Found-footage horror is a genre with much appeal for low-budget moviemakers looking for cheap thrills. So, with so many films to choose from, its sometimes tricky to find the jewels in this creepy crown.
But thanks to the genre’s realism and frequent use of first-person-perspective giving audiences the same view as our creeped-out characters, the best in the field provides some of horror’s stand-out scares.
Here’s our pick of the best set-pieces found in found-footage thrillers.
Lake Mungo – Alice meets her fate
Dread, heartbreak and sadness pervade this Australian slow-burner. Played out as a documentary following the grieving loved ones of 16-year-old Alice Palmer who mysteriously drowned on a family day out.
In life, Alice had her secrets, little understood by her family. The documentary is their attempt to belatedly learn about their lost daughter – and why her visage seems to still appear in their home, even after death.
While most of the film is unnerving, its sole jump scare is a showstopper, with the family discovering that months before her death, Alice had filmed grim, grainy footage of the horrifying spectre of her drowned doppelganger approaching her from out of the dark. And with it, the realisation that death had literally been stalking her.
The Blair Witch Project – The kids aren’t alright
Anyone who has been a passenger in a car on a cold, dark night on a rural road knows it’s not advisable to stare too long between the trees. Not for what you might see, of course, but because of what you might imagine is there.
That’s the logic behind why The Blair Witch Project’s scariest scene is so effective. The grandmother of all mainstream found-footage horror movies, Heather’s tears and the Mike’s back-turning nihilistic finale might linger most in pop culture. But it’s the trio’s trembling tent scene that is the movie’s most fear-inducing.
Opening in pitch-black nothingness, Heather’s terrified breathing gives way to approaching childlike giggling. All at a time – the middle of the night – and a place – a very-much haunted forest – where these sounds have no right to be heard. All before the tent is shaken by unseen little hands.
As the trio flee screaming into the darkness of the woods – and Heather looks to her side, between the trees, and cries “What the fuck is that?” it’s left for the viewers imagination as to what monstrous things they see stalking them.
Paranormal Activity 3 – Beneath the sheets
The PA franchise has some epic set-pieces – including the original’s throw-to-camera finale and the sequel’s daylight kitchen cupboard chaos – but it’s the 1980s-based prequel’s bedsheet scene that gets the hair raising.
Unaware of the presence of the household’s silent demonic resident Toby, babysitter Lisa role-plays some bedtime bedsheet ghosts and goblins with young sisters Katie and Kristi before retiring downstairs.
Thanks to videographer father-figure Dennis – who is investigating the spooky goings-on with his VCR – we’re treated to a slowly panning, panoramic view of the haunted home’s downstairs open-plan area. First, we see Lisa in the kitchen, sitting at a desk and minding her own business before the video slides over to an empty living room. When it returns, we see what Lisa doesn’t – she’s been joined by an unmoving child-sized bed-sheet ghost, looking at her. As the babysitter turns to see what the presence behind her is, the sheet falls empty, impossibly, to the ground.
REC – The penthouse resident
Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s 2007 Barcelona-set masterpiece remains found-footage’s most gripping movie. Real-life TV presenter Manuela Velasco and her crew is trailing a fire brigade for a documentary when a call-out seems them heading to a locked-down apartment building, following reports of an infection spreading inside.
We already know of the infection’s supernatural nature long before the movie’s finale, but it’s not until then that Manuela, and the viewers, understand its true origins.
Hopelessly roaming the abandoned penthouse in the dark, the survivors find evidence of its owner, a priest, tasked with treating a girl, Tristana, who showed signs of demonic possession. Turns out the priest succeeded in finding the girl and brought her home, but failed to drive the demon out – a fact made clear when the now-ghoulish Tristana emerges from the dark to hunt…
The Taking of Deborah Logan – Gran’s hungry
Is there a more horrible thought imaginable then stumbling around an abandoned mine in the night-time to find a missing elderly relative attempting to eat an ill child whole with a gaping snake-line jaw? Well, thanks to The Taking of Deborah Logan, welcome to your new nightmare.
Hell House LLC – Paul’s unwelcome visitor
Sure, this ingenious low-budget flick might be one of the most frustrating in the found-footage genre (so many good jump scares, so little plot logic), but that doesn’t stop it from being one scary rollercoaster.
We might wonder why the staff of a Halloween haunted home tour don’t flee their surroundings long before its fatal opening night, but if they had then we wouldn’t see poor, horny cameraman Paul’s fate. Paul, desperate for some female company in the night, only appears to attract ghouls and ghosts to his bedroom instead.
Paul sees his final visitor when he wakes and tries to record a to-camera piece, only to spot the ghostly undead pale-eyed girl slumped in the corner of his room.
Even the usual fail-safe tactic of immediately hiding under the bedcovers doesn’t keep him safe though. Each time Paul peers out, the girl gets closer… and closer… until one final jump scare ends the scene.
Ghostwatch – Pipes in the curtains
The BBC’s early-nineties docu-drama might predate the ‘found footage’ moniker, but it certainly keeps in the reality-bending and viewer-confusing spirit of the genre.
Deploying a real-life children’s TV presenter (Sarah Greene) and trusted talk-show host (Michael Parkinson) among its cast helped lead millions to believe that the ghostly goings-on at the haunted house in Foxhill Drive were actually being played out on live television. So much so that it was found to have caused PTSD in many children watching.
What made the show so compelling was the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances of Pipes the ghost. His scariest showing is in the children’s bedroom. As the terrified TV crew and family attempt to flee, the cameraman pans a shot back to find Pipes’ translucent visage nestled in the curtain. When the camera pans back, the ghost is gone. As are the viewers’ nerves.
SEE ALSO: Ghostwatch Pipeswatch: 30 Years of Spotting Raymond Tunstall
Host – Teddy logs in, gets logged out
Cramming in a score of jump scares in its 56 minutes of run-time, pandemic-set Host provides plenty of scares to choose from during a friend-group’s Zoom-call séance that goes about as badly as could be imagined.
It’s tough to take a pick of the best scares, but on this occasion, we’ll go for late-to-the-party Teddy’s unfortunate end, which starts with him amusing himself with his creepy toy clown, unaware of Jack the demon’s unwelcome presence in all the group’s homes.
We don’t want to be there when the laughter stops, which happens when Teddy meets Jack, unnaturally screaming at him on the stairway and then – face creepily half-covered – under a table.
No, it doesn’t end well for him.
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