You love ’em. You hate ’em. You don’t know where to start. You worship at their altar. All these things are true. One of the most polemic (and satisfying) devices in the horror genre — shaky cam/found footage flics.
Almost always (read: emphasis on the almost) a super cool premise with plenty of fascinating faux historical footnotes. Shaky cam/found footage has certainly been around for a hot minute and it’s a recipe that has yet to run out of twists and turns. Some will tell you that the first ever was the horribly gnarly Cannibal Holocaust from 1980, while others will claim that the genre didn’t get going until the late 90s with the release of the Last Broadcast and the Blair Witch Project. Either way, shaky cam flics are here to stay. Before you grab that dusty old VHS tape that you found in the closet of the newly rented apartment, check out the 10. BEST. FOUND. FOOTAGE. FILMS. OF. ALL. TIME!!!
- The Blair Witch Project, 1999. Directed by Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez.
Is this where it all started? Is this the true mother of the children of the last 20+ years of shaky cameras, found footage, dripping boogers, and panicky documentarians? Well, it certainly created a seismic shift in the landscape of horror, massive hollywood productions, and what we as the viewing audience are willing to injest. Between the exceptionally clever hype around the film — that’s been poorly replicated over the years — to one of the darkest endings since 1968’s George Romero powerhouse, Night of the Living Dead, the Blair Witch project is a real American original. This masterclass in horror even managed to land itself #10 on our top 100 horror films of all time!
2. Paranormal Activity, 2007. Directed by Oren Peli.
If the Blair Witch was the earthquake that shook the horror landscape then Paranormal Activity was the tsunami that repeatedly hit the coastline — over and over and over again. Paranormal Activity is one of the more clever films (with multiple, equally chilling, endings) that plausible connects an entire spooky franchise together. Director Oren Peli preys on suburban malaise, relationship fears, and technologies failures in a symphony of terror that still resonates today. This scream fest even came in at number 28 on our top 100 films of all time.
3. Creep, 2014. Directed by Patrick Brice.
Essentially a one person play, Creep delivers the exact sentiment laid out in the title, a Creep of the highest order. Played by the hyper-unassuming Mark Duplass, who at the time was smack-dab in the middle of the hysterical fantasy football comedy The League, the film follows a film maker who answers an add to record the last days of a dying man. Creep is filled to the brim with strange occurrences, suspension of disbelief, and repeated instances of “…this doesn’t quite seem right.” Featuring the BEST/WORST costume of all time (Peachfuzz) and paired with some very powerful situational ethics, Creep will have you thinking twice about answering online ads.
4. REC, 2007. Directed by Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
REC is FRENETIC! From start to finish this film never puts on the brakes. In fact, the brake pedal may have completely fallen off! Following a news crew looking to do a plain jane news story about the day in the life of fire fighters in Barcelona, Spain, REC goes well off the rails minutes in to the film. The crew, alongside the firefighters, respond to an apartment building where the residents are sick, disturbed, rage-filled zombi-like creatures! As the fire fighters work feverishly to figure out what the plague has wrought, the news crew tries to unfold the real origins of the ancient disease. This one is a thrill ride with a mighty big switch at the end!
5. Cloverfield, 2008. Directed by Matt Reeves.
While Cloverfield only came in at number 233 on our top 100 horror films of all time (seriously…check out the analytics, they’re impressive), it’s safe to say that this is the Godzilla film we’ve been pining for all these years. This action-packed fete is a gory and gruesome stampede of human emotions, government conspiracy, and mighty massive MONSTERS. Spoiler alert: there’s a monster in the film. Putting in motion several other largely disconnected films, Cloverfield, manufactures real dread in real time. Ultimately, this film puts the viewer right in the middle of this monster mayhem and asks the viewer to think about how they’d contend with Godzilla when he touches down on their block.
6. As Above So Below, 2014. Directed John Erick Dowdle.
Following Scarlett Marlow, junior archaeologist, as she wanders in the catacombs below the streets of Paris, France, to discover THE. GATES. OF. HELL!!! This beautifully shot (…for a found footage movie) follows a team of adventurous explorers as they venture well past the buried bones of Paris’ past to discover something far more sinister. This film is claustrophobic. It’s a tight, confined, and sweaty affair. If you don’t like tight spaces then this film will scare the HELL out of you.
7. Sacrament, 2013. Directed by Ti West.
Put together by one of Scariest Things Podcast’s fav’ directors Ti West (Ed. Note: Ti, we’d be happy to have you on the podcast. Just give us a holler.), Sacrament follows a millennial film crew in to the jungles of South America. Parked firmly in a historic Jim Jones head-space, Sacrament is the impossibly re-imagined events surrounding one of the most horrific religious happenings of all time. Unlike many of its found footage forebearers, Sacrament eschews fiction and instead comes to the realization that the scariest thing you can ever image has already happened. The cult impeccably lead by “Father” (Gene Jones) is really one of the best and creepiest bit of acting in the last 20 years — strike that — maybe ever! Ti West casually winds you through this tragedy, but once things fall apart they really fall apart.
8. Grave Encounters, 2011. Directed by Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz as The Vicious Brothers.
Pairing found footage with archival footage, Grave Encounters is the granddaddy of the ghost hunting TV shows gone wrong. Not only does Grave Encounters set the stage for countless insane asylum found footage films, it also helps to kick off a rash of ghost hunting shows strewn across the cable TV landscape. Grave Encounters plays with the fine line between reality and fiction and time and space. The scares come fast as the film crew is slowly besieged by the very real possibility that they may never be able to leave the nut house. Are they the ghosts? Are the ghosts them? Has everyone gone mad!?!?
9. Chernobyl Diaries, 2012. Directed by Bradley Parker and written by Oren Peli.
Mish-mashing the emerging concept of adventure travel with historic fiction, Chernobyl Diaries follows a gaggle of ugly Americans as they decide to bite off a belly full of cultural appropriation. Packed with poor decisions and questionable tour guides, the dastardly Americans head out to the abandoned city Pripyat, right on the outskirts of the massive nuclear failure, Chernobyl. A little Hills Have Eyes and a little Children of the Damned, this film will have you questioning the efficacy of adventure travel, nuclear power, and being a jingoistic jerk.
10. Devil’s Pass, 2013. Directed by Renny Harlin.
Brought to you by the man that brought you the video short for hip hop hucksters the Fat Boys — Fat Boys: Are You Ready for Freddy Krueger, Renny Harlin dives deep in to found footage with a group of intrepid climbers as they set out to replicate a failed climb in Russia. If we learned anything from the Chernobyl Diaries, Russia is not a great spot for adventure travel. The climbing team’s GPS units go haywire, the group turns in on themselves, and they simultaneously discover a secret Russian underground teleportation labyrinth that may or may not be tied to the famed Philadelphia Experiment. Devil’s Pass, not to be confused with the 1957 or 1958 films of the same name, is a major fright fest in the terrifying tradition of the Descent.
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