Thursday, July 28, 2011


Found footage movies, especially in the horror genre, are very polarizing to both general movie audiences and the hardcore genre niche as well. Some people love the format (I’m one of them), and others hate it—and for a variety of reasons. Some cite the shaky nature of the camera as too nauseating to endure; others find the (sometimes) lack of a tangible and visible antagonist boring and anticlimactic (though these are actually the people who long ago abandoned the concept of using their own imagination).

My favorite argument: the filmmakers go through the trouble of making it look real, but we all know it’s not real, because it’s a movie.


I recall going to see The Blair Witch Project in theaters, and the crowd was quiet the entire running time, which in this day and age is almost unheard of. No one at my screening, at the film's conclusion, walked out complaining—in fact, everyone walked out quietly, as if in a daze. It was a movie I would end up loving and revisiting several times at home, along with the equally creepy and interesting Curse of the Blair Witch, a fake television special/documentary created to enhance the myth which established the foundation of the The Blair Witch Project.

And then it happened.

The inevitable.

The backlash.

The first people out of the theater doors (and probably well aware of the marketing approach) proclaimed The Blair Witch Project to be terrifying and utterly realistic. "The scariest movie since The Exorcist!" the TV spots would boast.

People, being people, reacted in the way that people do: if someone tells you something is scary, you must not only see it, but prove them wrong. "That wasn't scary! It was stupid! You don't know me! You don't know what scares me! Because NOTHING can!"

The last thing we as people like to be is predictable. This extends to every facet of our life—up to and including film as a medium.

And so we return to that one generic complaint people have about found footage movies in general: the common knowledge that what they are seeing isn't real, despite the filmmakers breaking their backs for their films to appear as such.

When The Blair Witch Project first came out, the Internet was booming—and not just for nerds in garages, but for regular, blue-collar folks like you and me. The Internet hoax was yet to be realized...until a brilliant marketing strategy from now-defunct Artisan Entertainment, the mini-studio that would go on to release the film.

Their marketing? 

Everything in The Blair Witch Project was 100% real. And those kids in the film? They weren't actors, but real students. And up to that time, they were still missing. At that point, everyone had visited the Blair Witch website, which unbeknownst to them, was secretly promoting the film, all the while seeming to instead serve as a sounding board for the missing students' heartsick parents. We all remember the photos of Heather's mom hanging up "missing" photos. We all saw the testimonies from the students' friends and families begging anyone with information to come forward.

And most people bought it like the suckers they are.

I didn't, however; and not because of my supreme intelligence or superiority over the hoi polloi, but because of my basic concept of common sense and my love for Fangoria Magazine. Yes, I knew walking into that theater that the movie was fake—yet I still managed to adore the film.

So why didn't people feel the same way?  Why—once the cast started making the rounds, and they each appeared on the covers for both Time and Newsweek, and Heather suddenly showed up on Jay Leno—did audiences suddenly feel cheated?

"We thought it was real!" they cried. "If it never happened, it's stupid!"

The irony that they had bought the lie and thought the movie was real—the intention behind Artisan's marketing—was lost, not to mention dripping with the subtle and creepy inference that audiences were disappointed to learn those kids in the film were actually quite alive and well. Audiences wanted them dead...strewn about in bloody bits and turned into witch hats. Especially Heather.

And since then, found footage movies have received lukewarm receptions by movie goers. Whatever steam had been established, up to the release of The Blair Witch Project, had suddenly dissipated.

None of it was real, you see. And that sucked.

But almost ten years later came a rebirth of the sub-genre, thanks to the recent success of Cloverfield and The Last Exorcism, movies which proved that money is to be made, and critics are to be wowed.

And so the found footage is back in a big way.

As I write this, there are more than 30 found footage movies (and probably more, considering my half-hearted Google attempt) either in production or waiting to be released. They range from low budget indies with casts of unknowns to crews of A-list talent (and Barry Levinson). Some of these films have already enjoyed film festival screenings, or await major wide releases, but regardless, they're coming. 

Break out the Dramamine. 

051: Confidential. "The "found footage" science fiction horror film follows the events that befell a group of individuals in August 2001 who awoke to find themselves all stranded in a desolate area surrounding the military base known as "Area 51". That footage was later allegedly used in a Military Training video for new hires at the facility. As they explore the landscape, attempting to find a way - ANY way - back to civilization, all outgoing transmissions "blocked" and all electrical equipment mysteriously malfunctioning, they come into contact with a mysterious Army Colonel who claims to have survived a "massacre" by extraterrestrials as well as a man named "Lazar", who claims to have been a former employee of Area 51 and had disappeared years prior..."

1013 Briar Lane. “In 2008, a real-life mystery began to unfold when a real estate company discovered video footage shot in one of its vacant properties. The tapes have been acquired by local documentary filmmakers Jarrod Rogan and Haman Movafagh, who set to work piecing together a series of bizarre instances recorded by a man living in the house.  Apparently waiting for his wife and daughter to join him from out of state, the man began documenting strange activity that kept him from sleeping for days on end. The eerie recordings have become the subject of much controversy among paranormal investigators, and are finally being released to the general public. This first documentary from Son of Jason Films challenges audiences to explain what happened in the house on Briar Lane.”

Abhorrence. "Abhorrence is a vintage campy horror film, which takes place on Halloween in the 80's. The film starts off as a beautiful vintage piece horror film that is extremely suspenseful. It will leave you holding on to the person next to you. But in the second act of the film, hell arises after the characters play with a Ouija board. Nothing was supposed to happen. Everything from here takes a turn for a conclusion filled with suspense. The film then turns into what is supposed to be “real life events.” The director and cinematographer are then revealed including the set. From there the cinematographer is running around the cabin looking for the crew, but finds nothing but dead bodies and a presence of a demonic spirit. He panics and ends up lost in the woods. What will happen to the director of photography? What will happen to the production?” Confused yet?

Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes. The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes showcases the events after the time of the original The Amityville Horror book and movie through found footage dating back to 1976. An ambitious female television news intern, on the verge of breaking the most famous haunted house case in the world, leads a team of journalists, clergymen and paranormal researchers into an investigation of the bizarre events that will come to be known as The Amityville Horror ... only to unwittingly open a door to the unreal that she may never be able to close.”

Apollo 18. “Decades-old found footage from NASA's abandoned Apollo 17 mission, where two American astronauts were sent on a secret expedition, reveals the reason the U.S. has never returned to the moon.” Produced by Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Nightwatch). 

Area 51. “The Area 51 storyline is a closely guarded secret but is reputedly centered around three teenagers whose curiosity leads them to the legendary and mysterious Area 51 Air Force base deep in the Nevada desert.” Directed by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity).

Atrocious. “In April of 2010, Spanish police reported the discovery of 37 hours of recorded evidence that shed new light on a gruesome murder investigation. The found footage documents a family of five spending their holidays at their summer house, where brother-and-sister Cristian and July Quintanilla pass the time investigating a terrifying local urban legend. As their investigation intensifies, strange occurrences in and around the house escalate rapidly, before culminating in unspeakable atrocities.” Soon to be remade by the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious.

Baserca. “In Spring 2010, a group of eight young people disappeared in the valley of Baserca, a province of Lleida. The news caused a local uproar and the authorities investigated the case with discretion. With no clues to the culprits, they decide to seek help from the media. Five months later, the program "L'Empremta" will air the chilling facts in a documentary. It's time the legend became reality, but with a chilling argument that differs significantly from the original legend.” 

The Bay. “The Bay unfolds in the found-footage style as it chronicles a horrifying biological disaster that arises from the Chesapeake Bay -- an isopod parasite that carries an untreatable disease. As it jumps from fish to the humans in a small town, the victims capture the terror on home videos and the web.”

The Burningmoore Incident. The Burningmoore Incident focuses on the murderous rampage that took place in March of 2010, in Bayside Queens, as the construction team of Cole Contracting were being video taped by multiple cameras on the first day of what was to be a home makeover reality show. By sundown the house was a bloody scene of carnage.”

Darkest Night. "Filmed in a “found video and documentary” style, Darkest Night depicts a family holiday reunion at an isolated home in the Sagada Mountains. The family's celebration is shattered by bizarre, supernatural and tragic terrors no one can explain. This film is a psychological horror story with intense family drama, suspense, action and shock. Darkest Night is said to combine western demons with eastern spiritual traditions." 

The Dinosaur Project. "A father-son expedition in the Congo are being followed by a TV documentary crew. After all the parties mysteriously go missing, recovered footage shows stunning images of dinosaurs thought to be extinct for 65 million years."

Evidence. “Four young adults go camping in the canyons around LA and one of them is filming a documentary on his friend. But soon they discover they are being terrorized by a mysterious figure."

Another Evidence. "The flick's story's set with police arriving at an abandoned gas station following a brutal massacre -- with the only evidence at the crime scene the victims' personal electronic devices, including a camcorder, flipcam, and two cell phones. With nothing else to go on, a detective must analyze the bits of found footage to piece together the identity of the killer."

Evil Things. "The film opens with the familiar story of college kids on an idyllic winter weekend trip, but ends in a state of horror and terror that will keep audiences at the edge of their seat. Miriam, celebrating her 21st birthday, gets the use of a beautiful country house for the weekend. Miriam invites four college friends to join her at the house for what is supposed to be an amazing weekend. Of course, they all jump at the chance. One of her friends, Leo, brings his video camera and hopes to produce a short movie by documenting every moment of this weekend getaway. Unfortunately, what Leo ends up capturing on camera is not a weekend of peace and tranquility but a nightmarish and emotional descent into pure terror." Doesn't that artwork make you want to rush out and see it?

Grave Encounters. “Lance Preston and the crew of "Grave Encounters", a ghost-hunting reality television show, are shooting an episode inside the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, where unexplained phenomena has been reported for years. All in the name of good television, they voluntarily lock themselves inside the building for the night and begin a paranormal investigation, capturing everything on camera. They quickly realize that the building is more than just haunted - it is alive - and it has no intention of ever letting them leave. They find themselves lost in a labyrinth maze of endless hallways and corridors, terrorized by the ghosts of the former patients. They soon begin to question their own sanity, slipping deeper and deeper into the depths of madness, ultimately discovering the truth behind the hospital's dark past...and taping what turns out to be their final episode.”

Guinea Pigs. “Eight volunteers find themselves fighting for their lives when a drug trial goes horribly wrong.”

Haunted Poland. "Haunted Poland depicts the contents of recorded tape filmed by a couple who visited Poland to meet and visit family. However, our duo soon find themselves disturbed by all manner of strange phenomena upon visiting the girl's hometown where she once played with a Ouija board."

Incidente (Incident). "Three years ago an employee at the Nacan factory killed 16 workers and himself. A special police division could find no reason for the mass-murder and labelled the case “Incidente” (the name Argentinian Police use for cases with no logical or reasonable explanation). Journalist Romina Salustik and her cameraman, Christian, were hired to make a documentary about the murders, reconstructing what happened that day. They returned to the factory with their crew, along with a specialist and a priest, only to never be seen alive again. This film is the very dark and disturbing unfinished documentary tape recovered from the scene by the police."

The Locals. “Set in 1987, and told through the lens of two VHS camcorders,“The Locals” is a ferocious and merciless tale of the devastation of a group of young filmmakers who venture into the central California wilderness to film a shot on video slasher movie and soon find themselves systematically crippled, butchered and devoured by a family of feral cannibals who live in the woods nearby.”

In Memorium. “Two months after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Dennis Wade, a struggling filmmaker, decides to document his illness. Still free from symptoms, he and his girlfriend, Lily, sublet a house and install motion-triggered security cameras throughout. Two days later…the cameras capture something unsettling: Noises and movement in empty rooms. The next morning, Dennis’ cancer begins to advance at an inexplicable rate. As Dennis worsens by the day, he and Lily discover the horrific source of the disturbances. With his time running out, they must make a decision: Leave the house and save her life…or stay…and save his.” Rumors abound that this movie, made several years before Paranormal Activity, was close to release when it was somehow blocked by Oren Peli, director of that same film.

Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night.  Couldn’t find an official synopsis for this one. Just read the synopsis for the official American sequel and insert Japanese names over the American ones.

Penunggu Istana (roughly translated Watchman Extreme). God knows, but it's Malaysian.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes. “When hundreds of videotapes showing torture, murder and dismemberment are found in an abandoned house, they reveal a serial killer's decade-long reign of terror and become the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives have ever seen.”

Re-Cut. “Following the discovery of the murder of two twin girls in their family's barn, a former reality TV-star is dispatched by a TV-news station to uncover the mystery behind their gruesome deaths.”

Re-Kill. “It's been 5 years since the outbreak that wiped out 85% of the world's population, but the war between Re-Animates (Re-Ans) and Humans wages on. Most of the major cities are still uninhabitable. Within the few surviving cities, the Re-Ans have been segregated into "zones" and are policed by the R-Division of the QUASI S.W.A.T. Unit who hunt to re-kill the Re-Ans in the hope of quelling a second outbreak.”

[REC]: Genesis & [REC]: Apocalypse. "The action in [REC] GENESIS encompasses the events of the first two films and after the sense of claustrophobia previously experienced. The action now takes place miles away from the original location and partly in broad daylight, giving the film an entirely fresh yet disturbing new reality. The infection has left the building. In a clever twist that draws together the plots of the first two movies, this third part of the saga also works as a decoder to uncover information hidden in the first two films and leaves the door open for the final installment - the future [REC] Apocalypse."

El Sanatorio. "The story of a documentary crew who visit the site of a supposedly haunted hospital building and find exactly what they're looking for."
The Tapes. “In February 2008 Police find several video tapes at scene of a brutal crime. The parents of the murdered victims have given their consent to show you… the tapes.” What a terrible title.

The Troll Hunter. “A group of students investigate a series of mysterious bear killings, but learns that there are much more dangerous things going on. They start to follow a mysterious hunter, learning that he is actually a troll hunter.”

The Tunnel. “An investigation into a government cover-up leads to a network of abandoned train tunnels deep beneath the heart of Sydney. As a journalist and her crew hunt for the story it quickly becomes clear the story is hunting them.” 

Download it for free (and legally) via torrent.

Unaware. “In July 2010, a vacationing couple discovered something disturbing on a ranch in rural Texas. Armed with a home camcorder, they captured their experience on video. The film's content deals with the question, 'What happened to the alien bodies that were recovered from the 1947 Roswell incident?' It not only asks this question, but also answers it with captured images that will shock and horrify the viewing audience in such a profound way that one will need to carefully reassess their beliefs in extraterrestrial life. This multiple-award winning feature film is a must see for all sci-fi and horror fans as well as anyone who is on the fence about whether or not aliens actually exist.”

Undocumented. "Undocumented tells the tale of a documentary crew who accompany a group of illegal immigrants crossing the Border, but their plans run afoul when they're captured by a gang of sadistic radicals in New Mexico." 

Untitled Alien in Backwoods Thriller. “The movie will follow the Johnsons on a road trip to Florida where they land in the middle of a hurricane. They decide to take cover in North Carolina with relatives -- only on the way their navigation goes wonky. They end up in the deep backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains where they come face to face with malevolent alien creatures. The film will be the shocking final footage of the Johnson family vacation...” 

Untitled Scott Derrickson/Ethan Hawke Project. "Hawke plays a journalist who travels with his family around the country to investigate gruesome murders he turns into books. After he moves his family into a house where another family was murdered, the journo discovers found footage that unveils horrifying clues beyond what caused the original tragedy."

World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2. “Three months have passed since a viral outbreak wiped out 99.9% of the world's population, turning its victims into flesh-eating living dead. In the UK, a surviving band of soldiers and civilians have taken refuge at a rural military barracks. Life in this new world is tough and brutal, but hope appears when a high level communication is received from a military base on the coast, telling of sanctuary elsewhere in Europe... But just as salvation appears to be in reach, the base suffers an overwhelming defeat at the hands of the living dead! The surviving handful of troops and civilians must now make their way to the coast to uncover the truth behind the message. Their perilous journey takes them across a now treacherous, death-ravaged landscape, where the living dead are vast in number and wandering bandits impose their own malicious sense of law and order. What follows is a journey into hell and a desperate battle against all odds for the very survival of the human race.”

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