Although certainly not the first, 1980’s iconic piece Cannibal Holocaust has become a major reference in the sub-genre of “found footage” films. In 1999, The Blair Witch Project really familiarized mainstream audiences with the concept. If you aren’t familiar with the term found footage, you’ve probably been living in a cave or under a staircase or something since film studios have been pumping seemingly dozens of these out for the past five years or so. Typically, a found footage film is set up like an unedited documentary or compilation of footage from an unseen entity/character and you are led to believe that this footage was recovered after the demise of those involved in making it.
After Paranormal Activity’s huge success in 2007, filmmakers and studios alike started jumping on this money train which resulted in some pretty terrible films. However, I am a big fan of this approach to filmmaking and when done right, it can be very original and effective. I’ve compiled a few of my favorite examples that you may have missed out on.
Man Bites Dog
Man Bites Dog is a Belgian film that is a disturbing satire of how liberal media is becoming with violence. The phrase “man bites dog” actually comes from journalism; it essentially means that the unusual is more newsworthy than the ordinary. This film addresses that while it is natural to have a morbid curiosity, how far can you go until it ceases to be healthy? A film crew is following around Ben, a thief and a murderer, and documenting his cruel ways. While it starts out unbiased, the project takes on a much more personal angle when the crew begins getting involved in their subject’s “profession”. Man Bites Dog isn’t a film tightly associated with found footage although it is one of the finest examples. It is hard hitting, gut-wrenching and though-provoking, worthy enough to be featured in the Criterion Collection.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes
The Poughkeepsie Tapes is set up almost like a TV special you would see on the Crime & Investigation Network as half of it consists of interviews with detectives, police officers, medical examiners and various other forensic professionals. The other half is the tapes of a fictional New York-based serial killer who recorded all of his murders. It is a thorough examination of a psychopath, his motives, his weapons, his style and his perversions. It walks that thin line that many do when it comes to serial killers—teetering between fascination and glorification. While the worst of the murderer’s acts are implied, there is still plenty of graphic footage for audiences to get an eyeful of.
THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES has never been released. While we have not embedded the film in this post, the whole film is available on YouTube.
Lake Mungo comes from Australia and is set up in the mockumentary style, following the death of the Palmer family’s daughter, Alice. Strange events surround her life and the possibility of her afterlife—has Alice come back to haunt her family? Is there something she wants to tell them? Dealing with both the dark side of puberty and adolescence and a family’s grief, Lake Mungo is genuinely spooky and absolutely brilliant. This is a masterpiece of its genre and a must-see.
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Noroi (The Curse)
Noroi, which translates to The Curse, is a found footage piece coming from Japan. Everyone is aware that the Japanese know what is fucking scary and this under the radar film is no exception to that expectation. The footage in question was compiled by a journalist named Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki) who specializes in investigating the paranormal; while he is looking into seemingly unrelated occurrences he begins to find strange and disturbing similarities and patterns in them. Kobayashi soon finds out that he isn’t just dealing with a ghost, but an ancient evil longing to be resurrected. The storyline in this film is complex but is bound to hold your interest. The characters are interesting and well-rounded and the quickly established atmosphere is thick. Japanese filmmakers often incorporate folklore into their stories, and the found footage aspect of this particular film makes it all the more spooky and convincing.
The Bitterroot Footage
Even though “The Bitterroot Footage” isn’t even really a film—I don’t know what it is, nor does anyone else since it popped up about a year ago. If you visit the website, you get a brief story about how this guy scored this little wooden box at an estate sale and inside were two reels of 8mm film and some weird photographs. The video that you can watch on the website is the alleged mysterious reel of recovered film and Jesus Christ is it freaky. In essence it is just a five-minute silent video of some really spooky imagery, but man is it cool! I was hoping it was some sort of publicity stunt for an upcoming film but nothing further has come about. Check it out for yourselves!
So if you haven’t seen any of these films I would make it a priority to watch them. If you are already a fan of found footage, they will only increase your love for the sub-genre; if you aren’t too keen on the concept, these could be the movies to change your mind. If I have forgotten a favorite of yours leave the title in the comments. I’m always trying to watch one of these!