Found footage. I sometimes duck when I bring the sub-genre up because it’s such a divisive topic. People either seem to either love or hate them and they’re absolutely adamant in their reasons why.
Whether it’s complaints about too many jump scares and shaky cameras or applause for the realistic feel to the events within the film, however, it seems that the sub-genre has found a solid footing and it just might be here to stay.
I, for one, am perfectly okay with that. It’s clear that found footage grew out of our own community of paranormal investigators. After all, we stalk abandoned homes to find evidence of the unseen, seek to help families alleviate the stress of unwanted paranormal activity, and open ourselves up to the possibility that there is more to this world than what most people can even fathom, and all the while, we’re constantly recording and collecting evidence of our findings.
Sounds like found footage to me!
In light of that, the list below are some of my favorites from the paranormal found footage archives. These terrifying movies are perfect for a stormy night when you and your friends and fellow investigators find yourselves without a location to scour for the evening.
Please note: I’m not saying any of these are real or even approach showing what real investigations are like, etc. I’m just saying they’re entertaining and a fun way to spend an evening!
The Blair Witch Project
Of course this film makes the list. While this film is not even close to being the first found footage style film, it is arguably the granddaddy of the modern fascination with them. Famously made on a tiny budget with the best marketing campaign ever, The Blair Witch Project centers on three documentary film students who venture into the woods of Maryland to find out the truth behind the legend of the infamous Blair Witch. As they find themselves lost in the woods, it becomes apparent that they’re being stalked by something or someone intent on their deaths. The film was a phenomenon of its time.
Released only a couple of years after The Blair Witch Project, this film revolves around four young people sent into a famously haunted location in Louisiana in an attempt to document paranormal activity. Once they’re locked inside for the evening, things go from slightly comical to completely horrifying as they discover that the infamous Madame LaLaurie who performed countless “experiments” on her slaves not only once lived in the home, but that her spirit still seems to haunt the antebellum halls. I love introducing people to this film because it catches most of them completely off guard. They get serious bonus points for having Zelda Rubinstein narrate their trailer, as well!
Grave Encounters 1 & 2
Is it cheating to include a film and its sequel as a single entry? I don’t care! These two movies make a perfect paranormal double feature. The first film revolves around a television paranormal research crew that ventures into an abandoned asylum with an evil past. The crew sets about setting up fake scares and bogus evidence having no idea that the asylum and its long dead residents have other plans. In the totally meta sequel, a film student who is obsessed with the film Grave Encounters convinces his friends to join him when he decides to visit the hospital from the film to do his own investigating. These films will chill you to the bone and leave your glancing over your shoulder into the darkness.
Digging up the Marrow
Paranormal research involves a wide variety of topics, and cryptozoology definitely falls under our banner, though some people seem to forget that from time to time. So, what if you could prove that monsters really existed? What if there was a place where they go to live in their own communities hidden away from the visible world? Adam Green poses that question in his brilliant horror comedy documentary Digging up the Marrow. The film’s premise is simple, Green, who has directed brilliant throwback horror films like Hatchet, is approached by a man who tells him that he can prove that monsters are real. They exist, and they live in a place deep in the earth called The Marrow. What follows is a highly entertaining film full of the practical effects Green is famous for and a final five minutes that left me suspicious of every bump and creak my house made at night for a solid week!
The Taking of Deborah Logan
A documentary crew sets out to make a film about Alzheimer’s and its effects on patients and their caregivers. They enter the lovely home of Deborah Logan, a woman dealing with the disease with the aid of her daughter. Everything is fine at first. They interview mother and daughter about the impact of Alzheimer’s on their daily lives and discuss with doctors how the disease progresses in patients. However, when Deborah begins to exhibit disturbing behaviors that cannot be explained by the illness, the crew discover there is something much more sinister at work in the home. While it’s true that Deborah Logan has Alzheimer’s, could it also be true that she’s being possessed? The film, directed by Adam Robitel, became a viral hit!
The Possession of Michael King
Michael King is devastated over the loss of his wife. He’s even angrier because he thinks her belief in psychics contributed to her death. His answer? He sets out to prove that the paranormal and psychic phenomena does not exist in the most dangerous way imaginable: he intends to intentionally try to become possessed by demons. The premise is a little off the wall, but I was surprised by just how much the film made my skin crawl as Michael confronts the psychic he blames for his wife’s death and seeks out an evil priest to try to summon a demon to possess him.
The Last Exorcism
The Reverend Cotton Marcus, an evangelical minister and exorcist, has grown tired of the show he puts on for his congregation each week and his crisis of faith has led him to quit, but not before he performs one last “exorcism” which he agrees to have filmed for a documentary. He and the crew set out to an isolated community where they meet Nell Sweetzer, the sweet, innocent young girl afflicted by a demon. The movie terrified audiences as each layer to the mystery of Nell and her family was peeled away revealing the insidious core.
You didn’t think I’d leave it off the list, did you? In all honesty, I almost did, but the film that became a part of popular culture was not only terrifying, but it also spawned a host of sequels and parodies. For that reason alone, I had to include it. Micah and Katie have been experiencing strange activity in their home. In an attempt to get to the bottom of what is going on, Micah begins recording their every move. It soon becomes clear than an evil presence is haunting Katie and that it won’t stop until it has her. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the film in a theater full of people. People were screaming and holding onto each other as the slow burner reached its climax.
As Above, So Below
The Parisian Catacombs have been the setting for many a horror film and novel, but few have come close to the sheer terror of As Above, So Below. A team of urban explorers decide that they must see the Catacombs while traveling through Europe. They find a somewhat reluctant guide to take them off the beaten path into the depths of the mysterious City of the Dead and discover that all is not what it seems and that all of their senses can and will turn against them as the malevolent entities that haunt the vast space mark them as targets.
Honorable Mention: Afflicted
One of the most original titles on this list, Afflicted follows Derek and Clif as they set out on a madcap world tour. Derek, who has recently been diagnosed with a fatal illness, doesn’t want to spend the time he has remaining in hospitals and under his family’s watchful eye. His buddy, Clif, thinks the trip is a great idea, but he’s also along to make sure that, should Derek’s health seriously begin to decline, he won’t be alone. A chance encounter with a mysterious woman in Paris changes the tone of the trip entirely. Derek begins to change, but it has nothing to do with his disease. He is stronger and faster, now, than any human should be. What exactly is going on?