Undoubtedly The Blair Witch Project was a trailblazer when it came to introducing the world to the phenomenon of the found footage horror movie. Created in 1997, all filmed with handheld cameras and three unknown actors on a micro budget, the movie went on to gross $249 million.
Who would have thought the simplistic tale of a group of film students making a documentary about a local folk tale who head into the woods with their camera, never to return, would become a work that would spawn thousands of other movies and create a new sub-genre.
With The Blair Witch Project having just celebrated its 20th anniversary we look at ten of the best found footage films that were born out of this seminal horror classic.
One of the very best found footage horrors that borrowed heavily from Blair Witch was REC, a Spanish supernatural zombie horror that pieced together footage from a late-night TV host as she and her cameraman tag along with the local fire service who are answering a not so routine call to a city apartment building.
What unfolds is a riotous and chaotic Zombie maelstrom, as an old woman infected by a virus leads the police to quarantine the building, ensuring the host and her crew are locked inside. Suffice to say things don’t go well from there. Claustrophobic and with the kind of gore you might expect from a heavy-duty slasher, Rec is a terrifying joy to behold.
V/H/S & V/H/S 2 (2012 / 2013)
This unique horror anthology is a collection of interwoven short stories from different directors, creating a compelling narrative. The first film from 2012 sees a group of thugs who earn their wares putting their violent, snuff like antics online, hired to steal a VHS tape from a spooky old house. Inside they find a dead pensioner and a stack of VHS films, so of course, you grab some popcorn and settle down for a movie sesh.
The second and arguably the better movie out of the two sees a pair of private investigators looking into the disappearance of a college student named Kyle. After breaking into Kyle’s apartment, they discover a large stack of VHS tapes and a laptop that is still recording a video. This leads to the pair of private dicks watching a series of videotapes that show various footage around clinical trials, a cult and zombies in a park. An amalgamation of madness, but worth the time for pure horror lovers.
This Norwegian fantasy-horror mockumentary keeps its tongue firmly in cheek throughout, as a group of students set out to make a documentary about Hans a suspected bear poacher, before soon realising they’re dealing with a much more fantastical and devastating force. Joining up with the mysterious and enigmatic hunter Hans, they soon discover the prey he’s after is larger than life. Yep, you guessed it, he hunts trolls for a living.
The film works best early on when we catch fleeting, tension building glimpses of these particularly ugly monsters, culminating in a full reveal of these wilderness wandering, abominable creatures.
The Borderlands (2013)
This low budget found footage film is one of the best of its kind to come out of the UK. It follows a team of Vatican investigators who are checking out a purported miracle at a church in a sleepy English village.
The team faced with a rather inevitable welcome from the locals, think whispering in corners and being met with silence in the local boozer type thing, soon put their scepticism to one side as it becomes evident there could be a very dark force at work.
Utilising CCTV and glasses cams rather than just a shaky camera works well here. The film is a slow burner, but it’s worth watching alone for an intense and altogether terrifying climax.
Cloverfield is, without doubt, the found footage film on this list with the biggest budget, not a surprise with the production being overseen by J.J. Abrams.
It follows a group of friends in New York as they react to a giant monster attacking the city. The footage all shot by the character holding the camera is presented as ‘evidence’ that had been recovered by the Department Of Defense after the events of the movie.
The disorientation, a feature of the Blair Witch phenomenon, is evident here, with a vomit-inducing level of shakiness at times. If you only watch one scene the dizzying escape from a partially collapsed skyscraper is genuinely thrilling.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
In many ways, Oren Peli’s shoestring budget sensation Paranormal Activity is closest of all in spirit to The Blair Witch Project. It features unknown actors pretending to be scared out of their skins, with lo-fi frights being the order of the day.
The film is perhaps all the more chilling thanks to its ‘every day kinda thing’ suburban setting, as a young happy-go-lucky couple encounter a force worthy of the dark ages in their pristine detached abode. As they set up surveillance to film the ever-increasing bumps in the night soon turn to thuds and much worse.
It spawned a number of sequels, but none bettered this for sheer suspense and the at times heart-stopping scares crafted from very little happening.
Grave Encounters (2011)
The concept in this smart 2011 film sees a rather cynical team of TV paranormal investigators tasked with checking out an abandoned psychiatric hospital to see if reports of supernatural activity are ‘legitimate’.
But this particular episode of “Grave Encounters” doesn’t turn out to be standard fare for the crew as they find themselves confronted by ghosts of the former patients.
It feels more real than many, as the film’s directors The Vicious Brothers employed the tricks and techniques of many TV ghost hunter shows and genuinely scared the life out of their actors. The results on the screen are plain to see.
The Bay (2012)
The Bay directed by Rain Man helmer Barry Levinson is far from perfect but must be credited for adding another dimension to the genre.
Here residents of an American resort town are plagued by a flesh-eating virus, an outbreak that was covered up by the government. The various pieces of footage held together by a news report shows that the dumping of fertilizer into the local bay helped create a deadly parasite.
The real difference here is the format of the footage pieced together to create the narrative of a video about the hushed-up incident. We get news reports, footage from iPhones, social media and CCTV. It’s also more thought-provoking than most found footage horror movies, as it masquerades as an eco doc about what’s being done to our planet’s bodies of water.
The Fourth Kind (2009)
Don’t let the generally abysmal reviews put you off watching this creepy alien abduction movie. Supposedly based on real events, The Fourth Kind stars Milla Jovovich as Dr Abigail Tyler, an Alaskan-based psychotherapist whose videotaped sessions with her patients offer seemingly compelling evidence of the abduction of humans by little green men.
What the film does well is blur the lines between what’s real and what isn’t. It’s far from perfect, i.e. slightly disjointed in parts, but there are enough shocks there to deem it worthy of a viewing, particularly if you’re one of those planning on storming Area 51, in search of the truth and all that.
What’s your favourite found footage film? Let us know in the comments.
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