Found footage horror movies are an important sub-genre of horror cinema. Horror filmmakers like the found footage technique because it can give an authentic cinematic experience of horror that feels more raw than a traditional Hollywood production.
Stripped of sound effects, fancy camera angles, and the gloss of an expensive production, the best found footage horror movies make people feel enmeshed in the tragedy and violence of what is unfolding on the screen. It is also a good strategy for aspiring filmmakers to enter the market, as found footage films are almost always very low budget films.
For example, The Blair Witch Project (1999), had an original budget of around $40,000, but ended up grossing over $250 million worldwide. Likewise, Paranormal Activity (2007) by Oren Peli was made with a budget of only $15,000 and made over $193 million worldwide.
Another common thread in many found footage films is a blurring of reality and fiction. The authentic visual setup of these movies makes people think that these films are true stories, when virtually all found footage movies are fictional.
The found footage genre also frequently bleeds into mockumentary or faux documentary sub-genre. In these movies, the audience is treated to what plays as a normal documentary but is also riffled with gaffs from the camera operator and satirical elements.
There are so many found footage horror movies that there is a whole website dedicated to tracking them. In this article, we’ll survey a great deal of the best found footage films and feature an eclectic list of random ones.
Some critics consider director Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust to be the most controversial horror film to ever be made. Controversy aside, the cult classic of a film certainly was the first major motion picture to experiment and bring the found footage format to the forefront of a movie. Half of the film is shot as a normal film, but the other half consists of found footage from a documentary crew exploring the Amazon.
When two cable TV hosts are tragically murdered, one body winds up never to be found. Inspired by the gruesome mystery, a documentary filmmaker investigates the murders within his unsolved crimes show. His team receives a tip to track down the Jersey Devil, a mythical creature said to fly the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey. With the help of psychics and the court of public opinion, the investigation constantly uncovers new truths and dark secrets. Despite being shot on a budget of $900, this film earned $4 million in international box office sales.
Any serious horror fan should give this French black comedy crime mockumentary a good watch. The story opens on a film crew following a charming serial killer as he takes part in his graphic diabolical murders, even following him to social situations around his family and friends. What starts out as a docu-profile on a serial killer soon turns into compromising situations where the camera crew becomes more involved and responsible for the murders that their subjects commits. The entire film was shot in black and white by four student filmmakers.
Attention all student filmmakers: this supernatural horror film was shot entirely on a budget of about $35,000, and went on to earn a whopping $248.6 million in box office sales. This film’s massive success is proof to amateur filmmakers that low-budgets are irrelevant if your project has a captivating storylines, dynamic characters and damn good acting. Mystery unfolds as the film takes you through the journey of three film students, eager to investigate the local Blair Witch Legend. However, a supernatural presence takes their lives, leaving only their camera behind to offer clues.
Co-directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró took an intriguing filmmaking approach to this highly successful Spanish found-footage horror film. The storyline follows a reporter and camera crew, as their investigation in a mysterious apartment building turns into a desperate attempt at escape. Utilizing a much different approach than typical filmmaking, actors were given their lines the day of shooting and the entire film was shot chronologically, on real locations. The film’s success led to three sequels following in the years after.
Filmed on a budget of only $15,000 and taking in global box-office receipts of over $300 million, Paranormal Activity is one of the most profitable movies in film history, leading to five sequels. Filmed entirely with a handheld camera from the perspective of Micah (Micah Sloat), it tells the story of him and his girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherstone), who move into a middle-class house and attempt to document why Katie feels she has been experiencing supernatural events her entire life. It is revealed that a demon has attached itself to Katie and that Micah’s attempts to film it, even while they sleep, have angered the demon.
Described by many as the scariest film ever made, Lake Mungo is filmed documentary-style by a paranormal investigator who follows the Palmer family who have lost their 16-year-old daughter Alice during a drowning accident in the town of Ararat, Australia. After Alice’s body is recovered and she is buried, strange events begin happening to the family in and around their home. Over time, the parapsychologist who is filming the Palmer family comes to the horrifying realization that Alice had been living a double life which explains why she died.
A hybrid of a found-footage film, a traditional disaster film, and a romantic tragedy, Cloverfield is set in Manhattan and begins with Hud, one of the main characters, filming friends at a going-away party for a man named Rob who is moving to Japan to take a higher-paying job. In the midst of the party, a gigantic monster attacks Manhattan, evoking 9/11 imagery as everyone flees and the city appears to be on the brink of total destruction. Hud continues filming the events as they unspool, focusing in the romantic relationship between Rob and his girlfriend Beth. At the end of the film, it abruptly cuts back to footage of Rob and Beth enjoying themselves at Coney Island, suggesting that the world has ended, the entire movie was simply taped over some previous footage, and that the tape was found amid the ruins of a destroyed Manhattan.
Originally titled Trolljegeren, this Norwegian fantasy horror follows a student investigation into mysterious bear killings. They follow a trail of clues to a strange hunter who reluctantly agrees to let the students follow his hunting adventures. Not before long, they discover that the subject of their investigative documentary actually works for a top secret government agency responsible for hunting dangerous trolls. Writer-director André Øvredal included several references of Scandinavian folklore throughout the fim.
This is an obscure movie and very much under the radar, but a decent and amusing horror flick. It’s a conspiracy film in the found footage format. A reviewer on the writing platform Medium describes the appeal of the film:
The Tunnel is a claustrophobic nightmare, capturing the sensation of being stalked as prey by a horrific unknown in a first-person perspective. Like other mockumentary-style films on here, it has the excellent quality of engrossing audiences in what feels like an actual documentation of events. The movie also gets creative in how it seeks to mimic the experiences of an actual camera crew in this situation: when a microphone attached to a camera is unexpectedly yanked out of the room that the camera’s in, the film’s sound follows the mic into a hallway even while the camera’s visuals remain in the room.
Released originally in England as The Borderlands, this found-footage horror film depicts a trio of Vatican investigators—a Scot, an Irishman, and an Englishman—who venture to a remote church in the English town of Devon to research reports of unusual paranormal activity that are initially described as “miracles.” Filmed handheld-style from the perspective of the investigators, it soon becomes clear that what were initially thought to be miracles were instead evidence of demonic activity that are due to the fact the church was built above the bodies of murdered animals and children.
Willow Creek, CA is a rugged mountain town of only 1,700 people where the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film of 1967 purportedly caught footage of Bigfoot walking in the woods. Since then, the village has been a tourist attraction and a magnet for Bigfoot enthusiasts. In his first horror film, director Bobcat Goldthwait casts Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore as Jim and Kelly, a married couple who drive up to Willow Creek from LA and go camping deep into the woods in search of the elusive Sasquatch. The entire movie is filmed from Jim’s perspective and consists of only 60 total cuts, including a 19-minute take inside the couple’s tent where they believe they are being terrorized by Bigfoot.
In this comedy horror director, Chris LaMartina, explores the found footage sub-genre from the perspective of footage from off-air recording of television station WNUF’s Halloween special. In other words, it’s footage that a camera crew put together but never aired, as they explored a haunted house. It’s a fun movie tinged with 80s nostalgia. One reviewer explained it thus:
[WNUF Halloween Special] is a tribute to those 80’s NEWS TV Halloween Specials. The special is a full fake news cast before the actual “Halloween TV Special” happens along with fake TV commercials that do look real from back in the 80’s. This special is fun and hilarious. The actors in it are great! Again…This is NOT a film loaded with jump scares or too much gore. It is a dark comedic recreation for those of us who grew up back in the 80’s to re-live those news broadcasts that tried to keep the Halloween spirit alive.
When a group of burglars break into an eerie, abandoned house, they find six VHS tapes in the home. Each tape contains a story that is connected to the next one, leading the viewer to uncover horrifying truths surrounding their fate that awaits in this chilling house. This anthology led to two sequels V/H/S/2 (2013) and V/H/S: Viral (2014), a 2016 spin-off Siren, and a miniseries distributed through Snapchat. The film was developed by avid horror filmmakers whose individual pitches were constructed into a streamlined story that resulted in a final product that earned $1.9 in box office sales.
Dabbe: The Possession is a Turkish horror film about demons and an exorcism. It’s a found footage film done with exceptional cart and artistry and is certainly not one to watch before bed, as it will keep you up for days. While the movie is in Turkish, it has great English subtitles and has gone viral on Netflix as a scary movie.
Inspired by strange Craigslist experiences and horror films such as Fatal Attraction (1987) and Misery (1990), director Patrick Brice made his directorial debut with this found footage psychological horror film. A freelance videographer accepts a Craigslist gig, and travels to a remote mountain cabin to record the last words of a dying man. As his subject’s behavior gets stranger and more sinister, the videographer is forced to come face to face with his own tragic fate. The film’s dialogue is almost entirely improvised.
In terms of funny vampire movies, What We Do In The Shadows might be the best one out there. This mockumentary follows three vampires Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) that are struglling with the fact that they are very old vampires that haven’t adapted to the modern world. A film crew follows them around and hilarity ensues.
Ratter is a stalker film merged with a hacker film that embraces the found footage format with a uniquely digital twist. Mad by filmmaker Branden Kramer, all of the footage within Ratter is either from a hacked webcam on the protagonist laptop or her cell phone. It’s a unique contribution to found footage horror because of how it makes technology, particaurly iPhones and all of the devices with cameras, such a scary portal.
In this absolutely terrifying found footage movie, two young kids visit a farm in rural Pennsylvania to meet with their grandparents for the first time. They stay the weekend and things get eerie. In a way the movie combines horror and comedy, but still always manages to be a radically scary film.
This mockumentary found-footage hybrid horror film is the collaborative work of writer-directors Phil Guidry, Simon Herbert, and David Whelan. The remote town of Sangre de Cristo, translated to Blood of Christ, lies on the Arizona-Mexico border. When the entire town is wiped out and stained with bloody evidence, an unexpected witness finds himself at odds with law enforcement. The only survivor is an illegal immigrant, who becomes an easy suspect target, until his roll of photos offer a new lead on who and what is responsible for this devastating massacre.
Urban legend Peeping Tom is front and center in the plot of this creepy film. A box of troubling video tapes intended for a student film leads an investigative filmmaker and his crew down a dark path of mystery. Unexpected jump scares, authentic visual storytelling and a viral marketing campaign led to positive reviews of this Baltimore-based horror film. Director Erik Kristopher Myers also directed thriller films such as Roulette (2012) and 8 Ball Clown II (2018).
Unfriended: Dark Web is a computer screen film, meaning it was shot entirely from the perspective of a screen recording on a Apple computer. That is, what the audience watches when they watch this film, are friends talking to each other through iMessage, video chat, email and so on. The creepy factor is added through found footage elements where the friends stumble upon a snuff film and then more snuff films on the dark web and then are evermore pulled into an evil online game with seriously bloody real-life consequences. It’s the sequel to another computer screen movie Unfriended (2014).
In this movie, the worlds of YouTube, found footage, horror and computer screen films merge into one. It’s worth a watch, however, some people found it to fail to make the point it tried to make about social media and influencer culture Yet others loved it. It’s worth giving the movie a try.
Host is a Shudder orignal from filmmaker Rob Savage, and the story is told exclusively through a Zoom video confenrece call. Six friends meet up digitally and conduct a séance over the internet. Fans of the movie recommend watching it in the dark, on a laptop to create the realistic impression that you’re part of the call and all the terror that is going to ensue is also happening to you.
Other Found Footage Horror Movies
- UFO Abduction (1989) an early science fiction found footage film by Dean Alioto. This movie also goes by the title The McPherson Tape.
- Reel Evil (2012) in this movie filmmakers are hired to make a behind the scenes documentary, but the job turns into a horrific hellscape.
- The Bay (2012) is a virus outbreak film that takes place in Maryland, like The Blair Witch Project.
- Crowsnest (2012) a somewhat interesting take on the film format because it presents itself as found footage from a police investigation.
- Final Prayer (2013) what happens when a priest and cameraman join forces to explore a demon-infested church? This film happens.
- The Sacrament (2013) is a Ti West movie that pretends VICE journalists visit a cult.
- Frankenstein’s Army (2013) deranged scientist meets war film in this one.
- The Mirror (2014) is a British found footage film with a few creepy visuals but a rather tired plot.
- Camp Blood: First Slaughter (2014) is an incredibly low budget and raw horror movie with a few raw, found footage moments.
- Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015) is a creepy stalker movie about a Romanian man obsessed with Anne Hathaway.
- The Entity (2015) is a found footage horror story from Peru and in Spanish about a group of college/university kids.
- The Last Witch (2017) is a witch movie that knocks off a lot from The Blair Witch Project.
- Happy Birthday Hannah (2018) using a combination of camcorder, surveillance cameras and iPhone footage, Happy Birthday Hannah tells the horror story of a sister’s guilt for her sister’s death. The guilt evolves into something much sinister over the course of the plot.
- Spree (2020) tells the story of a rideshare driver on a killing spree, all while streaming it live on his phone.
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