Max Evry October 18, 2012
If any sub-genre of horror is oversaturated in this day and age, it is without a doubt found footage. In anticipation of the upcoming release of Barry Levinson’s fantastic eco-horror mockumentary “The Bay,” not to mention “Paranormal Activity 4,” we’re taking a look at both the best and worst found footage has to offer.
The roots of this genre go all the way back (and we mean way back) to Edgar Allen Poe’s 1838 book “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket,” which purported to be an actual discovered manuscript of a poor bastard sailor who, after a series of harrowing adventures, disappears mysteriously at sea. That faux document, like many of the films on this list, ends abruptly.
A century later, Orson Welles did it on the radio in 1938, fooling listeners into thinking aliens were invading in a full-on “War of the Worlds,” and producing spectacular hysteria in its wake. After 1999′s “The Blair Witch Project” spooked the box office in a big way, lots of filmmakers have tried to repeat its success, sometimes transcending horror… as well as good taste.
5. “Project X” (2012)
Producer Todd Phillips, a.k.a. he who maketh the fratty bro comedies (“Old School,” “The Hangover”), knows exactly what his male target audience wants. Philips shepherded this movie about three high school losers who decide to compensate for their nerdiness by holding the biggest house party ever, only to have it backfire when it turns out to be THE BIGGEST HOUSE PARTY EVER. This was the first successful mainstream Hollywood attempt at making a found footage comedy, not that there aren’t major atrocities committed here as well, including putting a midget in an oven. Oh, and did we mention flame throwers? In the words of Spicoli, “Hey bud, let’s party!”
4. “Chronicle” (2012)
This ingenious concept to make a documentary-style superhero movie starts off like “Jackass Justice League” as three friends given telekinetic powers from a meteorite use their newfound abilities to play pranks and have fun. It soon ventures into “Akira” territory, though, as one of them begins to use those abilities against people, growing more powerful and deadlier. Pulling off this tonal shift gives the film interest after the found footage novelty has worn off, and screenwriter Max Landis (son of John) and director Josh Trank prove their filmmaking powers are formidable, too.
3. “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980)
Here it is, the grandaddy of them all! This notorious video nasty built the gore-drenched foundations for all that followed, with New York University anthropologist Dr. Harold Monroe venturing into the primeval Amazon to rescue a documentary crew, only to find they’ve been devoured by cannibalistic primitives. (Played by porn star Robert Kerman, you can tell Monroe is a professor ’cause he smokes a pipe.) When he sees the footage they shot, though, he learns just how savage the white man can be. “Holocaust” is a movie so notorious its director Ruggero Deodato was arrested for obscenity and charged with murder; the director had to prove his cast was still alive. The movie itself is not for the faint of heart, with copious amounts of simulated murder, rape, real-life animal cruelty and lots o’ male wingwang.
2. “Trollhunter” (2010)
Here’s an approach to found footage that proves you can mash any number of genres within that framework, including comedy, horror and fantasy. Well-known comedian Otto Jespersen leads a cast of fellow Norwegians on a quest to take down various gigantic tire-eating mythical creatures that roam the area. The professional quirks of the trollhunter’s methodology make for some hilarious scenes, while the special effects (and truly impressive sound work) strike a genuine impression despite the low budget. An American remake is already in the planning stages, but this has charm and scares to spare.
1. “Paranormal Activity” (2007)
There’s a reason “The Blair Witch Project” is not on our list, and that’s because this little haunted house story totally stole its thunder by executing a similarly spooky premise with masterful simplicity. Oren Peli’s minimalist approach to documenting a couple’s demon-haunting proves that some of the oldest tricks in the book — doors opening on their own, footsteps, screams — are still the most effective. Also unlike “Blair Witch,” the studio managed not to fix what wasn’t broke when they churned out two successful sequels (and counting). The verisimilitude on display is remarkable, especially the psychic character played by Mark Fredrichs, who transcends Zelda Rubinstein “Poltergeist” clichés by appearing as sane and professional as possible.
The Bottom Five
5. “Redacted” (2007)
Once-great filmmaker Brian De Palma really started to lose it with this failed experiment loosely based on the real-life Mahmudiyah killings and gang rape of a 14-year-old girl by U.S. troops in Iraq. With the right amount of subtlety, this could have been a fantastic cautionary tale about the nature of our military’s occupation, not unlike De Palma’s own “Casualties of War,” but by using found footage from multiple points of view (YouTube, security cameras, etc.) the filmmaker’s main aim appears to be sensationalism and exploitation. The shoddy, amateurish acting only undermines the weight of the subject further.
4. “Apollo 18″ (2011)
Not to spoil anything for ya, but the monsters in this movie are rocks. Yeah, we just saved you two hours of your life. You’re welcome. There are all kinds of wackadoo theories about the U.S. space program, including Stanley Kubrick faking the Apollo 11 moon landing in a studio, but this wackadoo explanation for why we never spent billions making another mission to Earth’s lifeless satellite contends that little rock men infected (read: possessed) our astronauts, leading to their deaths. You know what would have been even scarier than that? Anything!
3. “Diary of the Dead” (2007)
George Romero is the undisputed King of the Zombies, having made the defining genre films with “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.” That makes this wretched entry that much more of a kick to the nuts. It has much more in common with the heavy-handed multi-platform shooting style of “Redacted,” as well as inheriting that film’s cheapness and bad acting, than anything even remotely effective. Luckily for fans, Romero made something of a comeback with his 2009 follow-up “Survival of the Dead,” which took its cues from traditional westerns as opposed to anything modern. Even voice cameos from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro, Simon Pegg and Stephen King can’t save this thing. Unwatchable.
2. “The Devil Inside” (2012)
Here’s a tip to filmmakers: Tell a story, not a marketing scam. The team behind this “real life” mother-daughter exorcism story decided at some point that, rather than bringing their tale to a satisfying conclusion, they would plug a website (www.therossifiles.com) and tell the people who just plopped down $12 bucks to visit it “for more information on the ongoing investigation.” This sleazy bit of carnival barker trickery inspired more than one critic, including Slate’s David Haglund, to wonder if this might be the worst film ending of all time. Probably the crappiest thing about it was that the bug-eyed mental patient histrionics in the trailer somehow bamboozled a huge audience into seeing this cheat, to the tune of $100 million clams worldwide.
1. “Cloverfield” (2008)
“Holy crap! A found footage giant monster movie! He totally decapitated the statue of liberty! How can this not be OFF THE CHAINS???” Those are the thoughts that shot through the synapses of everyone who saw the mysterious first teaser, which didn’t even confirm the title. After months of speculation, a buildup this monstrous required that filmmakers Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams deliver a monster that did not disappoint. What they gave us was an off-putting albino rat-monkey design that looks like a cross between the newborn from “Alien: Resurrection” and the Balrog from “Lord of the Rings.” With a lousy kaiju and protagonists you basically pray will get stepped on, there’s nothing left but to wonder, “Why are they still recording all this?”
Categories: ListsTags: Apollo 18, Cannibal Holocaust, Chronicle, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, Paranormal activity, Project X, Redacted, The Bay, The Blair Witch Project, The devil inside, Top 5 Bottom 5, Troll Hunter