There is a genre of film that divides the cinema-going public and critics like, perhaps, no other. That genre is known as ‘found-footage’. Basically, each of these films places the viewer in the centre of the action, with the cameraman (or woman) being one of the characters in the film, rather than a dispassionate observer.
Before we continue, I'll include a list of the movies looked at here. You can click on one of them to jump to that part of the article. As new films come to light, I'll add to this list:
Usually, but not always, ‘found-footage’ films are a sub-section of the horror genre. Notable exceptions to this rule are Zero Day, The Poughkeepsie Tapes and Cloverfield. Another rule is that the film-makers have usually disappeared or died, leaving behind the ‘found-footage’.
They are often made on a very small budget and are as far from a Hollywood blockbuster as you can get. Quite often, though, they break box-office records and/or garner huge cult followings.
Now, I cannot claim to have seen every ‘found-footage’ film and I’m sure that there are many, many not on this list that the reader will recommend I see.
The genre was introduced to me, probably the same way as many of you reading this, by The Blair Witch Project, way back in 1999. The movie was a true phenomenon and made well over two-hundred million dollars at the box office. Not bad when it’s shooting budget was no more that twenty-five thousand dollars (the final budget, after being picked up by Artisan Entertainment for distribution, rose to around half a million dollars, due to an extensive and revolutionary PR campaign).
The story is a simple one: A group of film students go out into the woods of Maryland to make a documentary about a legendary witch, allegedly responsible for numerous deaths many years earlier. They get lost and all manner of creepy stuff happens. They find bizarre artefacts in the woods, hear terrifying noises and end up running for their lives.
You never see anything and that is the secret of the film’s success. The viewer’s imagination fills in the blanks and, supported by a terrific cast, it is a tour-de-force of the genre and the blueprint for all to follow.
A sequel, Blair Witch 2: The Book of Shadows followed. It was more of a traditional horror movie, but still used the ‘found-footage’ premise at its core. It opened to generally hostile reviews, but I enjoyed it and thought it a worthy sequel that didn’t just try to emulate the original.
However, Blair Witch wasn’t the first ‘found-footage’ film. Neither was The Last Broadcast, which was released in 1998.
The Last Broadcast was similar to Blair Witch in many ways, but it was a very different movie. It was slightly more complex, in that the central story revolves around a documentary film-maker who is investigating the disappearance of another film crew who went out into the woods, searching for the fabled Jersey Devil in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.
The film has a surprising twist at the end and leaps from a first-person, ‘found-footage’ perspective to one in the third person. The transition was jarring for me and, while not ruining the film, instantly told me that this was ‘only a movie’.
The Last Broadcast, for its few faults, though, is well worth viewing.
I said a little earlier that the two films above weren’t the earliest examples of ‘found-footage’ film-making. The earliest example of which I am aware (and I’m sure I’ll be corrected here, so forgive me!) is the 1980 film, Cannibal Holocaust. Was that a shiver of trepidation I just felt?
Yep, that film! Now, I have to admit that I only saw this film once, many years ago. I have recently acquired a copy on DVD, but I haven’t had the nerve to watch it again. I know I should, if only for the purposes of this article, but my memories of the film are so wrought with tension, that I can’t bring myself to watch it again. I am also sure that when I do watch it again, I’ll probably ask myself what the fuss was about!
Anyway, the story of Cannibal Holocaust follows a journalist piecing together footage from a film crew which disappeared in South America. The film switches from third person to first person as we view the footage. We see the missing crew deliberately setting fire to a village and raping a young girl. The resultant actions of the natives are brutal and all captured on camera.
The action was so visceral that the film-makers were accused of producing a snuff movie, i.e. the deaths were real. Obviously that wasn’t so, but the sheer reality of the footage is one of the reasons I have balked at viewing the film again. As I said, though, I bet it’s not as bad as I remember. Or is it? Let me know.
I finally got round to watching Cannibal Holocaust again and it is as horrible and visceral as I remember. It is clear why it still causes controversy, what with the sexual violence and actual slaughtering of several animals. It is also easy to understand why, on its initial release, there were claims that people were actually viciously killed for the film. The gory effects are astonishingly realistic. Of course, the film is a commentary on modern, 'civilised' life, suggesting that we, in our lust for wealth, fame and power, will resort to anything, making us far more savage than less developed cultures, such as those depicted in the movie. By the way, it's technically only half of a 'found-footage' movie, as the first part of the film is a traditional film showing how the film canisters are retrieved from the Amazonian tribes.
Leaping forward to 1998, a little, made-for-TV movie emerged, entitled, Alien Abduction: The McPherson Tape (sometimes called Incident in Lake County). This is one of my favourite films of the genre (probably due to my interest in UFOs) and it is a film that often has UFO message boards asking if it is real. Of course it isn’t real and several of the actors in the film have appeared in other movies and TV shows.
Alien Abduction tells the story of the McPherson family and what happened to them one Thanksgiving night. The men of the family investigate a power cut and stumble across a landed UFO and several aliens. The events are captured on the family camcorder by the youngest son, teenaged Tommy.
As the night progresses, the family begins to fragment as the aliens try to get at them barricaded inside the house. It’s a terrifically well-made film, in my opinion, and you see just enough of the aliens to pique your interest and go ‘oooh’.
Inspired by the terrible Columbine Massacre and with a release delayed by the tragic events of 9/11, Zero Day used the video diary concept as we follow two American teenagers as they plan an assault on their high school.
It is a chilling movie and the actors portraying Andre and Cal are terrific. We see how they acquire their weapons, how they make pipe bombs (which they don’t use in the end) and how friends begin regarding them as ‘strange’ as Zero Day approaches. The stomach-churning attack on the school is viewed through the building’s CCTV system and we hear a police dispatcher trying to get through to the boys.
Zero Day is a very disturbing movie, but worth watching as an object lesson about teenage angst, how some people can become obsessed with a single goal and the dehumanisation of society.
In 2005, Japan ventured into the ‘found-footage’ genre with the release of Noroi: The Curse. Taking a slightly different tack, The Curse is presented as a completed documentary by a paranormal researcher who disappeared shortly after completing his film. It is this factor (the disappearance of the film-maker) that places The Curse in the ‘found-footage’ field, rather than it being classed as a ‘mockumentary’, along the lines of Special Bulletin (1983), a terrific TV movie that uses the idiom of live news broadcasts, Ghostwatch (1992), which is based on a live TV investigation into the paranormal, or even the hilarious ‘rockumentary’, Spinal Tap (1984).
The Curse, as mentioned, is presented as a documentary film with the investigation of spooky occurrences around a mystery woman and her young ‘son’. As his list of interviewees begins to dwindle, due to accidental deaths, murders, suicides or disappearances, the reporter finds himself face-to-face with a demonic entity.
The Curse is a terrific movie and the sense of foreboding that permeates the film, particularly towards the climax, really knots your stomach.
The next film in the list was released in 2006, but I only saw it a few days ago. The Zombie Diaries is a British film spawned out of the bird flu worries of the last few years.
A mystery virus is spreading across England, turning people into zombies. We see the action from the viewpoints of three groups of survivors. One is a documentary film crew investigating the virus outbreak. Another is a trio just trying to survive and stay ahead of the shuffling, zombie hordes. The last is a group, holed up at a farm.
Eventually, the fates of these three groups become intertwined in an unexpected (for me anyway) and slightly shocking ending.
While not the best of the genre, Zombie Diaries is worth watching and was successful enough for a sequel to be in the works. I look forward to that.
Released a year or so later was the first foray into ‘found-footage’ by a ‘big director’. George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead continued his apocalyptic saga of a world overrun by zombies.
We follow a group of people who, when the outbreak begins, are making a low-budget horror film. They escape to a friend’s house and, as usual, it all goes pear-shaped (or zombie-shaped).
I’m a big fan of Romero’s zombie films and I enjoyed his foray into the ‘found-footage’ genre. Some of the characters from Diary of the Dead would reappear in his next film, Survival of the Dead.
Next comes one of my all-time favourite movies. [REC] is a Spanish film, released in 2007. Well, what can I say? This film (and its sequel, which we will come to later) has to be seen to be believed.
A young television presenter and her cameraman are filming for a late-night TV show at a Barcelona fire station. The firemen get a routine call and the film crew go with them to an old apartment building. Then all hell breaks loose – literally (slight spoiler for the sequel there… sorry!).
The routine call about an elderly woman who seems to be having problems while locked inside her flat, turns into a desperate fight for survival as a mystery virus spreads through the tenants. At first appearing like rabies, it is soon clear that this is something quite different and that the infected don’t stay dead.
The building is completely quarantined by the authorities and any attempts to escape are met with swift and deadly fire from rooftop snipers. The finale is an absolutely terrifying ordeal and an example of ‘how did they do that?’ make-up effects.
Seriously, watch this film now.
Curiously, the next film in the list was made by the team who would go on to give us the American remake of [REC], but more about that in a little while. The film in question is The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2008).
The Poughkeepsie Tapes centres around a string of abductions and murders by an unknown serial killer who films his crimes on videotape. Several of these tapes were found by police and what we are seeing are those tapes. We see the killer cruising around, choosing his victims and then the sadistic nature (both physical and psychological) of his crimes against them.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes had a very limited release and, as yet, is not available on DVD. Despite hardly anybody knowing about it, the film obviously caught the eye of Sony Pictures executives, who wanted John Erick Dowdle and his brother, Drew, to remake [REC]. This they did and the result was Quarantine.
Quarantine is almost a direct copy of [REC], only in English. There are some differences, but these are minor. Obviously, the story is the same as the original and the climax is identical, if less startling. That said, it is a good film and worth your time if watching a film with subtitles is not your thing.
Okay, what would a ‘found-footage’ film be like if a big Hollywood studio threw millions of dollars at it? The answer is Cloverfield.
Up to now, this genre has been made for peanuts and the special effects were adequate, if there were any at all. Cloverfield, released in 2008, is different. And good. In fact, it’s almost up there with [REC] in my list of favourites.
When a huge monster arrives in Manhattan, we see everything through a single video camera in the possession of a group of twenty-something party-goers. Imagine standing underneath a raging beast that is hundreds of feet tall as the army unleashes hell in its direction and you’ll get an idea what Cloverfield is like.
The story is about the group trying to find their friend, who is trapped in her apartment building, which has been knocked over by the monster. As they make their way across New York, they encounter not only the huge beast, but the smaller parasites it spawns.
Finally, the authorities declare Manhattan lost and prepare to destroy the entire island. Only the whisper at the end of the credits hints at a sequel: “It’s still alive.” Ooooooooh!
Reverting all the way back in budget, but wiping the floor with Cloverfield in terms of box office receipts, was Paranormal Activity.
Originally made in 2007 and released to festivals, the film caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, who suggested a new ending and the release in 2009 took the world by storm. An original budget of fifteen thousand dollars saw box office returns of almost two-hundred million dollars, making it one of the most profitable films of all time.
Paranormal Activity is based in the home of Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston (the actors using their real names). There have been strange things going on, so Micah purchases a video camera in the hope of capturing the spooky happenings on tape. Beginning slowly, with footsteps and the occasional bang or slowly swinging door, the film picks up speed until the ferocious ending, setting the scene for the sequel, which would appear in late 2010.
Paranormal Activity is one of those films that makes you wish you’d thought of it first. It has become a genuine franchise, with the aforementioned sequel (which is part prequel) and another sequel due out in late 2011. Another spin-off, Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night is to be released on DVD in February, 2011.
Not to be outdone, those darlings of the ‘mockbuster’, The Asylum, released Paranormal Entity in late 2009.
An American family are frightened by spooky goings-on in their house, after the death of the father. The son, Thomas, sets up video cameras around the house (something echoed in Paranormal Activity 2) and we see what goes on when the lights are out.
We hear banging and the usual stuff, including disembodied breathing and objects moving, but the best part is the finding of ashy footprints on the ceiling. As is usual with this genre, the ending is not happy.
The Asylum are famous for making low-budget rip-offs of blockbuster films, but Paranormal Entity is, by far, their best film. It doesn’t try to outdo the big boys. It simply does the same and it almost does it just as well.
Remember when I said I was interested in UFOs earlier? Well, in 2009, a film came around that was right up my alley. The Fourth Kind is something of a hybrid. It uses ‘found-footage’, but mixes it with dramatic recreations and traditional scenes to create a strangely haunting film. Also, the main character hasn’t died or disappeared, so it might be classed as a mockumentary, rather than ‘found-footage’.
Allegedly based on a true story (it isn’t), the film focuses on Doctor Abigail Tyler, a psychiatrist living in Nome, Alaska. Several of her patients begin suffering from strange dreams, all very similar, and she suspects that there is a link.
It turns out that extra-terrestrials are visiting these people and sometimes abducting them. Occasionally, they never return.
There are some great scenes, particularly the hypnosis sections and the police camera footage of a briefly-glimpsed UFO, and the usage of the ancient Sumerian language is both inspired and somewhat creepy when the translations are revealed.
The Fourth Kind wasn’t to everybody’s taste, but those with an interest in the subject of UFOs and alien abduction generally looked favourable on the film.
Released in late 2009, [REC]2 continued the events seen in the original, the events taking place in the same apartment building. Fifteen minutes after the first movie ends, a SWAT team is sent in to survey the situation. They are joined by a ‘doctor’, who later turns out to be something else entirely. At the same time, a trio of youths sneak into the building through the sewer system.
Using the helmet cameras of the SWAT team members and the hand-held camcorder of the youths, we discover that this is not a simple virus that has infected the tenants, but something much more terrifying. The producers have amped up the action and there are numerous ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’ moments, while still retaining that [REC] feel. Apparently, a third film is in the works and, after seeing this film, I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Finally, we come to Paranormal Activity 2. At three million dollars, the budget for this was, by no means large, but it dwarfed that of the original. The film acts, at first, as a prequel to the first film and then the timelines overlap.
Kristi Rey is the sister of Katie Featherston. She lives with her husband, Dan, their baby, Hunter, and Dan’s teenage daughter, Ali. After an apparent break-in (where nothing is stolen, but the house is trashed), Dan gets security cameras fitted. We see the film through the eyes of these cameras and the video camera the family use to document Hunter’s early days.
As with the original, things start out slowly – knocks, footsteps, the dog growling at nothing. Things start to get dangerous when a fire inexplicably starts and Ali is locked out of the house while babysitting. Things come to a head when Kristi is seemingly possessed, but all ends well. Then the timeline with the first film overlaps and Katie turns up…
It’s a good sequel with decent acting and some nice effects, such as the dark shape emerging from the cellar door. A third sequel is due out in late 2011 and it will be nice to see what the writers have in mind.
So, there you have it, the ‘found-footage’ phenomenon in a nutshell. If you know of any other gems of the genre, please let me know (email@example.com) and I’ll see if I can get hold of them and add them to this list. I will add my thoughts about Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night, when I get my copy at the end of February, 2011. I have also just pre-ordered a copy of Paranormal Entity 2 and I will update this page once I have given that film a viewing.
If I can gather the nerve to watch Cannibal Holocaust again, I’ll update this article with my thoughts….. if….
** UPDATE **
I have just had a real treat! I stumbled across a Norwegian movie called The Troll Hunter. This is a truly wonderful film. A trio of university film students venture out into the Norwegian wilderness in an attempt to catch a bear poacher on camera. It turns out that this poacher is, in fact, a top secret troll hunter in the employ of the government. He decides to let the students tag along and what follows is a terrific adventure as they encounter various types of troll. The special effects are magnificent and I can’t recommend this film highly enough.
** UPDATE **
I am a complete idiot. I have left out one of the most recent offerings in the 'found-footage' genre. That is, of course, The Last Exorcism. Shot with a budget of a little under $2 million, The Last Exorcism went on to gross over $64 million worldwide.
It is the story of Cotton Marcus, an evangelical minister who becomes disillusioned with his 'job' of performing exorcisms. He decides to allow a documentary film crew accompany him to his last exorcism, where he will show all the 'tricks of the trade', proving that he is a fraud. Travelling to a small town, Marcus performs a fake exorcism on a teenage girl from a deeply religious family and they leave to a nearby motel.
The girl turns up at the motel and things start to go very wrong...
The Last Exorcism is a well-made film with some great moments. The poster is very misleading, though, and the ending is not great. While the style of the film is more 'mockumentary' than 'found-footage', the fact that (and this isn't really a spoiler) the film-makers all end up dead plants it more in the 'found-footage' oeuvre.
** UPDATE **
If my head wasn't fastened on, I'd lose it. It's true. I really need to get some sort of cataloguing system for my DVD collection. I was perusing through my collection yesterday and came across two more 'found-footage' gems. Well, 'gems' might be pushing it a bit. How could I forget these two films? Well, one, they're not exactly brilliant, and, two, I'm an idiot (as mentioned earlier).
The first film is called 909 Experiment. I couldn't find a listing for this film in either Wikipedia or iMDB, but it is regarded by many as 'the first Paranormal Activity'. There are many similarities, but 909 Experiment was released almost a decade before Oren Peli's box-office smash.
The story centres on two university researchers, who are paid to spend several nights in an alleged haunted house. They carry a video camera and numerous CCTV cameras are dotted around. At first, everything seems calm, then they start hearing strange banging, taps are turned on mysteriously and the CCTV cameras pick up objects being moved by invisible hands.
It's not a great film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is interesting and keeps you watching, despite the uneven acting.
The second film I dug out of my archive is called Chronicles of an Exorcism. Released in 2008, the film tells the story of a pair of film-makers, who are requested by the Church to document the exorcism of a young woman in a remote shack.
As I started watching this, I had my doubts and I even wondered if I had stumbled across a weird porn film! That was not to be, however, and what we have is a reasonably effective chiller with some good moments and scenes of possession. In some ways, it is more satisfying than the much more successful The Last Exorcism, which was more drama than supernatural horror. It's ultra-low budget is all too apparent, however, but the producers do well with what they have, particularly in the possession scenes.
** UPDATE **
My DVD of Paranormal Entity 2 arrived today. I was intrigued to find out that the movie also goes by the name of 8213: Gacy House and it is that title that appears on iMDB and Wikipedia) Once again produced by The Asylum (listed at the end of the film as The Global Asylum), the film follows a team of seven paranormal investigators who are spending the night in the house built on the site of the former residence of serial killer, John Wayne Gacy. There are three women and four men and things begin happening almost immediately.
While I enjoyed the film (as I do 99.9% of 'found-footage' movies), Paranormal Entity 2 doesn't work quite as well as others in the genre, such as the first film and the two Paranormal Activity films. Mostly, I think, this is down to the cast. We don't really get the chance to empathise with any of them and they are a bit two-dimensional. Almost from the start, they are arguing with one another and shouting all the time. There is a psychic with the team and her only reason for being in the film, it seems, is to show off her boobs!
That said, there are some good, creepy moments in the film, with shadows moving about, a good sequence with a thermal imaging camera and some decent sound effects all adding to the brooding atmosphere. As it can be bought for peanuts from places like Amazon, it's well worth taking a look at.
** UPDATE **
A new 'found-footage' movie is due to be released on 22nd April, 2011. It is called Apollo 18 and centres around a mission to the Moon (the actual moon-landing missions finished at Apollo 17) and the discovery of aggressive aliens. I'm looking forward to this one, particularly because I wrote a couple of articles about the alleged Apollo 20 mission. Those articles can be found here and here.
I saw Apollo 18 yesterday. It's a decent film and a well-made found footage addition. The acting is excellent and quite realistic, although I honestly don't think a NASA astronaut would freak out when faced with certain death as is depicted here. They are highly-trained scientists and military officers and understand the dangers of space travel. I don't think even an attack by aliens would send them over the edge. Or maybe that's just me...
Anyway, the film: Apollo 18 is shown in a documentary style and it is extremely well made. The footage from the lunar surface looks brilliant, although there isn't any dust being kicked up. Perhaps it was beyond the budget to CG moon dust in one-sixth gravity! The two astronauts that land near the Moon's southern pole stumble across a Soviet lander and its dead cosmonaut. Motion detecting cameras they set up capture what look like moving rocks. Then all hell breaks loose and the mission is lost. I might have missed this part, but I'm confused as to how the film camera footage was retrieved. Whatever, it's a small niggle. I enjoyed the film, but the Moon creatures were not exactly original. I mean Gerry Anderson did rock aliens in the Sixties, albeit on Mars.
I'm still looking forward to the DVD release, though!
** UPDATE **
The Asylum has dipped its toe in the 'found-footage' genre yet again, with the release of Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes. Based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who died during an exorcism in 1976, the film uses the device of a film crew arriving at the Michel house with a pair of medical doctors. We see events unfold through video, cine and CCTV cameras with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Title cards pop up every so often telling us that we are watching footage belonging to the Bavarian government.
Incidentally, the far superior film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose was loosely based on the Anneliese Michel case.
So, the film crew starts documenting the exorcism and Anneliese does some freaky stuff. Obviously, this being a 'found-footage' movie, people end up dying, including Anneliese herself (this is based on a true story, remember). Of the eight cast members in the movie, only one is of note, and that is the actress who played Anneliese. She really throws herself into the role and there are a few genuinely creepy scenes, particularly the one where she's eating live spiders.
Technically, the film is passable, however it is hard to suspend disbelief that this is being filmed in 1976. It just doesn't 'feel' like thirty-five year old footage. But that's a minor quibble. My main gripe with the film is that frequent cuts to shaky footage of the doctor's notes, which are barely legible, don't help the story. You don't get chance to read them and the scrawl is so bad (I suppose he is a doctor, though!) that only the odd word can be made out. Then there is the use of actual audio recordings of Anneliese. While it is interesting to hear these, they tend to go on for a little too long. You can't tell what is being said (even if you could speak German or whatever language is being spoken at the time) and it seems like the clips were added just to pad out the film.
That said, though, Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes isn't a terrible film, but it isn't a great one either.
*UPDATE* Halloween 2011 saw Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes repackaged as Paranormal Entity 3. Why? God knows...
A couple of new movies to talk about today. The first is called Terry and is a brutal tale of urban crime.
Filmed as a fake documentary (the cast and crew are all credited at the end), we see events unfold from the point of view of Charles, a student making a film about the life of small-time criminal, Terry Jones. We totter around London, meeting plenty of, well, scumbags and it's all very "Leave it aaart, my sahn!"
That said, it's interesting and as the film progresses, you know that 'something' is going to happen. And it does... with deadly results. The film gains its 'found-footage' status due to the proclamation that the film was handed in to police anonymously, resulting in justice being done.
Terry is worth a look and it's an interesting entry into the 'found-footage' genre.
The second addition to our list today is Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night. Apparently produced with the full backing of Oren Peli, Tokyo Night is a true sequel to Paranormal Activity.
The film begins with the arrival home in Tokyo, Japan, of Haruka Yamano after a trip to San Diego. During the trip, she had a car accident, which broke both her legs and resulted in the death of a young woman 'who had killed her boyfriend'. Confined to a wheelchair while her bones mend, it falls to her brother, Koichi, to take care of her while their father travels to Singapore on business.
Haruka tells her brother that her wheelchair keeps moving by itself and he decides to set up video cameras to catch the event. From here on, things go as expected. Objects move, doors open and close and footsteps pound. It's all very well done and the producers of this film really ratchet up the weird happenings. There is also a direct link to what is going on and Katie Featherston.
In a finale that harkens back to other J-Horror titles, such as Ring and The Grudge, Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night is a great, creepy addition to the franchise. The DVD release in the UK appears to have been delayed several times and I'm wondering if this is because of legal wranglings with Paramount Pictures. While the connection with the other films is tenuous and only talked about, it might cause problems for continuity, particularly given what was seen in Paranormal Activity 2. Or it might be something else entirely!
**UPDATE** I have just received an email from Amazon, informing me that Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night will be released on October 10th, 2011. This will bring the release just before the scheduled opening of Paranormal Activity 3.
**UPDATE** Apparently, Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night is no longer going to get a UK DVD release. I got this message from Icon Film Distribution UK via their Facebook page: "We've had a licensing issue in relation to UK rights so unfortunately we are unable to bring Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night to the UK! No news as to who or when the film will released in the UK." Bugger! :(
Written and directed by Michael Goi, Megan is Missing is a powerful film about paedophilia and murder. Supposedly inspired by true events, but using fictional characters and locations, the film is the story of two 14-year-old girls, Megan Stewart and Amy Perkins. We are told from the outset that both girls have disappeared and that the film we are watching is made from webcam, telephone and camcorder footage, along with news media material. The first half of the film shows us how Megan is outgoing, going to parties, taking drugs, drinking and having sex. Amy is quiet and reserved. Megan has a fraught relationship with her mother and has been sexually abused by her stepfather. Amy's family life is stable and happy.
After meeting a boy called Josh through her computer, Megan disappears. Amy suspects Josh, but she also disappears. We see the fate of the two girls when police find Amy's camcorder in a trash bin. It's stomach-churning stuff, mostly for the fact that we are supposed to be watching two very young girls. It reminded me a little bit of The Poughkeepsie Tapes when we discover what happened to Amy and Megan. While it's not the best film in this genre, with some of the acting leaving a lot to be desired, it's worth seeing if only to remind us not to trust anybody we meet on the internet. This movie ain't Catfish!!!! The movies official website is www.meganismissing.com.
A couple of additions today! First, The Haunted House Project is a 2010 found-footage film from South Korea. A documentary film crew follow a trio of young ghost hunters into a haunted location, which includes a derelict factory and the home of the former owner of the business. Local stories say that the company president, Mr Kim, had an affair with one of his employees. She disappeared and Kim's family turned up murdered, along with Mr Kim himself. Since then, there had been reports of ghostly goings-on at the site. We are told that the ghost hunters and the film crew disappeared and that a team sent to locate them only found the video cameras and tapes.
The film starts off very slowly and doesn't really get going until two-thirds of the way through. Once things do start happening, though, it's frantic and breathless. Unfortunately, much of what happens occurs in pitch darkness, so you can't really see what is going on. There is a lot of screaming and running and some genuine scares, but these are usually from people leaping into frame unexpectedly. So, while I enjoyed The Haunted House Project, it wasn't as good as, say, Paranormal Activity or Noroi: The Curse. Marks for effort, though.
The second movie, isn't really a found-footage film. It is a mockumentary, similar in tone to The Fourth Kind, albeit about the supernatural, rather than alien abduction. Lake Mungo is an Australian film from 2008 that grips from beginning to end. It tells the story of the Palmer family and their lives since the death of daughter, Alice, who drowned while the family picnicked at a local dam. Almost immediately, things start happening in the family home and Mathew, the Palmer's son, captures what appear to be images of Alice on still photographs and video tapes. Alice's parents, Russell and June, also claim to have seen Alice several times. A local psychic is brought in, but things quickly turn sour when it transpires that Mathew faked the shots of Alice and that she had visited the psychic months before her death.
It turns out that Alice had a dark secret and a series of clues lead the family to Lake Mungo, a dry-bed where Alice and her friends camped out a few months before her death. What the family find is bizarre and a little disturbing, suggesting that Alice knew she was going to die at some point in the near future. The family gain closure and Alice's presence leaves the house. As the credits roll, we see the faked shots by Mathew and in each one, hidden away in the image is a 'genuine' occurrence of Alice, peering out of the screen. Lake Mungo is terrific and is so well-made that you don't know it's not a real documentary until the cast list rolls up at the end. Apparently, it's going to be remade, but it can't be any better than the original.
Adrian Pasdar of Heroes fame produced and stars in the 2008 film, Home Movie. This is the story of the Poe family (not a good start, being called Poe in a horror film!) and the events that occur when the two kids, Emily and Jack, go, well, mental. David (Pasdar) is a Lutheran minister and his wife, Clare (Cady McClane) is a psychiatrist. It is clear that there have been issues with the children before the events of the movie, as they have moved out into the countryside to a remote, yet idyllic, house. Straight away, it's obvious that something is wrong with Jack and Emily, as they barely speak to their parents, converse with each other in a made-up language and the family pets all come to gruesome ends. All of this is caught on video by David. Needless to say, nothing works out well for anybody!
While the premise is good, Home Movie doesn't quite work for me. David is annoying as hell and the twins (played by Amber and Austin Williams) just come across as very naughty and as annoying as their dad. That is if you class making goldfish sandwiches, crucifying cats and trying to kill school friends as naughty. That said, this is a genuine 'found-footage' movie and is reasonably well-made, with some genuine shocks and surprises and a suggestion that there might be something supernatural about the twins, rather than they are simply psychotic.
A television news crew is led by its desperate producer, Natasha, into the tunnels beneath Sydney. These were built decades ago, originally intended for underground trains. During World War Two, they were utilised as air-raid shelters and in recent years, became occupied by homeless people. When stories surface about people disappearing in the tunnels, Natasha decides to investigate. She lies to her crew about obtaining permits to explore the tunnels and they delve into the darkness, unaware of what awaits them.
The Tunnel is absolutely gripping from beginning to end, with fantastic performers from all the cast. Made on a shoestring (you can buy frames of the film via the website!), this is no Cloverfield or [REC], but the creature is terrifying and more so because you can hardly see it. It actually reminded me of that old, British horror film, Deathline, in which cannibalistic humans dwell in the dark recesses of the London Tube system. Is the creature in The Tunnel human? I don't know. It definitely appears human-like at times, but there are also times it looks like something else entirely. Scary stuff.
After watching The Last Horror Movie (2003), I wasn't sure what to think about it. The premise is that you, the viewer, have rented a video cassette from your local rental store and have popped it into your VHS machine. Already alarm bells are ringing in this age of DVDs (even back in 2003!). Anyway, the film starts with opening credits and all the usual stuff of 'normal' movies. It's an American slasher flick called The Last Horror Movie. Then suddenly, we switch to an English guy, apologising for interrupting the film and informing us that we are going to follow him as he goes around murdering people. He has taken the tape from the rental store and recorded over it, you see.
So, we follow this chap, Max (Kevin Howarth), as he goes around London killing innocent people for the hell of it, listening to his clipped, public school accent, as he pretends to be somebody who videos weddings for a living. Meanwhile, his 'assistant' captures his deeds on tape.
I suppose it's meant to be a biting dig at our voyeuristic society and the film often asks us why we are still watching, seeing as 'it's all real'. It doesn't quite work, though. Sure, it is well-made and the acting is okay, if a little uneven - the 'assistant' is rubbish, but the film asks us to suspend out disbelief a little too much. Having said that, though, as the film draws to a close, it did cross my mind that if there was a knock at the door, I wouldn't answer it!
In a similar vein to The Tunnel, Re-Cut sees a TV news crew following a story to their doom. In place of murky, subterranean tunnels, we are led into rural America, where two young girls were hung, allegedly by their religious father. Looking for a good story, the news crew venture to the farm of the tragic family, only to be arrested by the local sheriff. After accompanying a pair of locals back to the farm, they are strung up and tortured.
A tense chase through cornfields ensues and there are some genuine surprises and a fair amount of tension. Unfortunately, the flow of the film is spoiled by random interruptions of some poor person in a sack being beaten and stabbed, the pay-off coming at the end.
Re-Cut is an okay film and that is all. Some of the camerawork makes it hard to believe we're watching 'found footage', but the acting is generally good and I didn't see the twist coming. The Tunnel is infinitely better, though.
I bought The Collingswood Story based on reading about it on Wikipedia. The phrase 'The Best Low Budget Movie Since The Blair Witch Project' makes it sound kinda good, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. Made in 2002 and released in the UK in 2006, The Collingswood Story focuses on Rebecca and John, a couple separated by college and work and who have to communicate via webcam. We learn that the house Rebecca is living in has a dodgy past and a visit to an online psychic results in spooky stuff happening.
Unfortunately, you get the impression that sod all is happening, except Rebecca is somehow lugging her laptop around the house and even into the attic, with it connected to the phone line by a really long lead! I'm sorry, but The Collingswood Story is awful. It may be award-winning, but I found it boring and annoying. Almost the entire film is spent looking at rubbish depictions of various PC desktop screens or trying to see what's happening in pitch-black rooms. Sure, it's an independent film, made on a micro-budget and allowances should be made, but they can only go so far. I was very, very disappointed by the film and that's all I have to say about it. The end.
I wasn't sure what to expect from September Tapes, a 2004 'found-footage' film (spelled as Septem8er Tapes on the poster and in the film itself) about an American journalist who goes to Afghanistan in search of Osama Bin Laden. There is a title card that tells us that the video tapes (eight of them) were found by Northern Alliance forces close to the Pakistan border. Dragging his virtually silent cameraman along with him, Lars and Sonny arrive in Kabul and meet up with their translator and guide, Wali.
Pretty soon, it is obvious that the Americans are way over their heads in this country in turmoil. Eventually, they meet with a mercenary called Babak, who is about to go on a mission to kill Bin Laden near the Pakistan border. It doesn't end well, as you may have guessed.
The movie looks amazingly authentic and is, perhaps, the best-looking found-footage film I've seen. By that, I mean that it actually does look like genuine footage in Afghanistan and the gun battles the team find themselves caught in look terrifying. The only bad part is a section near the end, which looks too much like a first-person shooter, particularly a level of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Apart from this, the film is gripping, well-acted and the special effects are outstanding, making you wonder if they are real rather than CGI. Highly recommended.
As promised earlier, this week saw the release of the sequel to The Zombie Diaries. Chillingly titled World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2, the movie follows on from the first film, but is a much more ambitious production. We follow a squad of Territorial Army volunteers, who have been drafted in to help with the mystery virus outbreak that is turning the people of Britain into flesh-eating fiends.
It soon becomes apparent that their only chance of survival is to make it to the coast, where boats are ferrying people to the continent and safety... or so we are led to believe.
World of the Dead is a good film, but its use of the found-footage style doesn't quite work this time around. It feels too forced and not natural. The addition of an albeit subtle score doesn't help either. Some scenes appear to have been nabbed from other movies, such as I Spit On Your Grave or Schindler's List (even down to the red coat!). It also has a distinctly Threads feel to it, a general, all-pervading sense of doom overlaying the proceedings. That said, there are some terrific scenes, the highlight for me being the snow-covered night-time graveyard, with zombies shuffling by in the distance.
All-in-all, World of the Dead is a well-made, above average apocalyptic zombie movie, with a twist at the end that isn't really surprising, given the title of the film.
This is an odd one. Paranoid Activity 2. It has a crap title, obviously attempting to cash in on Paranormal Activity. There also doesn't appear to have been a Paranoid Activity 1!!!!! There is a review on iMDB that casts the movie in a terrible light... but I liked it.
Set in Alaska, Jonzi, Vivian and Bridget have just moved into a new home. Jonzi and Vivian are a couple and Bridget is their best friend. For some bizarre reason, Jonzi hires a psychic for the housewarming party and they are told that there is something in their home. Thinking the psychic just wants money, Jonzi asks him to leave. Then things start to happen.
Pots, pans, crockery and glasses inexplicably arrange themselves on the kitchen floor. Lights flicker and, eventually, shadowy figures are seen. My favourite shot was of the creepy, six-fingered hand print.
As I said, I liked it. It is a blatant homage to Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Entity and it lacks the style of those films, but it worked for me. It was simple. The acting was okay. The shadow figures looked excellent. Early on, Jonzi claims his camera was a graduation gift from his father and that he's using it to make a documentary about their new home, but sometimes the scenes seem a little forced, leaving you thinking, 'Why is he filming this? Why doesn't the person being filmed tell him to get the camera out of their face?' Minor quibble, though. There is also a scene that seems to go on forever, with Jonzi using string to tie up the kitchen cupboards. It even had me saying out loud, "Come on, for God's sake!" The next scene, though, makes it worthwhile.
So, for it's faults (particularly that crappy title, I recommend Paranoid Activity 2 for fans of the found-footage genre.
I would like to thank Jeff Black for recommending a film from the director of Noroi: The Curse. The film is called Occult (sometimes with the tag, The Unidentified). The story unfolds as the director, playing himself, makes a documentary about a bizarre attack at a Japanese beauty spot. As soon as he meets with the victims of the attack, strange things begin to happen and we are drawn into a supernatural world of spirits and UFOs.
The film climaxes with the ultimate example of 'found-footage' - when a camera apports from the spirit realm with video from beyond the grave!
Occult is a good movie, although the ending stretches the viewer's suspension of disbelief to breaking point. There are some genuinely creepy scenes and good use of the busy city streets. Recommended. Thanks, again, Jeff!
I got an email from Bryan Harris (who had previously informed me of The Bay [see above]), with a couple of links for trailers for a new found-footage film called Grave Encounters. Now, I had seen a trailer for this film a while ago, but I had completely forgotten about it and couldn't remember what it was called, so big ups to Bryan! The movie is released online and ins elected US theatres on August 25th, 2011. I'll do a proper review when I've seen it.
As luck would have it, I managed to see Grave Encounters today. It's a very enjoyable found-footage movie, although it seems to borrow heavily from other horror movies, notably the remake of The House on Haunted Hill. We are told at the beginning that this is not a movie and we are seeing raw footage that has been 'edited for time'.
The film is about a television film crew, who are making episode six of the Grave Encounters show at an alleged haunted insane asylum. This is a reality TV show in the vein of Ghost Hunters or Most Haunted. Early on, we see that the crew are not averse to fabricating stories or exaggerating events in order to make 'good TV'. They are locked inside at 10pm and will not be allowed out until the caretaker arrives at 6am. After a slow-burn start, things begin to happen, objects move, camera equipment flickers. Eventually, all hell breaks loose and the crew find themselves literally trapped in the building - they smash open the front doors only to find it leading back inside. Also, time appears to have stopped and they end up spending days inside with no sign of the sun coming up or the caretaker appearing to free them. Bizarre. The crew get picked off one by one in various interesting ways until only the presenter remains, living in the tunnels beneath the hospital, eating rats. Several ghastly apparitions scare the bejesus out of the crew (and the viewer!) and we appear to learn at the end that the head physician performed weird demonic rites in a ghoulish, subterranean laboratory.
I enjoyed Grave Encounters and some of the effects were very well done. The story stretches the found-footage aspect to the limits of believability, but that doesn't detract from what might be the most polished film of the genre for some time.
** UPDATE **
I got an email from Allessandro in Japan the other day. He gave me a short list of found-footage films in which I might be interested. Some of them are yet to be released, but two are out now and I was able to find them. Thanks, Allessandro!
First up is Atrocious. This is a Spanish/Mexican co-production and is only just over an hour in length. The Quintanilla family are murdered in their old, country home (this is no secret or plot spoiler) and we are watching the grim story unfold through the cameras of the elder son and daughter, Cristian and July. We are led to believe that there is some sort of ghostly girl haunting a forest that sits beside the house. Legend has it that if you get lost in the forest (it's something of a maze, apparently), she will appear and show you the way out. Another legend has her killing hapless wanderers.
After a slow start, things accelerate, after the family dog is killed and dumped down a well, until we are taken on a breathless chase through the forest and the farmhouse by Cristian, until he ends up in the basement and discovers the truth. Atrocious is a very good film and I recommend it.
Secondly, I watched Haunted Changi. This is a film from Singapore and, again, is quite short, coming in at around 75 minutes. It is an English language film, but, trust me, you need the English subtitles as some of the Singapore English is hard to follow. That's not a slight on the Singapore people. I'm sure most English-speaking people outside the UK (or maybe even in the UK... ha ha!) wouldn't understand my broad Yorkshire accent!
Anyway, Haunted Changi is about a young documentary film crew who get permission to film inside the Old Changi Hospital (OCH). During World War II, the hospital was occupied by the Japanese and there are stories of mass executions and torture chambers in the tunnels beneath the labyrinthine hospital. Things go well until the crew enter the hospital at night. Figures flash across the screen and we hear creepy wailing in the distance. Night vision footage shows the silhouettes of clawed hands reaching for the attractive, young presenter, Sheena.
Anyway, things come to a head when Andrew, the leader of the project, claims to have found a Chinese squatter and becomes obsessed with her. Several of the crew become ill and a final visit to OCH ends in tragedy.
I quite enjoyed Haunted Changi. The visual effects were decent and there were some good tricks used. All-in-all, a worthy addition to this list.
Evil Things confused me a bit. Was this a straight up thriller with the events caught on a pair of camcorders or was this a supernatural tale of terror? Or both? Whatever it was, it was very well-made and shot. The story revolves around a group of young adults and a trip to 'Aunty's Remote House In The Middle of Nowhere in Winter'. After a genuinely gripping car journey through a snow storm and shenanigans with an idiot in a van (which comes back into play later), they arrive and everything's hunky dory. The film settles down for a while until they decide to explore some nearby caves and get lost in the woods. Then it all kicks off.
As I said, the film is nicely shot and the characters are well-drawn. I felt the introduction of a musical score towards the end was a mistake, as it reminds the viewer that you are just watching a movie. Also, to reiterate, was this a siege thriller, with the 'family' unable to leave their house by an unknown group of random assailants or was there a supernatural element? I certainly got that impression, with the noises in the woods and the unseen foe lurking around. But it's never made clear. Perhaps that's the point.
It's certainly a good film and one I would recommend.
** UPDATE **
I am going to add a couple of films that aren't necessarily 'found-footage'. They are mockumentaries or faux documentaries. Both have been out for a few years.
The first is called The Brandon Corey Story. I've known about this film for quite some time and watched it ages ago, but it never occurred to me to include it in this list until now. This is a conspiracy thriller, in which the eponymous hero is searching for an activist friend, who disappeared while investigating claims that former Vice President Dick Cheney was a shape-shifting entity. We are led by an English narrator, who interviews Corey's friend, who appears in silhouette, and we are shown covert footage captured by both Corey and his missing friend. The standout moments show a Secret Service agent with reptilian eyes and a weird ritual in a subterranean chamber.
The second film is called The Ghosts of Crowley Hall. This is a Most Haunted-style film in which a group of paranormal investigators enter an abandoned asylum and get more than they bargained for. I have to be honest that I wasn't sure if I was watching a genuine investigation or a scripted movie and I mean that as a compliment. Things are slow to start, with the team hearing knocks, followed by a seance. My attention began to wander, I have to admit, and I thought that nothing at all was going to happen. And then it does. Cameras catch ghostly figures. Knocks and footsteps are heard and the leader of the group is attacked. The film culminates with a reluctant return to Crowley Hall, which ends badly, but not fatally.
As I said, the film has a slow start, but once things get going, this is a genuinely creepy movie with some great scenes (the shadowy figure down the hall is my favourite) and a very realistic feel.
** UPDATE **
Jeff Black got back in touch with me (he recommended The Occult a while back) and had a coupe of films for me to check out.
The St. Francisville Experiment,
was released not long after The Blair Witch Project took the world
The second movie is The Wicksboro Incident. This was made in 2003 and is the story of an old man who claims to have been involved with top secret, government experiments in the 1950s. These experiments resulted in the discovery of extraterrestrials living among the human race.
A pair of documentarians take Lloyd (the old guy) on a road trip to try and find the town of Wicksboro in Texas, where the whole population mysteriously vanished in an instant, according to Lloyd. Venturing onto private land, they discover that the town has been razed to the ground and nothing remains. Later, they discover Lloyd's subterranean laboratory. Then the bad guys turn up and we find ourselves in a chase movie.
The Wicksboro Incident is an extremely well-made faux documentary with terrific acting and genuine-looking set-pieces. The fate of the trio is alarming and, sometimes, shocking, but it is never boring and I recommend this film very highly indeed. If you like conspiracy theories, UFOs and all that stuff (I do!), then this is the film for you.
As I browsed the DVD section of my local supermarket this morning, I was surprised to see a film called The Tapes. I scooped it up and paid for it... as you do.
The film tells us that three people, Gemma, Nathan and Danny, have come to sticky ends, leaving only some video tapes behind, and that some sort of cult is responsible. We see a police detective and various family members and we're told that the families have allowed 'the tapes' to be shown. Gemma is a Big Brother hopeful and talks Danny and Nathan into filming a showreel to help her get on the show. Danny is her boyfriend. God knows what she sees in him, because he's a complete prat. Nathan is clearly the strongest, most grounded member of the group.
They hear about 'swingers parties' that take place at a nearby farm and decide that it would be a good subject for Gemma's showreel. They break into the farm and wait for the 'swingers' to turn up. Unfortunately, these people are devil worshippers. You can guess what happens.
While The Tapes passed some time, it is, to be honest, a bit dull. For the vast majority of the film, we're watching Danny being an idiot, Gemma being an Essex Girl wannabe and Nathan losing his temper at Danny's antics. When the action kicks in, it's over in a flash and we mostly get shots where it's way too dark to see anything or we just see footage of the ground as our 'heroes' are legging it. But it isn't terrible. The characters are actually quite likable - except for Danny - and you don't really want to see them come to harm. I'll recommend The Tapes only because it's a cheap buy from your local Asda!
This might be a first... a spoof found-footage film. Obviously a riff on Paranormal Activity, I have to admit that I haven't watched Abnormal Activity all the way through yet. I keep starting it, but get about five minutes in and switch off - which isn't good. My brother insists that it is "funny in places". Again, not good, because my brother thinks everything he watches is good! No, really...
I might get round to watching Abnormal Activity eventually, but in the meantime, I'll just add it to this list because of it's mere existence.
Paranormal Activity 3 is upon us, folks, and, by gum, it's a great film! Usually, movies suffer from the law of diminishing returns when it comes to sequels, but the Paranormal Activity series is going from strength to strength, in my opinion.
Set in 1988, when Katie and her little sister, Kristi, are just girls, we are first shown a clip from 2005 and the 'burglary' at the home of grown-up Kristi. We learn that all that was taken was a box of VHS tapes handed down to Katie by their grandmother. Next, we see an unknown somebody begin watching the tapes and we go back to 1988.
The girls' mum, Julie, has just set up home with her videographer (handy!) boyfriend, Dennis. Julie's mother, Lois, is concerned that he is only using her for her money (they're a wealthy family, remember). It becomes apparent that Kristi has an imaginary friend, which she calls Toby. Obviously, this entity is far from imaginary and things begin happening in the house and Dennis begins setting up his cameras to catch the activity.
It might be argued that the series is stretching the found-footage genre somewhat, I mean, does everybody in California record everything on video? It seems that way. But if you try not to think about that, the film has some wonderful moments, including brilliant use of an oscillating fan (amazing how such a simple device can ramp up the tension!), a spooky duvet in the kitchen and the usual people being dragged about. I absolutely loved it and it's perhaps my favourite film of the series so far. It's successful too, taking over $80 million in its opening weekend. Not bad from a budget of $5 million.
Go see it now and get your spine tingled!
The Asylum strike again with yet another found-footage horror film! This time, they have decided to place it in the famous house at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island. Yep, that house. Oddly, the house we see in The Amityville Haunting looks sod all like the real one in Amityville. Not to worry, we'll plod on.
In June of 2008, the Benson family move into the house and two people are dead by the end of the first day. Not a great start for a happy family experience! Fourteen year-old Tyler likes to film everything with his camcorder, as is normal for these flicks, and we see odd things happening. Strange figures in the background or ghostly noises. He also finds an iPhone with a video of some kids being murdered some time before the family moved in. More cameras are installed for security and we see more stuff going on and it all ends badly, as might be expected.
You know what? I really enjoyed it. Somehow, The Asylum has got the knack for making a good Paranormal Activity-style film. Sure, the acting isn't the best, but the shocks and scares are effective and it leaves you feeling satisfied by the end. I have no doubt that this film will be repackaged at Halloween 2012 as Paranormal Entity 4!
For a movie made with a budget of only $5000, 7 Nights of Darkness is very impressive. A title card tells us that a group of reality TV show contestants were to spend seven nights at a haunted asylum and if they stayed the whole time and completed all their pre-assigned tasks, they would share a million dollars. We are told that the money was never paid and the show never aired.
At first, we get to know the contestants. Some are likable, some less so. There are two women and four men. Three cameras, operated by the group, catch all the action, as well as several static CCTV cameras. Things get off to a slow start, as we might expect, with small things happening (a moving bucket, the distant wailing of a baby). Then something happens to one of the women and we learn that one of the men was a plant, ordered by the TV company to scare out the others. It was he who faked some of the early occurrences. But then real things start to happen and some of them are jump-out-of-your-seat terrifying!
I really enjoyed 7 Nights of Darkness and highly recommend it. That's not to say it isn't without flaws. Some of the acting is a bit wooden (but not atrocious) and I hated the post-credits sequence, which completely ruins the found-footage aspect of the film. Aside from that, it's very well made and the special effects do what they are supposed to do.
The Devil Inside is a faux-documentary about a young woman, Isabella, who decides to make a film about her mother. When Isabella was a child, her mother, Maria, murdered several priests, who were performing an exorcism upon her. She was incarcerated in a mental institution in the States before being inexplicably moved to a hospital in Rome, Italy. Isabella and her cameraman, Michael, head over to Europe to learn all about exorcisms and to see Maria.
Along the way, they meet two young priests, Father Ben and Father David, who are conducting exorcisms without permission of the Vatican. They decide to investigate Maria and, as might be expected, it all goes wrong.
The Devil Inside is a terrific film with some excellent exorcism scenes. All the actors play their roles well and some of the scares are genuinely shocking. Joints dislocate with toe-curling pops and snaps. It's all very well-made and much better than The Last Exorcism, in my opinion.
A new paranormal found-footage TV series started on ABC on 7th February, 2012. The River is the story of Dr Emmet Cole, a popular TV adventurer and naturist (played by Bruce Greenwood), who has gone missing in the Amazon jungle. His son, Lincoln, and wife, Tess, go in search of him and his ship, The Magus, aided by a band of friends. Everything is captured by numerous cameras.
The first two episodes, aired together, featured the bloodthirsty spirit of a Magus crewman and a lonely child spirit. The tram find Cole's ship, but the man himself is nowhere to be found.
It's all very well made, BUT the found-footage motif is stretched to breaking point. Produced by Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli and Steve Spielberg, it's slickly done and the acting from each character is adequate. There are just too many cameras, though. We have two main cameramen (one of which doesn't last long) and numerous CCTV cameras on board The Magus, but often you are left thinking, where the hell is this shot coming from? It feels too much like a 'regular' TV drama retro-fitted as found-footage.
That said, I enjoyed the first two episodes and look forward to what happens next. Give it a whirl.
UPDATE: Season 1 concluded in spectacular style and I have to say that I really enjoyed the series as a whole, although I maintain that a lot of the camera angles were far too contrived. I mean, how many cameras can one boat have?? I don't think a second season is on the cards, which is sad, seeing as we ended the first on a bit of a cliffhanger.
Chronicle has come out of nowhere and become the surprise hit of the year so far. A found-footage superhero movie, Chronicle is the story of Andrew, matt and Steve, three high school students who stumble across a weird, underground 'something' that gives them telekinetic powers. Bullied by his father and fellow students, Andrew is clearly walking on psychological thin ice and it is up to his cousin Matt and popular Steve to keep him on the straight and narrow. They fail with devastating results. We are taken from simple tricks with Lego bricks and juggling balls to causing serious road accidents and a remarkable showdown in Seattle that is reminiscent of the Kryptonian fight in Superman II.
This is an incredible film with some astonishing effects (and some less so), but it stretches the found-footage credibility to its limits and beyond. Many of the shots appear incredibly contrived as the film makers try to keep the story moving. You shouldn't let that spoil the enjoyment factor of this movie, however. It is great stuff from beginning to end and the confrontational climax is stunningly depicted.
Rumour has it that debut director, Josh Trank, has been handed the reins for the Fantastic Four reboot and if he does half as well with that as he has done with Chronicle, then it will be something to look forward to.
Made with a budget estimated at only $12,464 (a precise estimate, I know), Evidence is a stunning example of how to make a great found-footage film.
A group of friends go camping in the American countryside. I don't know where. Probably California. One of them has decided to use his video camera and record a 'documentary' about their trip. Obviously, this means he films everything! At first, it's all fun and games. They joke around, argue, the usual stuff, but then they see something weird in a ravine and the film takes a turn for the insane. Suddenly, the group is set upon by terrifying, screeching creatures with glowing eyes.
The final third of the film is heart-stopping stuff as we flee for our lives. Monsters leap out. Guns blaze. Vehicles roar around. Helicopters hover overhead. For a found-footage film, there's a surprising amount of gore, too. It's all amazing stuff, if immensely confusing. We see clues as to what's going on, but we have to work it out for ourselves.
I highly recommend Evidence, but I suspect it is one of those films that divides its audience. I loved it, though.
Tape 407 (sometimes called Area 407), is an ambitious found-footage film that tries to reach beyond its limitations. Unfortunately, it doesn't succeed. That's not to say that there isn't a lot to enjoy in this film.
The story follows a group of people who survive a plane crash (very well-staged) and end up somewhere in the Nevada desert. As they await rescue, terrifying creatures attack and they are forced to run for their lives. All this, of course, is captured by a couple of (oddly identical) cameras, owned by unrelated people. Defended by an air marshal (with an Australian accent), the group gets whittled down until only two remain to see the dawn... or do they?
While I enjoyed Tape 407 for the most part, it was a bit too much 'found-footage'. That is to say that it was very chaotic at times, with the ad-libbed dialogue overlapping and the camera shaking around a bit too much. It could be argued, though, that this makes it more realistic. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose. What we see of the creatures (not a lot, even at the terrific climax) keeps us on our toes and you actually do get a sense that these people are really scared.
So, overall, I'd recommend Tape 407 and I hail the producers' ambition, but it could have been better. Watch it yourself, though, as it could be one of those films that divides its audience (happens a lot with these films, I suspect!)
Apartment 143 sees a paranormal investigation team invited to the apartment of a widower and his family. Cameras and other detection equipment is installed and we settle down to see what happens. At first, we assume that this is a traditional haunting, then it is suggested that it is a poltergeist created by the teenage daughter. Whatever is behind the bangs and howls and moving objects, we see some bizarre things and the ending is fun and shocking.
I enjoyed Apartment 143. The cast are from mainly TV backgrounds, with some familiar faces (particularly Rick Gonzales, who genre fans will recognise from the Reaper TV series), and their characters are well-portrayed. The special effects are decent, too, which make the shocks all the more believable. That said, this movie isn't as good, as Paranormal Activity or even Grave Encounters. We never really (and this is a bit of a spoiler) find out the origins of the paranormal incidents and the ending, while fun, is very contrived, from the Poltergeist-style finale to the amusing final coda. The flitting between cameras of variable quality, while perhaps more realistic of an proper investigation, is sometimes annoying. But it is still well worth viewing.
338 Arletta Avenue is less of a 'found-footage' movie and more of a 'hidden camera-peeping Tom' film. Starring Nick Stahl (Terminator 3, Sin City), we follow the downward spiral of James, a normal guy who works in advertising, has an attractive wife, Amy, and a cat. Everything we see is from cameras either secreted or operated by an unseen person.
When Amy disappears, James struggles to make believe that she is in trouble and that she has not just gone away for a few days. The unseen cameraman watches, following James as he investigates or via the many, many hidden cameras. James confronts a list of suspects and matters build to a horrific climax.
I enjoyed 338 Arletta Avenue and Nick Stahl is a terrific actor. The major gripe I have, though, is that there are far too many hidden cameras. How did the guy find the time to plant all these gadgets? They're everywhere: in James' car, in his office, in his home - everywhere! Aside from that, it's a good film that has you trying to figure out who is behind the deeds that unfold.
** UPDATE **
Project X is a film about a party arranged by some school friends and all the events are filmed by another 'friend'. Obviously everything goes horribly wrong and the party gets wildly out of control and SWAT teams appear and helicopters and police etc etc.
Now, I have to admit that I haven't watched all of Project X. Why? Because I hated the characters so much. All of them really rubbed me the wrong way, particularly the loud-mouthed sweary one who is the reason everything goes wrong. I absolutely loathed him.
Also, the camerawork is very contrived and it appears everybody is walking round with hidden microphones because you can hear every word, even when they are being filmed from a distance.
Perhaps I was in a bad mood anyway on my first viewing, so perhaps I'll try and watch it again. Or maybe not...
Alien Origin is a new found-footage film from our chums at The Asylum and, even by their low standards, it's pretty bad, which is a shame, because it starts out pretty well.
A documentary team join a group of soldiers in Belize as they go on a routine mission to set cameras in the jungle in the hope of catching drug traffickers. Soon, they come across a boat in a field and find a camera with a memory card. We see the footage of the boat's occupants apparently being abducted by a bad CG UFO. Later, the soldiers are ordered to investigate the disappearance of some archaeologists. More cameras are found (yes, we are getting found-footage within found-footage!), but we see nothing. Eventually, it all goes awry and the film crew and soldiers come to sticky ends.
As I said, the film starts out well, with the team entering the jungle (actually filmed in Belize), but it ends up just being people walking, running, walking, shooting, running, all while shaking the camera about and not seeing anything. Even when we do see the aliens, the CG is so bad, that the picture is 'distorted' to hide them.
Terrible, terrible film.
I actually stumbled across Skew when it was broadcast on The Horror Channel recently. What we have is a 'point-of-view' film disguised as found-footage. Simon is filming a road trip that he and friends, Richard and Eva, are taking to attend a wedding party. At first, things are normal: they stop off at various tourist attractions and Eva and Richard get annoyed at Simon's constant filming. It soon becomes apparent that Simon is in love with Eva, having left his own girlfriend behind.
Then, after Richard accidentally hits and kills a coyote, Simon begins to see people's faces becoming distorted in the camera viewfinder. Then those people die shortly afterwards! Not only that, but he sees 'phantoms' or zombie-like figures. On replaying the video, nothing is seen. Their trip soon descends into terror and, obviously, things don't end well. Is Simon really seeing these spectres or is he losing his mind?
I really enjoyed Skew. It was well-made, with good effects and believable characters. While it could be classed as found-footage, as we see everything via Simon's camcorder, what we are really seeing is Simon's point of view as he looks through the viewfinder or rewinds the tape to watch earlier footage. The only niggle I had was with the music that creeps into the film towards the end. I thought it was unnecessary and detracted from the vérité style of the film. Apart from that, I can highly recommend Skew (ignore the IMDB rating!!!!).
[REC]3: Genesis begins like the previous films in the series ([REC]4 is on the way), with shaky camcorder footage, this time of the wedding of Clara and Koldo. Their uncle arrives with a hand wound from a dog at his vet's office and, as you can imagine, all hell breaks loose at the reception. Koldo and Clara are separated and we follow them as they try to find each other, avoiding the possessed hordes.
[REC]3 is an extremely well-made film, but the found-footage style is dropped a third of the way into the movie, with traditional film-making taking over. This allows for a more cinematic experience, of course, but some of the brutality and energy of the first two films is lost in the transition. This film is also a lot more gruesome, with the possessed 'zombies' being dispatched in various gory and/or amusing ways. The events of the film occur concurrently with those of the first two films, but this really doesn't feel like part of the same story. The possessed behave more like traditional, shuffling zombies, but perhaps that is because they don't have somebody 'in charge' as in the first two films.
So, while I really enjoyed this latest addition to the [REC] series and I look forward to the fourth instalment, I kind of wish they had stuck with the found-footage approach from beginning to end. Saying that, the filmmakers should be commended in trying to evolve the series and move it into new areas.
Documenting the Grey Man is a traditional found-footage film, with a caption explaining that a group of investigators travel to a house to look for a ghost and that they and the householders go missing. The footage is obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Okay.
That's about it, really. The five investigators are actually fake ghost hunters and intend to dupe the poor family who believe that 'The Grey Man', a local spooky legend, is terrorising their family. They aim to set up various stunts and then create a 'behind the scenes' programme, explaining how they did what they did. Unfortunately, it all goes awry - as one might expect.
Running at a little over an hour, Documenting the Grey Man isn't a chore to watch, but it isn't a great found-footage film. The addition of eerie music completely ruins the atmosphere. This was supposed to be raw footage obtained from the police. There shouldn't be music! The footage has been badly sequenced, with some scenes seemingly edited out of order. It makes for a confusing timeline. Also, the acting leaves a heck of a lot to be desired. The saddest thing, though, is that there are some brilliant special effects! A girl floats over a bed. A guy's eyes suddenly begin to bleed. A ouija board and spirit bell react to questions. These great sequences are ruined by the rest of the film being shoddily put together. A great pity.
Browsing the DVD section of my local supermarket today, I came across Paranormal Incident. Reading the cover notes, I thought, ooh, a new found-footage film for my enjoyment. It's a pity that the film turned out to be a little disappointing, despite its ambition. Oh, and the DVD cover erroneously titled the film as 'The' Paranormal Incident. It's just Paranormal Incident. Shame on the UK distributor!
What we have is a found-footage film folded into a traditional movie. The sole survivor of a paranormal investigation is being interrogated in his hospital room as we are shown the camcorder and CCTV footage recovered from Odenbrook Sanitarium. Being the sole survivor, John is also the prime suspect in connection with the disappearances of his friends. As he tries to recall what happened, he is shown how the dark forces that prowl Odenbrook picked off his comrades one by one.
The main problem with this film is the format. Is it a normal film or is it a found-footage film? The producers are to be commended for trying to take the genre in a new direction (as Eduardo Sanchez has done with the soon-to-be-released Lovely Molly), but the ambition outreaches the filmmakers' ability, it seems. While the acting is decent and the shaky-cam footage is decent, the 'regular' movie segments are quite pointless (and the climax is, frankly, stupid). The director seems to forget how many people there are in a scene from time to time, as there are more hand-held camera shots than people. On a couple of occasions, the 'found-footage' is being filmed by nobody at all, as we see hand-held footage of attacks from a third person perspective when there is supposed to be only one person (and the ghosts/demons/whatevers) in the scene. That bug-bear of found-footage, the pointless musical score, also comes into effect on occasion.
That said, there are some good scares, but I felt that they should have simply made a traditional found-footage movie without the pointless 'traditional movie' inserts.
By the way, I just noticed that on the iMDB listing (see the link above), that this film had a budget of over $3 million! I have seen much better films made for a fraction of that amount of money!
If you can rely on The Asylum for one thing, it's that they'll deliver a decent found-footage film. They've done it again with 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck. Despite the poor title, this is a great merging of the found-footage and slasher genres.
A TV crew enters the nurses' dormitory where Richard Speck tortured and raped eight women (the film says seven, but it was eight - I looked it up) in 1966. As soon as the film starts, we see people being dragged off into the shadows and blood flowing. The tension never relents! At first, the crew think that somebody is locked in the building with them, but it soon becomes clear that the spirit of Richard Speck is roaming the halls and claiming new victims.
I absolutely loved this film. A proper found-footage film that is well-made, with decent effects, good acting and a satisfying climax. There's plenty of sticking cameras in dark holes and you're just waiting for something to pop into frame! The approach of Speck's spirit is brilliantly realised, too, with his tongue clucking, as you would to pet birds (Speck kept birds in prison and was also known as Birdman - not to be confused with The Birdman of Alcatraz, that's a different bloke). The noise is actually reminiscent of the sounds made by the giant bugs in the film, Mimic. Compared with the previous film in this list, 100 Ghost Street is infinitely better and probably made on a tiny fraction of the budget.
Anyway, I highly recommend 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck and wonder if this film will be repackaged in October as Paranormal Entity 4...
As I suspected, 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck has been repackaged (in the UK at least) as Paranormal Entity 4: The Awakening.
I wondered whether to include Eduardo Sanchez's Lovely Molly in this list, as it is not necessarily a found-footage film. That said, it does have found-footage elements, so what the heck...
We begin with a found-footage style intro, with Molly attempting to kill herself, but saying 'it' won't let her. Then we flashback, see Molly marrying Tim and then we're into traditional movie territory. They move into Molly's childhood home and things start going bump in the night. This, coupled with her husband being away for much of the time, leads to Molly taking drugs and it looks like she is on a downward spiral. Is what she is seeing (and recording in the film's found-footage segments) all taking place in her head?
I have to admit that as I watched Lovely Molly, I started thinking that this was going to be a 'Scooby-Doo' film, with everything being in our heroine's disturbed mind (as in Skew), but Sanchez plays with our expectations and by the end (which has a brilliant climax, I might add), we are left scratching our heads and saying: "What the...?"
Gretchen Lodge is amazing as Molly and her performance dominates this film. Surely, she will be up for some kind of award? Highly recommended.
I was certain that I'd included Episode 50 in this list before, but it seems not. I'd seen it quite a while ago, but recently purchased the DVD. I can't say I recommend it, though, because Episode 50 is, frankly, rubbish.
Two groups of paranormal investigators, one sceptical, the other religious, collide in a haunted sanatorium. This is supposed to be the fiftieth episode of a television series, hence the film's title, but it all goes wrong and the footage was never broadcast until now. Ghost and demons spring out of the woodwork and then the climax shifts to an old penitentiary with some 90s special effects.
While the cinematography is pretty good and the acting, well, not bad, the main fault with Episode 50 is that it cannot decide what it is. Is it a found-footage film? Or is it a traditional horror piece? It seems like it wants to be a found-footage, hence the claims that we are seeing the footage the film crew captured, but it seems that the filmmakers forgot and kept adding shots from invisible cameras/cameramen. It completely ruins the illusion. Then there's the music, which is the bane of found-footage films. I wish these people who want to cash in on the found-footage genre would actually learn how to make them properly! Aargh!
What can I say about V/H/S except "Wow!"? This is urely one of the most innovative and enjoyable found-footage films of recent years, eclipsing its rivals by several degrees of magnitude.
What we have is an anthology film (or portmanteau), similar to the ones that were popular back in the Seventies, Vault of Horror or From Beyond the Grave, for instance. Five stories are book-ended by the antics of a group of young, criminal videographers, who are hired to break into a house and steal a certain VHS tape. They find the owner of the house apparently dead and begin their search for said tape. What we then see are the stories as they check out the tapes.
The stories are titled Amateur Night (my favourite of the bunch, despite it being the first story, and a great supernatural shocker), Second Honeymoon (a road trip thriller directed by Ti West), Tuesday the 17th (great effects in a twist on the slasher genre), The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger (all taking place via webcams and the weakest of the bunch, featuring prominently in the trailer) and 10/31/98 (a full-blown haunted house/possession roller-coaster!). The final story actually comes after the conclusion of the 'book-end', which I found odd.
Anyway, I cannot recommend V/H/S highly enough. I loved it from beginning to end. It will scare you. It will make you laugh. It will shock you. But you'll love it!
A film's popped up that isn't brilliant. It's almost rubbish, but has just enough going for it to stop me saying it's a big bag of poo. That film is Knock Knock 2. Now, I haven't seen the first one, so I've no idea if that's a similar flick or not, but who cares, eh? Ooh, it's also known as 1666. The distributors must have also had the rights to the first film and thought they'd cash in and make this a sequel. Why? Dunno.
Anyhoo, Knock Knock 2 has a couple of couples checking out places in Hollywood where people died grisly deaths. They end up at a house with the number 1666. They go in (after arguing for an age) and end up disappearing. Obviously.
You know what, even though it probably cost £2.50 to make, it's not totally terrible. The camerawork sucks, but that just gives it authenticity. I suppose. The things that save it are the one or two genuine scares that occur in the film. The acting is not to bad, either. I know this film will not be everybody's cup of tea, but you have to give them marks for trying and for not making a completely unwatchable horror flick.
I bought a new found-footage film from my local supermarket today. I'd never heard of The Asylum Tapes (aka Graystone, Graystone Park and Secret Stone) and I wasn't expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised.
Apparently loosely based on a dinner conversation, the film is directed by and starring Sean Stone (son of famed director, Oliver Stone, who also appears in the film). A group of friends decide to break into an old mental hospital and film what they find there. Obviously, it all goes wrong and they are being stalked by an unseen menace.
Perhaps because I wasn't expecting much, I quite enjoyed The Asylum Tapes. The characters are likeable for the most part and the camerawork and special effects are pretty good. The flickering lights get annoying, though, and sometimes it's hard to make out what's going on in the film's 'shakiest' segments. After a slow build, the film kicks into high gear and things and people fly through the air, figures emerge from shadows and the climax in a bizarre chapel is chilling. Give it a whirl!
The Dinosaur Project is an ambitious British found-footage film that, for the most part, pulls it off. Next to Cloverfield, it easily has the best visual effects of any found-footage film and the story moves along at a decent pace.
Luke Marchant's dad is a world famous cryptozoologist and has spent more of the young man's life in some remote corner of the world, rather than with his family. His latest expedition is to travel deep into the jungles of the Congo and find evidence for Mokele Mbembe, living, breathing dinosaurs. Luke stows away on the helicopter and, after it crashes, father and son must reconcile their differences and get the team out of the dinosaur infested jungle.
I really enjoyed The Dinosaur Project, but that's not to say it is perfect by any means, but it is one of the most highly-polished found-footage films yet released. That said, the film does sometimes forget that it is a found-footage film, with several instances of framing being too good and the dreaded 'extra cameraman' (where you're thinking 'Which of the crew are supposed to be filming this bit?'). These are minor niggles, really. What we have is a good, old-fashioned, family fantasy adventure, in the vein of The Lost World or The Land That Time Forgot, but in the found-footage genre. The film is also less about the dinosaurs we meet along the way and more about the relationships between the team, the father-son dynamic and the inevitable 'heel turn' (to use pro-wrestling parlance) of one of the cast.
It's out on DVD and well worth a punt.
My brother told me about The Lost Coast Tapes and I started watching it with low expectations. Guess what? Yeah, it's excellent! Thanks, bro!
A TV crew travel into the forests of California's 'Lost Coast' in an attempt to debunk the claims of an alleged Bigfoot hunter, who says he has the body of a juvenile sasquatch. Almost as soon as they meet up with the man, it is clear that things are going to go badly wrong. And they do. Trapped deep in the forest, with every exit blocked, the team find that their scepticism is pushed to its limit and the climax is nerve-jangling stuff.
I loved The Lost Coast Tapes. The characters are very likeable, even though they are assholes for the most part. The main character, played by Drew Rausch, reminded me of an older Shia LeBeouf, while the most famous face is that of Dryback, the Bigfoot hunter played by Frank Ashmore, probably most famous to genre fans for his portrayal of the Visitor Martin in the original V television series. The effects are used sparingly, but very effectively. By the time you get to the end of the film, you might think you know what's going on, but the conclusion will have you scratching your head. Just what happened to those people?
The Lost Coast Tapes is available to buy on DVD and I highly recommend it to found-footage fans.
A Night in the Woods is promoted with the words 'Makes The Blair Witch Project look like a teddy bear's picnic'. Yeah, they wish! The DVD cover proclaims that the film is from 'The Makers of Bronson and Monsters'. Well, one of the main characters is Scoot McNairy from Monsters and one of the producers worked on Bronson. Don't let all these big ups fool you, though, because A Night in the Woods sucks.
The story focuses on a love triangle between Brody (McNairy), Kerry (Anna Skellern) and Leo (Andrew Hawley). They all go on a camping trip to Dartmoor, argue, swear a lot and look at the greenery. There's a bit of running and screaming, some flashback footage, and a little bit of violence too. That's pretty much it, though
A Night in the Woods could have been a very good found-footage film, but the film-makers seemingly kept forgetting it was a found-footage film and the viewer is left constantly scratching his head. Why is this bit being filmed? How big is the battery in that camera that has apparently been recording for hours? Why is the camera still running at all? We are told that the reason everything is being recorded is because of Brody's paranoia, but that just seems like a weak cop-out. At least have the characters explaining why they are recording what is happening! Three quarters of the film (probably more) is spent with the three (unlikeable) cast members hating each other. So when the 'action' starts, you don't care about them anyway!
The only decent parts of the film are when Kelly is running through the woods, either looking for Brody and/or Leo or running from some unseen menace. I could go on, but, frankly, I can't be bothered. If you like films with three people shouting at one another, using night vision in the daytime and then not caring that they come to sticky ends on Dartmoor, then A Night in the Woods is the film for you. Personally, I'd rather have watched something else.
Well, this film caught me completely by surprise! Crowsnest is a terrific, traditional found-footage film and it works brilliantly. Forget the nonsense of A Night in the Woods because Crowsnest really does make Blair Witch look like a teddy bear's picnic!
Five people head out into the woods for a weekend at a remote cabin. On the way, the happen upon a spooky ghost town and a gory 'animal' corpse by the side of the road. Soon, they are literally running for their lives as RV-driving maniacs hunt them down. Imagine Duel crossed with Wrong Turn and filmed with a single camera and that's pretty much Crowsnest.
It's a simple storyline, but it works very well. The characters are well-realised and the special effects are surprisingly good. Sometimes the camerawork gets a little too shaky for too long, but that is a minor niggle, given that the rest of the film is so good. I have to admit that, at first, I was thinking that we were going to get yet another zero-budget non-event film, but once the action starts, it is a breathless chase right to the end. The gore is shocking, too, and that's probably where the vast majority of the budget went...
My brother struck again, telling me about The Bucks County Massacre. His over-riding impression was that the women were too hysterical, but more on that in a tick.
A group of friends meet at a remote country house for a birthday party. When one girl goes outside to make a phone call and does not return, a night of terror begins as the partygoers are stalked by something from the woods, something thirsting for human flesh. Bwwaahaahaarrr!
Although, it's super-clichéd, I actually enjoyed The Bucks County Massacre very much. It's a good, old-fashioned found footage film with lots of running around in the woods or prowling around a dark house with night-vision. The 'things' that attack the group aren't particularly scary, though, and just look like scruffy blokes in jeans. The iMDB listing says they are vampires, but I didn't really get that from watching the film. The film is quite well-paced, though and the acting is pretty good. I do agree with my bruv, though, in that the hysterical screaming does have you actually telling the TV to shut up! Despite this, though, I can recommend The Bucks County Massacre.
Grave Encounters 2 tells us that the events in the first film were real, although the producers spiced up the genuine footage with some CGI effects. A group of college students decide to find out what really happened and head off to the shooting location of the first film. Finding more than ghosts, the team end up running for their lives, but can they escape the spooky halls of the old asylum?
Grave Encounters 2 is my favourite found-footage film since Cloverfield! It takes the genre in a new direction, breaking the fourth wall and drawing the viewer into the action with more success than any other film I've watched. That's not to say that it's a perfect film by any means and one scene of shonky CGI in particular pretty much shatters your suspension of disbelief. The interview at the end of the film, though, telling us that it's all fake is a nice touch, leaving us with the notion that the distributors again touched up the movie with bad CGI. The acting is terrific and you genuinely care for what happens to them and their demises are very affecting. The special effects are good (except for the sequence just mentioned) and the story is astonishingly good. The return of a cast member from the original film is well-realised, although you don't really believe that this character survived for nine years alone, living on rats. It's a great performance, though. I suspect this film will win a sackful of awards and it would be deserved.
I cannot recommend Grave Encounters 2 highly enough!
I picked up Closed Circuit Extreme for £8 from my local supermarket. One of those impulse buy things, you know. Anyway, while it's not the greatest film ever made, it just about kept me watching right to the end.
A young couple in Rome, Claudia and Daniele, suspect their neighbour in the disappearance of their friend, but nothing gets done about it, so they decide to break into his house and hide motion-sensing cameras in various locations. The footage they capture confirms their worst fears and costs them dearly, with one of the couple falling prey to the mild-mannered serial killer.
The film is set in Rome, yet everybody is speaking undubbed English, as far as I can tell. Sometimes, it seems as though they ran the script through Google Translate, but I suppose the movie is more about what we see rather than what we hear. The acting isn't the greatest, either, but it's not terrible. The sound effect for the changing camera view grows annoying quickly. I almost reached for the remote, as watching a middle-aged man walk round his house in his underpants for an hour isn't my idea of entertainment, but then the 'action' kicks in and there are some good, nerve-jangling scenes, for instance, when Claudia is trapped in the house and the killer has only to look around and see her cowering in a corner.
The story, though, is scarily plausible and the film is often uncomfortable to watch, the voyeuristic cameras recording the depraved acts of 'David De Santis' without emotion. There isn't any gore to speak off, apart from a pair of severed heads, which don't look very realistic, anyway. The film's saving grace is the creepy, genial manner in which De Santis goes about his business, raping and murdering as though it is perfectly normal. It's quite a performance.
So not the best found-footage film in the world, but it, somehow, keeps you watching. I can't see me watching it again, though...
This Welcome to the Jungle isn't the slightly crap action film starring The Rock. Noooo, this film (which I discovered quite by accident when it broadcast on The Horror Channel here in the UK last night) is a loose remake, released in 2007, of that found-footage pioneer movie, Cannibal Holocaust. Unfortunately, it's a very weak, diluted remake, but not without a few good scenes.
Two couples holidaying in Fiji decide, for some bizarre reason, to take a boat to New Guinea and search for Michael Rockefeller, the son of the US Vice-President who vanished in 1961. They hope that finding him will net them a million dollars from the press and Rockefeller family. So, off they go and before the end encounter a tribe of cannibals. You know the rest...
While Welcome to the Jungle is a decent found-footage film, with good acting and some spectacular scenery in the jungles of New Guinea, it never comes close to matching Cannibal Holocaust's sense of unease, despair or, importantly, gruesome, cannibalistic rites. The vast majority of the film sees us travelling with the couples, who end up falling out big time, and for much of the time, I was thinking 'Who's carrying all of this booze they seem to be drinking?' There seemed to be gallons of the stuff! There are some good moments, though, such as the encounter with Guinean bandits and a tense time with a gun-toting border guard.
When the gore arrives, it's done more subtly than gratuitously and it is done well, but you never feel that these are real cannibals. They're actors pretending to be cannibals. This film would never be mistaken for genuine footage. That said, I did enjoy it and can recommend it as a solid addition to this list.
There's going to be a Paranormal Activity 5 next year! Well, I hope they try something different, because Paranormal Activity 4 is just more of the same. Good, entertaining, with some nice scares, but really the same as the previous outings.
It is November, 2011, and a single mum and her young son, Robbie, have moved in across the street from the family of 15-year-old Alex Nelson. Robbie is a bit odd and Alex and her boyfriend, Ben, keep finding him in and around her house. Eventually, he moves in with them for a short while, as his mother is apparently taken ill. Robbie begins to have a bad influence on Alex's young, adopted brother, Wyatt. Obviously, the poop hits the fan and the cult from the previous films rears its head.
While I enjoyed Paranormal Activity 4 and the series is still the benchmark for found-footage horror, as each film is made, the justification for the found-footage style becomes less and less believable. This time, the footage is captured from laptops, cameras, Xbox Kinects, all seemingly recording constantly! The story never seems to progress very much either. Who are this cult and why are they grooming young boys for the demon?
The series needs a shake-up before the release of the next film in October 2013. Perhaps even move away from the found-footage format, or do what [REC]3: Genesis did and begin as found-footage and transition into a traditional movie. Or perhaps have a regular horror film with found-footage elements, like Lovely Molly. Whatever they decide, I'll still be back next year for more! :)
At least one episode in each season of Supernatural tries to do something a little different, be it flipping the main characters, Sam and Dean Winchester, into the 'real world' or whatever. The fourth episode of season eight has a stab at found-footage and it doesn't do a bad job at it.
Using the Chronicle formula, our heroes stumble across footage recorded by a trio of college students who trifle with a werewolf. As one of the kids struggles with his newfound taste for human hearts, his wimpy friend wants that power for himself and goes to great lengths to get what he wants, seeking out the creature that bit his friend.
It's a good episode that has a decent stab at found-footage, but it's plainly a cash-in and a 'filler' episode before the Winchesters get back to the season's main story arc.
Back in April, 2011, Bryan Harris sent me an email, telling me about a found-footage film in production by an Oscar-winning director. Finally, that film is here.
The Bay is bound to be classed as a found-footage film, yet it is more of a fake exposé or faux documentary. Despite some minor niggles, though, it is very good. With probably the highest profile director of any film in the genre, Barry Levinson, and produced by the omni-present Orin Peli, it has a sterling pedigree, yet it often stumbles and, to be honest drags a little bit, despite only being around 90 minutes in length.
Anyhoo, the plot: A small Maryland town on the Chesapeake Bay is suddenly overrun with a kind of plague and the populace begin dropping like flies. We see events from various sources, CCTV cameras, a local TV reporter (who also acts as the film's narrator), camcorder footage, video from phones etc. It's all very ambitious. As the local authorities struggle to cope, it becomes clear that the town is doomed and the government wants it covering up.
As I said at the beginning, The Bay is very good. The acting is terrific, the make-up effects are nice and yucky and the CGI is seamless. There are some great jump scares as well. I think the problems with the film (and there are one or two) lie with a director who is used to traditional film-making. Some of the shots seem very contrived (a common occurrence, I know, and one that is becoming more prevalent in the genre) and you can't help but think of the 'director's eye' getting in on some of the shots (the aerial shot of the dead fish, for instance). There's also that bug-bear of mine in these films, music. There isn't much in The Bay, and what there is is understated, but it just shouldn't be there. We're supposed to be watching a young reporter spilling the beans about a tragedy. There shouldn't be music. Period.
Despite my moaning, I recommend The Bay and think it is one of the better contributions to this list.
Reel Evil is a traditional found-footage film and it's refreshingly simple and enjoyable.
A trio of budding documentary makers are forced to endure the divas of a low budget horror film shoot in an abandoned mental institution as they are hired to film a 'Making Of...' for the film's (probably straight to) DVD release. Tiring of the behaviour of their employers, the crew go off exploring and find that there's more hiding in the dark recesses of the hospital than rusty bedpans and solitary wheelchairs. Obviously everything goes wrong and the body count soon begins to rise.
I really enjoyed this film. As I said at the beginning, it was refreshingly simple, yet some of the special effects were excellent and there are some good scares and decent gore, not to mention a generous helping of boobs. Reel Evil doesn't advance the genre, but it does what it's supposed to and that's all that matters.
Completely at the other end of the found-footage spectrum is Amber Alert. Recommended to me by Joseph Khawam, Amber Alert tells the story of a pair of best friends, Michael and Samantha, as they film an audition tape for a reality TV show. Sam's younger brother does most of the actual filming and we hear his voice occasionally.
They set out on a road trip and take note of an amber alert sign over the freeway which describes a child abduction and gives a license number and model of car. They soon stumble across this car and decide to follow it. You can guess what might happen when the opening caption tells you that the video became police evidence.
While Amber Alert is excellent for the most part, with good acting and tense editing, what really annoyed me was the character of Samantha. Yes, she is trying to save a small child, but the hysterics she goes through really grates. Apart from that, the film is really good with a nerve-jangling climax.
© Steve JC Johnson - 2011-2013
** UPDATE **
I remember seeing the trailer for Unaware quite some time ago, but forgot all about it. Bizarrely, there is still no distribution deal for this film and is still doing the festival circuit. The producers are refusing any requests for screeners or review copies and limiting festival organisers to one screening each.
According to the website, the film tackles the question about what happened to the alien bodies recovered from the Roswell Incident of 1947.
Hopefully, the movie will get some sort of distribution deal soon and those of us who cannot get to the movie festivals can see what it's all about. In the meantime, here's the trailer:
** UPDATE **
I was contacted today by Jeff Hollins, owner of Louisiana based JeTi Films. He has a found-footage movie coming out entitled Shallow Creek Cult. It looks interesting from the trailer and I look forward to seeing it on general release.
"In this found video footage horror genre movie, two brothers, Getty and Jessie Carmichael, drive 90 miles to Shallow Creek, Louisiana to honor their deceased grandfather's final request to spread his ashes over the Shallow Creek camp site pond. After the ceremony, they stumble across a viciously cannibalistic and mysterious cult, presumed responsible for the bloody massacres of various Shallow Creek, Louisiana residents. And now the Carmichael brothers are on the menu. They happen upon an empty house, except for a bloody head in the bathtub and they hold up there as they deal with the persistent cult. This film is the first African/American produced, directed and acted feature in the found footage horror genre."
Here's the trailer:
like to recommend the YouTube channel of 'CHEM1ZON'.
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Updated 4th January, 2013