6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films - Cloverfield (2008)

6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films

6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films

Welcome to Malevolent Dark’s 6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films! Found footage is a film-making technique in which all or a significant part of a film is presented as if it were recovered or discovered footage, often left behind by missing or deceased individuals. The footage is usually shot from the perspective of one or more of the characters in the story and is often shot using handheld cameras or cameras with a first-person perspective. The technique is often used in horror, science fiction, and mockumentary films. The use of found footage can create a sense of realism and immersion for the viewer, as it feels like they are watching real events unfold.

For those of you that just said. “Duh”, I would like to remind you that everyone is not a horror nerd like you.

Found footage also lowers the bar to entry for creating a movie. Using consumer level technology available to all, aspiring directors can create profound works of art. This seems especially relevant in the horror genre. In this article, Malevolent Dark will call out a few cornerstone examples of the genre across a few different sub-genres. These may not be the best films, but rather great examples of the art of found footage that provide a solid base for those wanting to investigate the genre. Which ones do you love? Leave them in the comments below.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

The great Ruggero Deodato recently departed the land of the living on December 29th, 2022. While famous for a great many things, one of the most notorious is his direction of the Italian Cannibal film, Cannibal Holocaust (1980)Some claim that Cannibal Holocaust (1980) represents the very first found footage film. We think that claim might be a bit aggressive, but we can confidently call Deodato’s the first Italian cannibal horror found footage film as the plot details the demise of a group of anthropologists by cannibalistic tribes deep in the South American jungle.

Nonetheless, Cannibal Holocaust really nails the authenticity of the performances. It also paints a barbaric picture of both the native tribesmen and the morally bankrupt anthropologists. From our perspective, this film needs to be seen by both found footage enthusiasts as well as those delving into the insane world of Italian mondo cannibal horror. It is a foundational representative of both sub-genres. Not to mention, it stars Italian cannibal, and sometime porn, superstar Robert Kerman!

6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films - Cannibal Holocaust - Iconic Impalement
The iconic impalement victim looks as real as anything

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Despite neo-contrarian revisionist opinions on this one, when released in 1999, The Blair Witch Project (1999) changed everything. As we discussed, this one wasn’t the first found footage horror film, but Cannibal Holocaust did not kick off a rash of 100’s of found footage movies that would dominate the next 2 decades. The Blair Witch Project proved not only that the format was interesting, but that it could be insanely profitable.

Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the film covers the events that befell a trio of student filmmakers that travel to Burtkittsville Maryland to cover the story of the infamous Blair Witch. Unfortunately for them, the only things that survives is the film. The Blair Witch project largely doesn’t show anything on camera. There is no monster, and apart from some pagan trinkets and charms left for the filmmakers to find, all action take place off camera. Still, the directors ability to create foreboding atmosphere wrought with tension is exceptional.

It all works because of a brilliant social engineering campaign in the weeks leading up to the film. The Myrick and Sánchez built a series of short-films and a website devoted to developing the Blair Witch’s mythology. It all works brilliantly, and audiences at the time were not expecting this style of subterfuge in marketing. People still swear that the Blair Witch is real, even to this day.

6 Essential found Footage Horror Films - The Blair Witch Project (1999) - The film responsible for the resurgence of found footage horror
The film responsible for the resurgence of found footage horror

Lake Mungo (2008)

To this day, Lake Mungo (2008) represents the pinnacle of found footage horror. Directed by Joel Anderson, Lake Mungo tells the story of Alice Palmer. She drowns while swimming with her family. The film takes on a mockumentary format documenting the grief of the parents as they deal with the loss. Underlying all of this, supernatural sightings of Alice occur after her death. These events lead to a reveal that all was not as it seemed with Alice and that she hid secrets. It culminates in the recovery of a buried phone that reveals the terrifying truth of what happened to Alice.

This film makes the list because the act of typing the previous paragraph sent chills up my spine. Years later and I still reeling from the impact of it. The conclusion of Lake Mungo is so unsettling that I stared at the screen with an empty pit in my stomach. Not only does this film tackle the supernatural, but it also contends with very real loss of a son or a daughter and the tragedy that it creates within a family. It’s the perfect movie for a dark room on a cold night and to this day it still raises the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s utterly fantastic.

6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films - The Palmer Family
The Palmer Family

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a film that I don’t particularly enjoy… not because its not a good movie, but rather because the content rattles me to the bone. Director John Erick Dowdle tells the story of the Eric Carver The Water Street Butcher. Carver is a serial killer stalking the area around Poughkeepsie, NY, He documents his heinous crimes in a series of videotapes that eventually end up in the eventual possession of the police.

Dowdle takes the audience headlong into the depraved world of a murder that commits acts of murder, mostly against women. In a particularly effective scene, The Water Street Butcher convinces a woman to get in his car. When Carver reveals his intention, a look of absolute terror washes over the face of the victim in a moment that seems all to real and all to common for women. I found to be both repulsive and strangely impactful. In several instances, Dowdle creates horrific imagery and takes on several violent taboos. It’s hard to watch, but it is something to see.

6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films - The Poughkeepsie Tapes - The Water Street Butcher
The Water Street Butcher stalks his kill

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Several years after the Blair Witch Project cooled down, Oren Peli resurrected the formula for the mainstream audiences. Once again, this resulted in not only a massive financial success, but also it launched a successful horror franchise. This film chronicles the day to day lives of Katie and Micah. Katie believes that an evil presence had haunted her since she was a child. When she and Micah move into a new house in San Diego, these hauntings amplify. Micah decides to try and record these events and the results are terrifying.

The most terrifying aspect of Paranormal Activity is the blazé manner in which the events occur. Katie and Micah’s home looks like any other house. Being drug from your bed by an unseen demonic force is a terrifying example of evil spirits silently stalking the place we feel most secure. If the Blair Witch Project represents the birth of modern found footage horror, Paranormal Activity represents it preteen era.

6 Essential Found Footage Horror films - Paranormal Activity (2007) - Something are worse than a bump in the night... like your wife watching you sleep
Something are worse than a bump in the night… like your wife watching you sleep

Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield (2008) is a modern masterpiece of sci-fi horror. Directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J.J. AbramsCloverfield explodes off of the screen. From the opening party scene punctuated by the head of the Statue of Liberty landing in the middle of the streets of New York, Cloverfield is one WTF moment after another until the final… WTF. Probably the only thing that negative about this film is that the honest handheld camera vibe is so shaky that even a hardcore sailor would turn green with sea sickness.

Still, Cloverfield is an epic sci-fi horror film on par with Godzilla. Check it out! Thanks for reading our 6 Essential Found Footage Films!

6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films - Cloverfield (2008) - J.J. Abrams', Drew Goddard's and Matt Reeves' found footage retort
J.J. Abrams’, Drew Goddard’s and Matt Reeves’ found footage retort

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2 Responses

  1. Good article. That’s a solid list. My favorite found footage film is EXISTS directed Eduardo Sánchez who also co-directed THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. It’s a Bigfoot film with a lot of intensity and heart.

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