Happy Halloween everybody! Way back in 2016 I debuted this blog with a post exploring my favorite movies in one of my favorite subgenres, found footage. Over four years later my tastes, respect for the art of film and understanding of what makes a movie respectable and good have all evolved and I’ve even had a chance to actually watch some of those films in full after only including them based on reputation alone at the time. In order to further embrace my love for found footage I took the month of October 2020 to marathon watch over 31 found footage horror movies, at least one a day, with the goal of creating a new list, an updated and more polished one, specifically focusing on found footage movies within the horror genre. After a month of experiencing some awesome films, to celebrate Halloween I’m providing sort of redux of my very first list on Cinema Spotlight updating it specifically for the horror genre and applying my improved respect for the subgenre and what it has to offer. These are my new picks for the Top 10 Found Footage Horror Films.
For this list any movie that falls under the found footage gimmick and its extended spinoff formats counts. That means mockumentaries, camera-POV, computer screen and mixed format films are all applicable as long as the idea is that the movie portrays supposedly real accounts or recorded events in real time or as discovered media. Obviously, the films must also be mostly if not completely horror themed but can fit into multiple genres. I decided to keep the list to only ONE movie per franchise since I wanted to represent a wide range of found footage films on the countdown.
Before I get to it, I do have one honorable mention because honestly deciding on only ten movies to include on this list was extremely difficult. While it did not make the top ten, I highly recommend The Borderlands, a British found footage movie about three men who discover the dark secrets within a recently re-opened church. The ending alone is one of the most insane finales in the entire genre
I had a lot of fun with my month-long found footage marathon and genuinely enjoyed experiencing the many different approaches to the idea as well as the numerous different kinds of found footage films there are. These are just the ten horror movies in the subgenre I personally recommend. Which found footage horror film is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below and I wish you all a safe and happy Halloween!
10. “As Above So Below”
I’m in a minority of self-proclaimed critics who enjoyed this movie heavily disagreeing with 26% Rotten Tomatoes score. Atmospheric and layered with neat callbacks to the mythology of philosophy, “As Above So Below” follows a crew who travel into the unknown depths of the Catacombs of Paris in order to find the legendary philosopher’s stone. What they discover is actually a gateway to a hellish alternate world where they are forced to face their sins in a journey inspired by Dante Alighieri’s legendary Devine Comedy. Relatively well acted and utilizing several different kinds of POV camera shots including handheld cameras and body cams, “As Above So Below” is a cautionary horror that warns us of the dangers of seeking what we don’t truly understand and that some treasures are better left undiscovered.
One part sci-fi and one part horror, this found footage monster film is legendary for its viral marketing that made it one of the most talked about films of 2008. Sporting some soon-to-be big names behind the scenes, including Matt Reeves as director, J.J. Abrams producing and Drew Goddard as writer, “Cloverfield” chronicles the horror a group of friends endure when a massive monster attacks New York City. Their attempts to escape bring them through several terrifying scenarios including an attack on a bridge, a tunnel invaded by smaller creatures, and coming into the crosshairs of battles between the monster and the military. Exhilarating, disorienting, and most of all fun, “Cloverfield” is an enjoyably raw inclusion in the subgenre that helped bring the monster film into the modern day.
The second film in the “V/H/S” trilogy is by far the best in the series to date. An anthology film composed of several different narratives, the second feature is by far the most inspired presenting five different found footage stories from five directors that explore different horrific tales as well as unique ways of employing the found footage gimmick. One tale follows a man with a robotic eye that records his life, another sees a zombified biker’s reign of terror through his Go-Pro, a third explores and alien invasion through the lens of a camera strapped to a dog while the fourth story about a cult and the frame narrative employ more traditional found footage styles. This is an awesome collection of inventive short features that could each make great full-length films on their own and represents the highest peak of this franchise’s potential to date.
Both “Creep” and its sequel are very good films, but the original is the superior offering in my opinion. This 2014 psychological horror movie follows a cameraman named Aaron who has been hired by the mysterious Josef to record the last days of his life for his unborn son as Josef claims to have a brain tumor. Josef proves to be a bit invasive and odd in his bonding with Aaron and we soon discover that Josef is much more dangerous than he originally appeared. The film’s ability to delve into sociopathy without providing all the answers helps make “Creep” one of the more character-driven narratives in found footage. Small moments like the wolf mask and the final encounter between Josef and Aaron that helps conclude the film give it a special touch of realism that almost makes you uncomfortable for even watching it which really is kind of the point for most found footage horror movies isn’t it? As I said the sequel is also exceptionally good.
The only computer screen film on this list, meaning the film is composed of chat footage from computers rather than from a handheld camera, “Host” is also the newest movie on the countdown. A Shudder exclusive that I reviewed earlier this month (you can read said review here) “Host” is the shortest movie to make this countdown as well at just under an hour as the film is meant to take place over the course of a normal Zoom call between friends who are quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group holds a séance which invites a dangerous being into their homes and we see the terror unfold through the chat. Spooky, well-paced and containing some awesome allegories for the fear and isolation involving the pandemic itself “Host” is a gem of a film that pulls few punches and feels truly inspired overpowering genre conventions with a genuine sense of dread as we watch the likable and relatable cast suffer.
Wide-released in 2014, “Afflicted” puts the found footage spin on the idea of vampires as a pair of friends take off on a trip around the world only for one of them to be bitten by and subsequently become a predator of the night. This is one of the most enjoyable and energetic found footage films out there in my opinion as we watch star Derek Lee slowly evolve into a monster and his friend Clif Prowse has to endure the reality of the mythical vampire being an actual thing. With effective jump scares, including one particularly terrifying scene when Derek’s transformation is in full bloom, as well as a well-choreographed body cam-filmed escape scene, “Afflicted” is one of the most engaging, well-acted, inspired and, frankly, human movies the found footage horror subgenre has to offer.
“Rec” is among the most respected and legendary found footage movies out there and it deserve it. The 2007 Spanish original is the superior version although American audiences are probably more familiar with the watchable remake “Quarantine”. Following a reporter and her cameraman as they shadow a group of firefighters to a call at an apartment complex, the group soon find themselves quarantined within the building as an infectious virus spreads to the residents. It’s a terrifying concept made even more frightening by its relevance in today’s climate under the COVID-19 guidelines. Some hidden themes such as censorship and the uncontrollable power of nature (despite the virus having paranormal origins) add to the horror the film portrays and that final scene in the dark in the top floor apartment is bone chilling. Skip the American remake and experience the Spanish original for the full effect.
3. “Paranormal Activity”
I’ve talked a lot about “Paranormal Activity” over the years on this blog. It made it to number two on my original found footage list because of its legacy alone and I even compared it to “The Blair Witch Project” in an old “Versus” battle. It’s legacy still lives on in 2020 where it serves as a fine example of modern found footage film making even after 13 years. This famous franchise starter focuses on Katie and Micah as they record the strange paranormal occurrences that happen in their home both at night and, eventually, during the day. The film has aged rather well thanks to its stripped down approach and its ability to create scares from not only what we see but also what we don’t see essentially providing the framework many movies on this list went on to follow in the years since. Love it or hate it, “Paranormal Activity” is a classic for a reason.
2. “Cannibal Holocaust”
I have a confession. Back in 2016 I placed this film just inside the top five of my original found footage list when I had yet to sit down and appreciate it in full for myself. I knew of it, had seen some of its content but had yet to actually watch it in full. After finally crossing it off my list I have to say this brutal movie is a masterpiece of horror realism for better or worse. While only about half the movie is true found footage, “Cannibal Holocaust’s” showcase of a crew’s terrifying ordeals with cannibalistic Amazon tribes set the standard and practically founded the concept of found footage filmmaking showing that realism is the key to taking horror to the next level. This is not a film for the faint of heart as it depicts real animal deaths, graphic sexuality and more realistic gore than one could hope for in any kind of film. Unsettling, uncompromising and fittingly controversial, “Cannibal Holocaust” is the OG found footage classic that paved the way for everything that has come around since.
1. “The Blair Witch Project”
While it’s not the most inspired choice to top this list, even over 20 years later this film is still THE classic of the found footage subgenre. Taking ideas that “Cannibal Holocaust” pioneered and expanding them into a full feature film, “The Blair Witch Project” focuses on a trio of filmmakers who find themselves lost in the forests of Maryland and hunted by the titular witch. This is the movie that established many of what would become cliches of the subgenre through its ambiguity, shaky cam, and raw, scriptless dialogue between the actors who rarely knew more than the basic idea of what they would be filming each day. While many see it as a boring, pointless slow burn many more respect it for its ability to capture true human fear in the face of the unknown while being hopelessly lost with nowhere to hide and nowhere to run. From the tent scene to Heather’s monologue to the controversial ending, there are more memorable scenes in this one move than almost all of the films on this list combined. “The Blair Witch Project” remains, without a doubt, the standard bearer for a great subgenre in horror.