This October, you have a solemn duty to watch as many horror films as possible. Hundreds of thousands of people worked months and years of their lives for the sole purpose of creeping you out; all you have to do is watch their movies, which is – let's face it – the easy part. We'll even do the heavy lifting of recommending which movies you should watch. Each week in October, we'll be presenting a new Buzzlist of horror films based on a particular theme. Could it be any simpler? Well, yes, if you woke up strapped to a gurney in a dank basement and were forced to watch horrific images by a deranged scientist – that would be simpler. But this is both simple and fun.
Ever since there have been cameras, people have been obsessed with the process of documenting reality. The idea that a camera could show us hidden things we'd otherwise never see opens a unique door for storytelling in the horror genre. However, creating a convincing story that looks and feels like a documentary is uncommonly difficult to pull off. 1999's The Blair Witch Project managed it well, breaking found-footage into mainstream popularity. Now, with over seventy films and several TV series out there, some critics argue that the sub-genre has run its course; but great found-footage films keep getting made, pushing the style to evolve in new directions (see 2010's Norwegian Troll Hunter for proof). To help you find the best of a very mixed bag, here's our Found-Footage Horrors Buzzlist:
The Last Broadcast (1998) – Released almost a year before Blair Witch, this ultra-low-budget concoction is a dense little gem of dread that feels very much like a real amateur documentary. It follows the efforts of a filmmaker attempting to reconstruct the events that led a doomed cable television crew into the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to search for the legendary Jersey Devil. The story unfolds through voiceover and restored footage, a sense of suffocating panic mounting with every frame. It ultimately leads to a shocking ending that both subverts and expands the very idea of found-footage, providing a meta-commentary on horror filmmaking itself.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) – This difficult-to-find film is so disturbing that only hardcore horror fans should watch it. It projects a subliminal aura of real evil, and the subdued, un-theatrical tone only heightens the feeling that this all could have happened. Another faux-documentary featuring a cast of unknowns, it traces the mysterious path of a serial killer known as The Water Street Butcher. The narrative cuts between interviews with police investigators and footage from the massive collection of videotapes found at the killer's house in upstate New York. With little onscreen gore, the story goes beyond lightweight torture-porn to a too-plausible examination of the potential extent of human depravity.
Paranormal Activity (2007) – Another milestone of found-footage in popular culture, this tale of unexplained events at a suburban home in San Diego is the most profitable film ever made. Its phenomenal success comes down to the clever way in which it takes the perceived safety of the middle-class American household and transforms it into a landscape as nightmarish as any dreary Victorian manor. The other remarkable thing about the series – now in its fourth installment – is its ability to incorporate innovative stylistic tricks into a continually expanding mythology that never betrays the tone of the original film.
The Fourth Kind (2009) – This unusual entry found little critical or financial success, but it has a lot going for it nonetheless. It combines “real” footage featuring unknown actors with “dramatizations” by people like Milla Jovoich and Elias Koteas; this gimmick adds an extra layer of perceived reality to the story of a psychologist conducting hypnotherapy sessions with possible victims of alien abduction. If you're one of those who find the notion of shadowy extraterrestrials entering your room at night utterly unbearable, this one will push all your buttons. Plus, it's got strange, esoteric themes that will delight fans of religious horror.
Chronicle (2012) – This astonishing film uses found-footage and sci-fi trappings to depict the horror of adolescent rage and despair in its purest form. It addresses the issues we face – gun violence, bullying, bigotry, parental neglect – from a completely unexpected angle that sneaks past your defenses. There's really nothing more frightening in this world than children with access to deadly forces growing up alone, miserable, and terrified. This is where “real” becomes Real. It's not just the best found-footage movie yet made, it's one of the most profound films of our time. Prepare to have your heart broken and your mind amazed.
Check out Buzzine's Top 5 Found Footage Films on our Amazon Listomania!