Hello friends! Welcome to day two of my mini three part blogoweenaganza! You may have read yesterday that my blogoween posts will be a number of film/telly recommendations in the following three categories:
🏚️ Haunted Houses
📹 Found Footage
👿 The Devil
You can catch yesterday’s post here, but now, let’s dive with our handicams right into found footage…
Found footage is rather divisive as a genre. Personally I think there are some superb found footage films out there, but at the same time, they demand rather a lot from their makers and actors, as well as the viewer, and can be very very terrible. I like to think that the roots of found footage as a story-telling device can be found in many an olde ghost story, which often take the form of a survivor recounting a tale, or of a found journal or diary or letters. This was followed by early mockumentary style productions like The War of the Worlds (this is fun and you should listen), or Ghostwatch.
Arguably the first ever true ‘found footage’ movie was 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust. I watched this when I was FAR too young and, honestly, wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve seen various reviews lauding its social commentary on the state of civilisation, but I’m fairly sure one can make a powerful critique of modern life without the actual animal sacrifice, particularly when it’s just a lazy shortcut to cinematic shock value masquerading as some sort of anthropological revelation….. Call me a party pooper, I dunno, but here are a few movies that I think have used the found footage concept intelligently and to truly spooky effect. But before I jump in, make sure you check out my other halloweeny posts wontcha?
- Halloween film list 2016
- Halloween film list 2018
- Top Ten films/TV that scared the crap out of me as a kid
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
I think it’s fair to describe The Blair Witch Project, somewhat, as the OG where Found Footage as a genre all its own is concerned. Perhaps more effective than the movie itself was the accompanying internet-based promotion that whipped up enthusiasm in a very innovative way in advance of the October 1999 release date, when The Internet was actually pretty novel itself. The film had its own website which was all part of the Blair Witch lore, and it was all rather exciting at the time. It documented the timeline of the Blair Witch legend, the filmmakers themselves, and featured photos of the evidence -including the cameras themselves- found after the filmmakers’ disappearance, as well as interviews and news reports in the aftermath. Word of mouth did the rest, and in years to come it was all widely praised as a very clever (and very inexpensive) bit of viral marketing. I was 18 and fired up the ol’ dial up internet in my bedroom to see the website, then was lucky enough to snag a midnight viewing on opening night in Manchester’s (now demolished) Oxford Road Odeon. The screening was sold out and I still remember shivering in the cold while my friends and I waited outside, yanno, back in the days when I could stay up past midnight and still stand up. The movie itself I can take or leave; the improv-acting is a bit painful to watch at times, but given all the hype and the urban-legendness that surrounds it, I think it deserves a place here.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
If The Blair Witch Project catapulted found footage into existence as a discrete genre, then Paranormal Activity certainly revived it in 2007. Generating a net profit of $78 million with a production budget of $15k, it was a HUGE financial success, and worthy of the hype I think. I’m actually fond of all the Paranormal Activity movies, each exploring different technologies and stretching out the original narrative pretty effectively, which is rare for such a lengthy franchise. I have the biggest soft spot for the initial release, though; it has everything I love: weird happenings, a ouija board, and a nice slow build. Simple SFX are used cleverly and effectively and no animal sacrifice is required.
Rec’s Spanish release pre-dated Paranormal Activity by a few months, but it takes rather a different tone and is more in the ‘Cops’ style; while a news crew settles in for a night accompanying the local fire department as it responds to various emergency calls, everyone ends up in an apartment building where a strange and horrifying outbreak seems to be unfolding. The use of effects is fantastic and the slow build leads to a horrifying end. Don’t bother with the American adaptation!
Trollhunter is an absolute DELIGHT and you absolutely must watch it. It follows a group of Norwegian student filmmakers as they document what they first believe to be a bear-poaching story, but who soon uncover something much more strange and compelling. Blending truly scary found-footage tricks with Scandinavian legend and some excellent comedy moments, the amateurish opening scenes belie the fantastic SFX and shockingly impressive conclusion out in the barren, freezing wilderness.
The Borderlands (2013)
I somehow overlooked The Borderlands until a year or so ago, but I’m now a huge fan and give this another watch at least annually. A small group of investigators and tech crew is sent by the Vatican to a thirteenth century church in rural Devon, after reports of a miracle and other strange happenings. There are definite M.R. James vibes as the characters unwittingly stumble, through their examination of something ancient, towards a fate that we’re pretty sure none of them deserve. Another wonderfully slow burn and an explosive final few minutes. Very much worth your time.
The Sacrament (2013)
The Sacrament is another from horror three-hit-wonder Ti West (see, Haunted Houses – The Innkeepers) this time with a found-footage retelling of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. Told through the (literal) lens of a team of VICE journalists searching for a co-worker’s sister, it is a genuinely frightening account of many of the true events surrounding the tragedy, not diminished even if you already know how the story concludes. Very unsettling and quite a feat of filmmaking from Ti West.
As Above So Below (2014)
I had enormous fun with this curious blend of National Treasure, Indiana Jones, and The Blair Witch Project. The film follows a very plummy, very well-educated, (impossibly young) Brit academic following in her Father’s footsteps as she searches for the ultimate alchemical prize, the philosopher’s stone. Her search takes her to the Paris catacombs where she, along with a small crew (including an also impossibly young and attractive Aramaic-speaking rogue repairer of ancient buildings and fixtures) navigate a path to the very centre of their most deeply repressed fears and regrets. Astonishingly, the authorities in Paris gave permission for scenes to be filmed on location, and these are extremely well blended with…..other underground scenes, clearly not within the catacombs. I’ve been down the ol’ catacombs in Paris a few times over the years so this was huge fun to watch.
And so that’s all for today, friends, but I will see you tomorrow for lots of campy fun with The Devil! 👿
Title image is from Pixabay. Thanks Pixabay! <3