Remy: Hey man, I found this old unmarked VHS under my grandad’s TV last week and was wondering if you wanted to watch it? Who knows what it could be!
Nato: Sure Remy, what’s the worst that can happen!
*20 minutes later*
Nato: Did we just watch a sex tape of your grandparents doing it?
Remy: Jesus Christ, that may be the most terrifying found footage I have ever seen, I am so sorry…
Nato: What the hell made you pick that random video of all things to show me!?
Remy: Well, it seems to be “working” for horror movies, and you wanted to talk about the found footage horror movement this week, so I thought this could make a cheesy introduction displaying the proverbial gamble that is found footage horror?
Nato: Well, now that you put it like that…wait…why didn’t we ever turn it off?
Today’s Topic: What’s Up With Found Footage Horror These Days?
If you’re a fan of horror, then you already know about how overly saturated our beloved genre is with found footage thrillers these days. Whatever film you want to blame for the recent trend, be it Cloverfield back in 2008 or Paranormal Activity in 2009, there’s just no escaping shaky first-person camera work and cheap jump scares in today’s cinema, as everyone eventually is forced to partake in a found footage crapshoot at least once in their life.
Now don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen some absolutely gorgeous creations that utilize found footage stylings which completely dominate your senses, but in return we’ve also sat angrily through too many films that exploit such an easily manipulated genre and attempt to pass off such abominations as feature films.
The movement goes back much farther than 2008 though. Dating back to 1980, Italian director Ruggero Deodato created one of the most controversial horror films of all time, Cannibal Holocaust, which happened to use found footage. Deodato’s film was so real and unsettling, it was seized by the Italian government for investigation into whether the director actually killed his actors to make the film and in turn was peddling a snuff film to the masses. These allegations of course were proven untrue, but as you can see, found footage was around much earlier than one would expect. Films like Man Bites Dog, The Blair Witch, and Cannibal Holocaust can all be praised as original kick-starters for this movement, aside from Charles B. Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek, a much lesser known creature feature from 1972.
In the most mainstream sense though, let’s break it down.
As I said, there are films which make us hesitant in calling for the immediate stop of found footage. Films like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, the [REC] franchise, and Trollhunter all do things tremendously well in their own right. From Cloverfield and Trollhunter‘s focus on gigantically scaled threatening creatures to Paranormal Activity‘s gripping tension, these films have kept me from writing off found footage horror altogether.
Unfortunately, there’s so much to hate. Films like Chernobyl Diaries, Apollo 18, Quarantine, The Last Exorcism, and The Devil Inside all suck the big one. From terrible attempts at intensity absent horror, to cheap scares, to nauseating camera work, the horrid list goes on considering how easily filmmakers can muck up this genre. Anyone can grab a camera and scream at monsters off-screen, but that doesn’t mean you’ve made watchable horror. Most of the time, it’s just lazy.
Found footage horror’s main selling point is the idea that you’re watching past events based on reality, usually as police evidence or some wide-releasing circumstance. Films like Cannibal Holocaust and The Poughkeepsie Tapes are considered so highly disturbing and real, audiences questioned directorial intentions. Likewise, when Paranormal Activity came out, one of the top searches on Google was if main character Micah Sloat was actually dead. I’d say if you’re film is considered snuff, you’ve done a pretty damn good job creating something realistic.
Side note, if anyone has a way for me to watch The Poughkeepsie Tapes, I would love to know! It’s 2012 and there’s still no DVD release after its extremely limited 2007 release.
But enough about history, follow Remy and I as we tackle our most hated and loved found footage horror films!
Continue reading on the next page…
Nato – Area 407
The horror, oh sweet baby Jesus the horror! Not the good horror either, like the “I can’t believe I’m recalling this shitstorm” type of horror.
You can find my hatred of Area 407 here on my Worst of 2012 Horror So Far list, here on my personal blog’s full review, or right here as I’m about to delve into the least rewarding film I ever wasted money on in my life.
Let me set the scene. The film starts out as two sisters are about to fly across country for some vacation or something – sorry, I’ve blocked as much of this garbage from my mind as possible – and the annoying younger sister feels it necessary to record everything and shove her personal camera in every passenger’s face. She’s annoying, babbles about nothing important, and is completely horrid to listen to. Then, the plane crash lands in a desert. A few people survive, including the sisters, stumbling around battered and bloodied.
Each character just unwatchable as the next, our survivors start looking for help, until they realize they’re being stalked by something. What is it? Well, if you blink during the split second its head appears, you’ll never know besides a tail which slithers off-screen every so often. A killer tail. I’m shaking in my boots!
So where does it go wrong? EVERYWHERE. First off, let’s note this fact – Area 407 was shot in 5 days and the actors ad-libbed most lines. Oh, well at least that makes sense as to why the dialogue was so mind-numbingly dull. Characters consistently shout over one another, dialogue is delivered with hesitation and zero fluidity, and conversations are nothing but emotionless jabbering and jawing. Not a single character makes the film redeemable, and were worthless amongst the joke production.
As for the horror, Area 407 commits every major crime amongst found footage. The camera work is blurry and incomprehensible at times, characters dying simply means the camera pans away and when it returns the character seemingly vanishes without a trace, the creature stays off-screen and never offers anything to fear, the creature’s size scale changes scene to scene, and the whole production is pretty much unwatchable. It took about 35 minutes alone just to establish any danger at all, much of that time spent with boring talking and yelling.
Enough, I just can’t anymore. Area 407 should be banished to the depths of horror movie hell, never again to prey on the poor saps who recklessly flip it on – like me.
Remy – Chernobyl Diaries
For me, there have been few movie experiences in the last year as disappointing as Chernobyl Diaries. I feel like it used every “found footage” trope that has ever been used, but did NONE OF THEM right. The very idea of having Chernobyl as the setting was, in itself, brilliant, and was a key element in getting me excited about that film. From the odd, creepy terrain to the sordid history, it’s literally a perfect setting for a horror film. There is just so much potential.
So what did they do wrong and how did they screw up so badly? Well, they wanted to be everything to everybody, and that was their downfall. Was it a monster movie? Was it an urban exploration movie? Was it a ghost movie? Even the movie didn’t know what it was. You could feel that the film itself had no idea where to go, especially toward the latter half. The initial pacing and tension is good, but then, once it picks up a bit, everything deflates, culminating with an end result that went absolutely nowhere.
My thoughts about found footage horror is that if you don’t intend to bring something new to the table, don’t bother coming to the table at all.
You’re left waiting for a payoff at the end of Chernobyl Diaries, so you stick with it (at least I did), but you get a stupid, obvious ending that makes you despise what you just watched that much more. Oh, and there are scenes that make NO f*cking sense. For example, the scene with the little girl. I won’t spoil it here but that was nothing but trailer filler and proved just how stupid the film really was. Why was she there? What was she? In the context of the film, when it all ends, it makes even LESS sense, and those are the worst kind of movies of all.
Continue reading on the next page…
Nato – Apollo 18
Ahhh! Space rocks! The horror, the horror!!!!
Fighting sleep the entire time I watched Apollo 18, I willed myself through this Timur Bekmambetov produced bust waiting for some type of claustrophobic horror, but couldn’t have been let down any harder. Bekmambetov’s name is always attached to projects shying away from safety, but I don’t understand what he potentially saw in Gonzalo López-Gallego’s sci-fi snooze fest.
Following three astronauts who return to the moon after our fateful original landing, they find something scary enough to keep the US from returning since. That’s it, pretty simple plot.
Just like Area 407, there is zero horror to be found. I’d be lying if I said Apollo 18‘s trailer didn’t seem a tad interesting, but Gallego doesn’t take much time destroying any lingering intrigue. Much of the film is spent watching astronauts sleep, talk, sleep some more, walk around the moon, drive around the moon, then sleep a little more. Emphasis on the sleep. Add an embarrassingly anti-climactic ending, and you’ve got one of the most boring watches of 2011 on your hands, and a perfect example of how to exploit found footage horror for all the wrong reasons.
Remy – Man Bites Dog
If you have never seen Man Bites Dog from 1992, stop reading this right now and go find it. No? Well, keep reading and I’ll convince you.
Before I extol its virtues upon the unknowing, you need to understand that this film pretty much set the tone for the found footage genre. So many people love to say that Blair Witch is what set the tone, but how can you say that when Man Bites Dog did the mockumentary thing seven years earlier? I realize The Legend of Boggy Creek and Cannibal Holocaust came before Man Bites Dog, though, so I guess the argument is futile.
Anyway, Man Bites Dog is about a serial killer who gets followed around by a camera crew who, over a period of time, become less passive to his acts. It plays off the idea of voyeurism and begs the question (like I brought up in our last piece) when do we go from being witnesses to being participants? For any horror fan it is the best existential question you can ever be asked. Why? Because to define the answer is impossible.
From the very first kill in Man Bites Dog, this movie feels very real, and it never blinks in the face of realistic violence. It was also the precursor for Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon, which took the “killer on camera” idea in awesome new directions as well. But Man Bites Dog is the film I really feel set the tone for this type of horror movie, whether anyone knows it or not.
Also, the director’s name is Remy. Do you know how rare that is for me? A cool mockumentary horror movie about a serial killer, directed by a guy named Remy? What’s not to like??
Continue reading on the next page…
Nato – Diary of the Dead
Alright, I had a Best Of pick in mind to compliment my two essential Worst Of selections, but since I’m a bitter, jaded prick as of now, I’ll be attacking Diary of the Dead instead of explaining why Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon must be seen by every horror fan.
I vividly remember seeing George A. Romero’s found footage zombie film for the first time, because I got the opportunity to catch an advanced screening along with participating in a Q&A with Romero himself after the film. Excited, I couldn’t wait to see how Romero would tackle found footage horror films, completely geeking out when the lights dimmed. What followed was an extremely disappointing film from the Godfather of zombie lore, unfortunately starting (or continuing) our beloved director’s slow downfall.
Diary of the Dead was completely underwhelming, making poor use of the first person camera angle. Romero’s zombies shamble lifelessly around, providing no high-intensity chases or super-tense moments. The gore was decent at points, but the story was so horribly slow and the pacing was so sluggish, I couldn’t help but look elsewhere for chills and thrills. Predictable and simple, acting was also on a terrible level compared to his other efforts like Land of the Dead where Romero enlisted the likes of Dennis Hopper and Simon Baker to build up much stronger casts.
Diary of the Dead made me feel OK about unloading rounds into zombie George A. Romero while playing Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies map “Call of the Dead.”
It also didn’t help that I watched the vastly superior first person zombie extravaganza [REC] around the same time, offering a comparison point on an entirely different planet.
Remy – V/H/S
Have you guys seen the movie V/H/S yet? If not, you are terrible people and I hate you all.
V/H/S is a movie about a bunch of movies. The story is longer than that, and more drawn out, but we can jump to the good stuff.
Basically, V/H/S took six directors and told them they had to shoot their films so they could be watched on VHS. This means you have one that is done with a webcam, one is that done with a phone camera, and one that is filmed on an actual camcorder.
Each different style is a different story as well, so if you hate one (which is extremely rare here), just wait a few minutes and it will switch up. The most remarkable thing is, most of the stories are original and creepy, and the “found footage” method implemented here redefines what can be done in the genre, in my opinion.
There is only one story in the whole film I didn’t like, and from what I have gathered, no one else liked it either (camping trip, static killer?), but there are a few that REALLY shine here, “Amateur Night” and “Second Honeymoon” being two that will stick with you long after you watch them.
One of the best parts here is that each one of these vignettes was written and directed by some of the greatest up and coming talent in horror like Glen McQuaid, who directed the creepy and fun I Sell The Dead, to Ti West, who directed The House Of The Devil and The Innkeepers. The talent on display here (and love for the genre) is clear from the first frame. Warning, though: Take some motion sickness medicine before this film. Trust me.
So not only do you have raw and passionate talent on display, but you have it all done with found footage, and all done using a different means of recording. That is awesome AND ambitious. That is awesombitious. We need more awesomebitious movies in horror.
Nato And Remy’s Approved Films!
Alright, so I don’t want to be a total downer and bring Remy down either, plus this article is meant to help all you readers out there, so here’s a list of found footage films we approve of you giving your own chance, Last Stand certified!
-Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
-Man Bites Dog
If any of those films strike your fancy, feel free to comment for some deeper and more underground recommendations! Figured we would start you off on a more mainstream note though…test your wills before offering nastier entries…
Now it’s your turn! Feel free to let Remy and I know how right or wrong we are about found footage horror, and share your favorite or most hated examples.
*A special thanks to Remy for stepping in to guest write! Feel free to follow either of us on Twitter for even more insanity and updates:
Also, check out last week’s entry where Remy and I talk about the scariest films we’ve ever seen!