Jump scares and compelling plots may be crucial to making effective horror movies, but what makes these films really stick even after you’ve finished watching is the idea that they are more than just fiction put together for the screen.
The more the film blurs the line between fact and fiction, the scarier it becomes when you think about it. This is why exorcism movies or films about curses are extra creepy when they overlap your religious and cultural beliefs. It’s even creepier when these movies actually pull their stories from real-life events.
But it’s not always just in the idea, as a horror movie can also suspend your disbelief through the way that it is presented. This is where found footage horror comes in, the subgenre that ditches cinematography for shaky shots and blurry imagery to trick our minds into thinking that what we’re seeing is real.
A short history of found footage films
The first film considered to bring birth to the subgenre is the 1980 cult classic Cannibal Holocaust. The disturbing and gory flick by Italian director Ruggero Deodato depicted a group of documentary filmmakers who tried to film cannibal tribes in the Amazon rainforest but became food themselves.
Was it effective in pushing realism? Well, Deodato was actually charged with the murder of his actors in the film, and had to prove in court that everything was made with practical effects.
While it is the pioneer of the found footage technique in filmmaking, Cannibal Holocaust really gained its notoriety mostly because of the graphic violence and the controversies that came with it. But in 1999, there was an independent film that really emphasized the effectiveness of found footage in the horror genre: The Blair Witch Project.
The film followed three filmmaking students as they take a hike into a forest in the hopes of documenting a local legend known as the Blair Witch. What ensues is a nightmarish experience with something sinister waiting for them in the shadows.
After the success of The Blair Witch Project, the found footage subgenre was soon saturated with titles. After all, the technique allows for the films to be cheaper and easier to make. But while there are lots of bad films that piggybacked on the success of the subgenre, there are also some nice gems that are worth checking out post-Blair Witch Project.
If you want to dive deeper into found footage horror, we’ve listed down ten movies you need to watch to get you started.
10 Found Footage Horror Movies You Need to Watch
1. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
After a film crew goes missing while documenting the cannibal tribes of the Amazon rainforest, a rescue team had been sent to investigate. What they find are footage of what happened to the filmmakers– mutilated and devoured by the cannibals in gut-wrenching and gruesome ways. Needless to say, if you’re weak in the stomach, you should skip this flick.
2. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Filmmakers Heather, Mike, and Josh brave the woods of Burkittesville, Maryland to find the truth behind the local legend of the Blair Witch. After being lost in the forest, the group’s journey gets more dangerous by the second, with an unseen evil stalking them at every turn. The film may lack in horror spectacle, but the actors’ performances really made this a spine-chilling experience to watch.
3. Noroi: The Curse (2005)
Noroi: The Curse is the found footage film to check out if you’re a fan of that classic Asian horror. The film tells the story of a paranormal researcher who disappeared after his house burned down and killed his wife. Through the recordings of his cameraman, the scary story behind the tragedy begins to unfold.
4. REC (2007)
This Spanish movie which had an American remake titled Quarantine, fuses found footage horror with a zombie thriller. It follows the reporter Angela Vidal who is making a report about the fire department when they were called in to attend to an emergency at an apartment building. What should have been a rescue operation becomes a nightmare when an old woman starts attacking and biting people, infecting them with her violent fits.
5. Lake Mungo (2008)
Presented in a mockumentary style, Lake Mungo blends a ghost story and a true crime tale. After the death of Alice who drowned while swimming, her family begins to experience unexplainable things. As they investigate Alice’s secret double life, the answers lead them to Lake Mungo.
6. Paranormal Activity (2009)
Paranormal Activity is another successful film from the subgenre that spawned six sequels. The story follows the couple Katie and Micah who are being terrorized by a demon in their home. Micah then sets up cameras around the house, capturing the violent attacks from their tormentor.
7. Creep (2014)
Another must-watch found footage film, Creep succeeds as a psychological horror rather than just resorting to visual terrors. It follows the struggling videographer Aaron who accepts a job to film a man with an inoperable brain tumor for his unborn child. But as he spends more time with this man in a remote cabin, Aaron soon realizes that something is very wrong with his client.
8. Hell House LLC (2015)
Five years ago, a malfunction at a horror house attraction led to the death of 15 people. This movie follows a crew of filmmakers as they try to uncover the truth behind the tragedy through its only survivor and the remaining footage from inside the house.
9. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)
This Korean film is one of the more modern horror titles to rise from the subgenre. In Gonjiam, a group that runs a horror web series decides to make their next episode inside an abandoned asylum, but they would soon discover that the evil they would encounter would be far more than what they bargained for.
10. Incantation (2022)
Incantation is the latest found footage horror film to make a buzz among the international audience. Hailing from Taiwan, this title tells the story of a mother who is trying to save her daughter from a curse that she and her friends had unleashed years ago. Aside from thriving through the technique, Incantation also takes it a step further by making viewers feel that the film could also curse them.