Found footage is weirdly controversial in that seems to polarize horror fans. Some deem the technique tremendously unsettling while others seem to find the shaky camera movements nauseating, and not in a positive way. I place myself squarely in the former, with the obvious caveat that it has to be done right.
The Blair Witch Project popularized the format with a very effective marketing campaign—faux police reports, interviews, and missing posters for the actors to suggest the story was true.
Part of what makes found footage horror so creepy is because of how real it feels, even if the creators don’t try to claim it as legitimate. Like an old home movie. To watch people be murdered by some demonic entity in the same format you’ve seen your childhood self unwrapping birthday presents is bound to be uncomfortable.
Moreover, if you watch enough regular horror movies, you begin to predict things like jump scares based on familiar soundscapes and camera angles. When the cinematographer is replaced by a character holding a camcorder, all rules and stylistic choices are gone. You know as much as they do.
This is a list of five lesser known found footage productions. While Afflicted, V/H/S, and the Creep series are all some of my top favorites, the following independent projects received far less attention. If you’re looking for something unorthodox to disturb you, you’ve found it.
1. June 9
A group of teenagers in rural Ohio decide to investigate a local urban legend and realize that most things are better left undisturbed. The comically low budget for T. Michael Conway’s film is part of what makes this movie work well. The graininess—which only gets worse when the kids get closer to the danger, like a paranormal game of hot and cold—coupled with realistically obnoxious teenage banter makes the film seem plausible. It’s an easily missed campy gem with an ending that will make you wary of small midwestern towns.
2. Hell House LLC
A crew of haunted house developers buys a supposedly haunted hotel to renovate for its latest attraction. The pros: built-in marketing, creepy sets. The con: awakening a sinister force that results in a lifetaking “malfunction” on opening night. Stephen Cognetti’s mockumentary knits together footage from the weeks of preproduction with investigations from journalists searching for answers about what went so wrong.
3. Marble Hornets
Told in 87 YouTube “entries” with 39 (skippable) accompanying uploads from an associated channel, Marble Hornets garnered a massive following during—and since—its original release in 2009 by creators Joseph DeLage and Troy Wagner. It chronicles the experiences of Jay (Wagner), who was helping his friend Alex (DeLage) with a student film (“Marble Hornets“) until Alex abruptly canceled production and left Jay with the unused footage. Jay discovers that Alex was being stalked by a tall, faceless figure that made repeated appearances on camera, and Jay’s own obsession with the truth places him next on its list.
NOTE: A feature film adapted from Marble Hornets, Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, was released in 2015, but the guerrilla style of the original Marble Hornets proved to be much more compelling.
4. Lake Mungo
Joel Anderson’s mockumentary is a slow burn, attempting to uncover an explanation for the paranormal experiences of a family grieving the loss of their teenage daughter Alice. Ominous details of Alice’s life are revealed through a series of interviews and investigations that complicate both the story of her drowning and the validity of the family’s supernatural encounters. Does death begin before life ends?
When Zoom became the world’s crutch in the spring of 2020 following the onset of COVID-19, director Rob Savage saw an opportunity and took it. Host was filmed entirely over Zoom, in perhaps the most socially distanced horror movie to date. The script even fits in with the video chat platform’s free 45-minute time limit. Taking place during a friend group’s weekly virtual hangout, Host is a time capsule treasure of what happens when an online seance leads to a supernatural Zoombombing.