts of mass murder. But there are scenes in Henry that leave the viewer pondering their own reaction if they came across the records of Henry and Otis’s handiwork, and also how frighteningly easy it is to encounter a truly dangerous person… or a trophy they’ve left behind.
2) The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and her adult daughter are rendered so destitute by the cost of the mother’s medical care that they have to agree to be part of a documentary film just to make ends meet and keep their house. A tragic indictment of the state of health care in America? Or over-the-top supernatural thriller about child sacrifice and serpent cults? The Taking of Deborah Logan is both and is consistently cited as one of the most brilliant horror films of recent years and for good reason. The acting is terrific, the storyline is well-crafted, and Deborah’s condition is rendered no less believable and horrific for the addition of occult elements. The Taking of Deborah Logan is a film that could set the standard for how found footage horror films are made if audiences give it a chance.
1) The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Images from this truly morbid film have gone viral over the years. But there is so much more to The Poughkeepsie Tapes than just creepy, low-res footage of a guy in a plague doctor mask. Much like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer decades before, The Poughkeepsie Tapes had difficulty getting distributed and released due to its unrelenting depiction of a seemingly unstoppable madman. The film’s director, John Erick Dowdle, would eventually find mainstream success with the sleek found-footage thriller Quarantine. But his earlier film manages to be even more gut-wrenching despite its smooth, intellectual, documentary format. For a horror film that make you lose your appetite and lock the front door, look no further. The footage that you’re after… has been found.