Remember when the infusion of found footage into movies was fresh and inventive, especially when it came to found footage horror? Now the genre is so utterly saturated with the sixth-going-on-seventh Paranormal Activity movie that it seems to have lost its impact. (Even IFC’s new series Documentary Now is getting in on the found footage game.)
To prove that this sub-genre of horror was actually scary at one time or another — and it still can be — here’s a rundown of some truly spine-tingly found-footage films. (Warning: Some of these films are scarily NSFW.) And don’t forget to catch Quarantine airing this month on IFC.
1. The Blair Witch Project
Before everyone was capturing footage of ghosts and demons with their Vines and Snapchats, the Blair Witch Project sparked a horror movie revolution. It may not have been the very first found footage film, but it was basically The Exorcist of the genre. The value of the sequels, especially Book of Shadows, is up for debate, but nothing will compare to the horrific intimacy of a group of budding filmmakers freaking out in the woods.
2. Paranormal Activity
There’s a reason why the Paranormal Activity franchise became so popular and spawned six movies, including one spin-off: it’s freaky as hell. Looking through the lenses of various security cameras set up around the house, we see — and are even a part of — the poltergeist that haunts, possesses and slaughters the innocents of the house. The sequels may have gotten progressively gorier with their scares, but nothing compares to the fear sweats we received from the original.
Afflicted may look like another spin on the Chronicle treatment —- a found footage film about individuals who develop strange abilities -— but there’s a horrific twist that makes it unique. We won’t spoil the big secret here, though you can probably figure it out from the GIF above, but at the end of the day the found-footage factor adds an extra layer of intensity to the proceedings.
[Rec] is a 2007 Spanish film told through camera footage from a television crew, so it makes sense that they would be filming everything in the name of journalism. The story follows a TV reporter and her cameraman as they accompany emergency workers into a building and are quickly locked inside with the horror within.
The twisty “Amateur Night,” is just one of the many vignettes of V/H/S, a compilation of horror shorts. As if the sadistic stories weren’t terrifying enough, the found-footage aspect sees these monsters staring directly into your soul.
6. The Bay
It’s no shocker that the horror genre quickly became oversaturated with zombie movies, but The Bay was a new take on a (pardon the pun) decaying genre. A small seaside town in Maryland is at the center of an ecological disaster that turns people into rabid killing machines. One of the more unconventional aspects of the film lies in the found footage, which draws from a mixture of footage from a TV cameraman, confessions from an inexperienced reporter and footage from oceanographers.
If you said a year ago that a horror movie that takes place entirely on a computer screen would be freaky, let alone good, you would’ve been laughed off the Internet. But Unfriended put a new spin on the found-footage format by telling a ghostly tale through computer screens. In doing so, it also modernizes the genre, reminding even the hipster tweenie boppers of the world that they won’t live forever.
8. The Sacrament
Filmmaker Ti West is an ace at making stories we’ve heard countless times before seem new and freaky. The Sacrament tells the tale of a crazy cult leader gathering his followers for a mass suicide, only we’re seeing it through the lens of a two-man news crew. The new format makes us, somehow, believe we have the power to change the outcome, which makes the rude awakening at the end even more chilling.
9. The Last Exorcism
Taken out of context, this move from The Last Exorcism looks like it could mesh well with the “Watch Me Nae Nae” music video. When considered within the larger context of the hit film The Last Exorcism, it brings back fond memories of the fear-induced sweat trickling down the nape of your neck. Possession and exorcism seem to naturally mesh well with the found footage format, but this film set itself apart when bathing in the intimate moments between priest, possessed and possessor.
10. The Curse
Some of the most f-ed up horror has come out of Japan. (The Grudge? Need we say more?) The Curse, aka Noroi, took a Blair Witch-style approach in telling the story through camera footage of a paranormal investigator/documentarian who disappeared while making a movie called The Curse. There were also mockumentary elements thrown in there, but the malevolent spirit that comes a’haunting brings the fear factor. And there’s nothing freakier than watching a person’s last minutes alive on camera.