Before you say found footage films are a dime a dozen, these underrated gems prove how inventive and terrifying the subgenre can be.
At Morbidly Beautiful, we know many movies are still relatively unknown and desperate for more appreciation and love.
There is a genre in horror that genuinely deserves more love, and that is found footage horror. We have been blessed with classics like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity; these have been huge successes, even outside the horror community, due to cinematic releases and much exposure.
However, heaps of hidden gems out there still need more love. So, we will look at five of the best little-seen genre gems that prove why found footage is such a special subgenre. Sure, these films are usually cheap and relatively stripped down, making it easy to hide technical flaws and make movies on a dime. Often, they may feel lazy and derivative. But, when done right, they can feel unnervingly real and immersive, keeping us on the edge of our seats and sending chills down our spine.
5. The Last Broadcast (1998, Directors Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler)
This isn’t exactly a horror film, but it does pave the way for modern found footage genre films, having been released a year before The Blair Witch Project.
The Last Broadcast is a suspense thriller mockumentary focusing on the murders of a cable TV show crew. Upon watching this, you are submersed into thinking you are watching a documentary from the 90s presented by David Leigh. The found footage aspect comes from the days leading up to the bizarre murders of the presenters of the show, Fact Or Fiction, and the footage they caught on their cameras, leading to the conviction of the sole survivor, Jim Suerd. Leigh is making this documentary and conducting interviews to unravel what really happened in the Pine Barrens.
This film captures the true zeitgeist of the mid-90s — a time when we were all slowly accessing the internet, learning about live broadcasting to websites and online chats. Similar to H.G. Wells’ infamous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, The Last Broadcast would have confused audiences everywhere, making it easy to believe this was an actual documentary about a gruesome murder in New Jersey.
The Last Broadcast starred the writers and directors Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler and was estimated to have cost around $900 to make, making it all the more phenomenal how big of an impact the film made.
These days, the film may feel a bit outdated to modern audiences, as technology has advanced considerably since 1998. However, if you enjoy watching documentaries about killers and consider yourself a devotee of the found footage subgenre, please consider this essential viewing.
4. Afflicted (2013, Directors Derek Lee and Cliff Prowse)
Whereas The Last Broadcast featured 90s tech and introduced us to internet streaming, the 2013 film Afflicted showcases more modern tech, including GoPro-type cameras, camera vests, and headgear to enable continuous online live streaming.
Afflicted starts as an uplifting story of two friends, Derek and Cliff (the writers and directors of the movie, Derek Lee and Cliff Prowse), taking a trip around the world and documenting their adventures on the internet for friends and fans to watch and enjoy. Derek has been diagnosed with a Cerebral Arteriovenous Malformation, which could kill him at any time, so the friends decided to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
The trip takes a dark turn when Derek becomes ill, struck by a mysterious affliction (after meeting a lady in a bar), and the pair panic about being away from home and proper healthcare for Derek’s CVM.
The movie starts with high spirits until Derek becomes ill. However, in an unexpected twist, he also starts showing signs of superhuman strength. It begins to feel like we’re watching something similar to the 2012 film Chronicle. However, this is no superhero movie.
We soon realize that Derek is becoming a vampire. It’s wildly fun and extremely well-made, and the scenes where Derek goes on a bloodsucking rampage with a camera strapped to him look fantastic.
The movie has a bigger budget, and you can tell, but it still demonstrates how much you can do with found footage — making something incredibly immersive and truly frightening.
3. Grave Encounters (2011, Directors The Vicious Brothers)
The Vicious Brothers’ debut movie follows a crew of paranormal investigators filming a new episode of their show, the titular Grave Encounters, in an abandoned notoriously evil psychiatric hospital.
Right away, you are drawn into the film due to how much it feels like a genuine ghost hunt on YouTube. It’s quite comical watching the crew conduct interviews and enjoying the facial expressions of confusion and professionalism of the presenter and interviewees.
The crew enters the hospital and is locked in overnight to film their show. Still, it’s not long before they uncover the ghosts of the tortured patients before descending into a madness of their own when the hospital traps them between their night alone and purgatory with no escape.
The visuals are great with set-up cameras around the hospital and individual handheld cameras used as they wander around the haunted wards with plenty of night vision. Some questionable CGI visual special effects for the ghosts are added, but they don’t detract from the film’s effectiveness, including some solid jump scares along the way.
The acting is fantastic, making Grave Encounters an undiscovered treasure well worth digging up (it even produced a sequel starring Richard Harmon of The 100 and The Killing).
2- Host (2020, Director Rob Savage)
Capturing the zeitgeist of 2020 perfectly — as we all worked from home, quarantined, and subjected to endless video calls — the pandemic-filmed Host is a clever subversion of the found footage film. Filmed entirely over Zoom, it follows a group of friends who conduct a live virtual seance with the help of a Medium. Unfortunately, they accidentally summoned something sinister.
Movies like this are why I enjoy found footage because, as many Blair Witch ripoffs and by-the-numbers films as there are in the subgenre, industrious filmmakers still find ways to surprise and innovate — taking advantage of the ever-evolving technological landscape.
Rob Savage perfectly encapsulates the sense of isolation most of us felt during the pandemic, turning into creative and chilling paranormal horror. Though the story is incredibly simple and stripped down, it’s unexpectedly unnerving. If you happened to discover this film during lockdown, the genuine fear you felt was likely amplified due to how familiar it all felt, with most of us talking to colleagues and friends daily on video chats.
Savage burst onto the scene with this deceptively simple but ingenious microbudget film and has been on a fast career trajectory ever since, most recently helming the big-budget theatrical adaptation of Stephen King’s Boogeyman.
I suggest watching Host on a laptop and having some headphones on to fully experience the immersive horror. You may even find yourself wiggling the mouse to move pops up or clicking the ‘ok’ button, as this is perfectly filmed to make you feel like you are logging on to a laptop.
Before I get to my number one pick, I want to take a minute to celebrate these must-see honorable mentions.
1. Creep (2014, Director Patrick Brice)
I must admit that I’ve been anxiously creeping towards my number one pick, a film that bowled me over and stuck with me long after I watched it.
Director Patrick Brice (There’s Someone Inside Your House) makes his directorial debut, working from a story he co-wrote with Mark Duplass. Both men also star in the film, and they are essentially the only two characters. Brice plays Aaron, a videographer hired by Josef (Duplass), for a one-day personal video shoot. Within seconds of Aaron meeting Josef, you are hit with an overwhelming sense of foreboding that something is not quite right. Yet, it’s impossible to imagine exactly where things are headed.
According to Brice, this movie cost next to nothing to make, made with a tiny team of just three people and a single handheld camera. Despite that, it works better than most films with far greater resources and marketing machines behind them. That’s due in large part to just how good Brice and Duplass are at playing their characters, how believable and compelling they are, and how well Brice builds tension and intrigue. There’s some pitch-perfect dark humor running throughout the film, as Brice and Duplass satirize the inherent danger of meeting a stranger online.
There’s a notorious bathtub scene that had horror fans buzzing for good reason; it’s both hilariously uncomfortable and subtlely sinister. But that’s nothing compared to how unnerving things get when we first meet the infamous Peachfuzz. No spoilers; but trust me, it’s not something you’ll soon forget.
The film was inspired by Brice’s experiences on Craigslist, which is not surprising. I’m a musician, and I have posted adverts looking for bandmates and found myself meeting up with strangers — some of whom really freaked me out. Thus, I found this film to be eerily relatable.
Creep was successful enough to spawn a sequel, the equally brilliant Creep 2, and there are talks around the internet of a third film in the series, which would be another welcome addition to the found footage subgenre.
If you haven’t seen some or all of these films, rest assured that they are all deserving of more love and well worth your time to hunt them down and watch them — preferably alone at night with the lights off and the sound up, if. you’re brave enough.