Whether it’s film “recovered” from a crime scene/disaster site or continuous “live video” watched in real time, found footage movies are among the most terrifying titles available to horror lovers. From the collected clips of “V/H/S” to the harrowing ordeal captured in “Unfriended,” these frightening flicks feel at once like pieces of entertainment and physical proof of hell on Earth.
The naturalistic approach to cinema doesn’t belong exclusively to the horror arena, believe it or not. Some film historians posit that the first found footage film was “The Connection”: an experimental joint by Shirley Clarke from 1961 about drug addicts (which is arguably horrific but definitely not a horror movie). And yet, the found footage technique has become so prevalent within the horror genre that it’s almost impossible to extricate the form from the fear it has inspired.
Horror filmmakers are notoriously canny creators, of course, having used whatever was available to craft all manner of scares long before technology caught up. What’s more, the famously reactive genre thrives when it feels most relevant. In the three decades since “The Blair Witch Project” changed the game, has anything become more scary and more omnipresent than devices that can record every inch of our world?
That’s the great trick of found footage: sometimes, just sometimes, if the films are really good and the people behind them are really adept at getting into the gag, they can convince audiences theirs truly is the “real world” being watching on the big screen. From an ill-fated movie that “ended” in a haunted forest to a suburban couple lost forever to dark forces, found footage is at its arguable best when toeing the line between fantasy and reality, bending it until it disappears.
Without further ado, here are the 15 very best found footage movies ever made, from the standard-bearers like “Blair Witch” and “Cannibal Holocaust” to under-seen low-budget wonders like “Lake Mungo” and “Be My Cat: A Film for Anne” to bonafide blockbusters like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield.” Plus, there’s all sorts of other very, very “real” treats in between.
With editorial contributions from Tambay Obenson and Eric Kohn.