Found-Footage Horror goes all the way back to 1980 and Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato’s nasty cult horror that claimed to be the surviving record of a filmmaking crew who were killed in the jungle by a cannibal tribe. Horror directors employing documentary filmmaking conventions such as handheld camerawork, interviews and none-professional actors for the sake of naturalism adds a degree of authenticity and grounding to their scary stories, not to mention the techniques lending themselves to fast and low-budget productions.
The sub-genre was revitalised in 1999 by the release of The Blair Witch Project, a film where an aggressive viral marketing campaign helped to sell the horror as real, and it is a genre style that has maintained a profitable presence ever since.
What follows is The Film Magazine’s selection of the Top 10 Best Found-Footage Horror Films, ranked according to filmmaking quality, effectiveness of the techniques employed and of course how scary they are.
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10. The Visit (2015)
M. Night Shyamalan was in director jail for a fair old stretch after such missteps as The Last Airbender and After Earth, then he came back with this effective handheld horror-thriller.
An aspiring teen documentary filmmaker and her kid brother go to visit their estranged (and strange) grandparents in the country, and undergo a terrifying nightly ordeal. There are shades of Paranormal Activity here with the kids hoping to capture evidence of something strange on camera, but the threat is more grounded and sinister, even if Shyamalan can’t resist some plot outlandishness and the obligatory twist in the final reel.
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9. Paranormal Activity (2007)
If Blair Witch relaunched the Found Footage Horror for the new millennium, then Paranormal Activity maintained the sub-genre’s popularity a decade on.
The film’s unexpected success built Blumhouse through innovative and resourceful filmmaking, and was a textbook example of effective shoestring horror. It’s a classic setup – you make a mundane domestic setting threatening and contrive a reason as to why the protagonists can’t just leave (in this case the couple are documenting a demonic presence with an unbreakable connection to one of them, not their house). The style of predominantly using a fixed camera and old-fashioned, in-camera effects marked this one out as a work of genius in its scary simplicity, even if it has lost some of its original power through pop culture parody since.
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