TVAndMovies

28 Found Footage Horror Films That Will Get Under Your Skin

The footage may not be real, but it's truly terrifying.

Posted on

1. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Grindhouse Releasing

Directed by: Ruggero Deodato

Written by: Gianfranco Clerici

For better or worse, Cannibal Holocaust set the stage for much of what's followed in found footage horror. The story is familiar: A documentary crew goes missing, and the unedited footage they left behind reveals the horrifying truth behind their disappearance. Cannibal Holocaust remains highly controversial — at the time, it was realistic enough to be mistaken for a snuff film. And while that particular claim has been dismissed, the violence toward animals was sadly not faked.

2. The Last Broadcast (1998)

Heretic Films

Directed by: Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler

Written by: Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler

The Last Broadcast walks the line between mockumentary and true found footage. Ultimately, however, it's as much about the raw footage as it is about the finished product that filmmaker David Leigh (David Beard) is trying to assemble. To make things even more meta, Leigh is investigating the murders of Steven Avkast (Stefan Avalos) and Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler) — note the names — a pair of TV documentary hosts played by the filmmakers of The Last Broadcast.

3. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Artisan Entertainment

Directed by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez

Written by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez

A surprising smash hit, The Blair Witch Project brought found footage to the mainstream and demonstrated the undeniable power of the genre. With a tiny budget and a trio of unknown actors — Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard — The Blair Witch Project terrified audiences with an aesthetic that seemed firmly steeped in reality. The iconic final scare is unnerving not because of what you see, but because of what you don't.

4. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

Bedford Entertainment

Directed by: Julian Richards

Written by: James Handel

In the tradition of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Man Bites Dog, The Last Horror Movie offers an uncomfortably intimate look at a serial killer and his crimes. The brutal violence is hard to withstand, but the closeness to the perpetrator is what makes the film so unsettling. At one point, Max (Kevin Howarth) even breaks the fourth wall to accuse the viewers of wanting to see more carnage — the worst part is, he's not wrong.

5. The Curse (2005)

Cathay-Keris Films

Directed by: Kôji Shiraishi

Written by: Kôji Shiraishi and Naoyuki Yokota

Known as Noroi in Japan, The Curse is also something of a mockumentary. It's presented as the footage from filmmaker Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki), a paranormal investigator who disappeared while making his latest film, The Curse. (Again: meta.) Director Kôji Shiraishi, who earned praise for going beyond the traditional confines of Japanese horror, followed up this film with several other horror films that combine found footage and mockumentary.

6. Alone With Her (2006)

IFC Films

Directed by: Eric Nicholas

Written by: Eric Nicholas

Alone With Her explores the different ways found footage stories can be told: In this case, we see most of the action through spy cameras that stalker Doug (Colin Hanks) has put up to keep a predatory eye on Amy (Ana Claudia Talancón) at all times. Because of the nature of these intrusive cameras, the audience becomes complicit in the stalking, watching Amy in her most intimate moments, without her consent. It's fiction, of course, but it's uncomfortable all the same.

7. [REC] (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Directed by: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

Written by: Jaume Balagueró, Luis A. Berdejo, and Paco Plaza

The found footage zombie movie became a mini-genre of its own with [REC], which led to several sequels, an American remake (the less effective Quarantine), and even a George Romero attempt at the same. (More on that below.) [REC] is great and terrifying in its own right as it captures the onset of a zombie outbreak — that awful moment when everyone suddenly realizes that something very wrong is happening. And then it all goes to hell.

8. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Oren Peli

Written by: Oren Peli

When looking at contemporary found footage horror, it's impossible not to give credit to Paranormal Activity, the Blair Witch Project of its time — yes, only eight years later — and the direct predecessor of the current found footage boom. Paranormal Activity did everything right: It was made for next to nothing ($15,000) and went on to gross almost $200 million worldwide. It's simple, straightforward, and scary, which is more than can be said about much of its competition.

9. Diary of the Dead (2007)

The Weinstein Company

Directed by: George A. Romero

Written by: George A. Romero

OK, this isn't Night of the Living Dead. But let's be fair, George A. Romero is operating under an entirely different framework. This is the man who essentially created the cinematic zombie as we know it — it's forgivable if he falters a little translating that to a modern context. As far as his experiment with found footage goes, Diary of the Dead does have its moments. It's also, naturally, the most meta of Romero's zombie films, gamely reflecting on the ever-shifting genre.

10. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

MGM

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

Written by: John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle

The Poughkeepsie Tapes was supposed to get a wide release, but it ended up never getting to theaters — and it hasn't been released on DVD or Blu-ray. As a result, the film has developed a cult following. In fact, being hard to find only increases the appeal of found footage horror, which should feel like the kind of thing you watch on old VHS tapes found in someone's basement. Otherwise, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is another serial killer horror film — brutal, but not surprising.

11. Cloverfield (2008)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Drew Goddard

Cloverfield is more sci-fi monster movie than horror, but it's scary enough to qualify for inclusion here. The found footage technique works to the film's advantage by keeping the focus on the individuals running from the monster rather than on the monster itself. (That's especially useful here because the monster isn't all that impressive.) It's a different, more intimate kind of monster movie, and one that ultimately feels more realistic than your typical Godzilla story.

12. Home Movie (2008)

IFC Films

Directed by: Christopher Denham

Written by: Christopher Denham

There is something inherently creepy about home movies, which is what the aptly titled Home Movie taps into. The film follows twisted twins Jack (Austin Williams) and Emily (Amber Joy Williams), who are locked in a battle of wills against their parents David (Adrian Pasdar) and Clare (Cady McClain). As is the case with so many real home movies, the footage on display here subverts the idea of a perfect family — there is something very wrong happening just under the surface.

13. Evil Things (2009)

Inception Media Group

Directed by: Dominic Perez

Written by: Dominic Perez

Evil Things is allegedly the lost footage from a group of young people who went missing. But while the conceit is not all that original, the execution is fairly harrowing. As it turns out, the college students vacationing in the Catskills for the weekend are being stalked, and the found footage format does an impressive job of mimicking both the sensation of being watched and the sensation of watching. Evil Things' amateur quality also plays into its feigned authenticity.

14. The Last Exorcism (2010)

Lionsgate

Directed by: Daniel Stamm

Written by: Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland

For the most part, The Last Exorcism is your standard possession story, told through found footage. Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is the religious man who has lost his faith, and Nell (Ashley Bell) is the girl he's been called on to exorcise. But the film is uniquely effective, both because of the intimacy with which it treats its subjects and because of its truly shocking third act. The camera never stops rolling — until it's too late.

15. Trollhunter (2010)

Magnet Releasing

Directed by: André Øvredal

Written by: André Øvredal

One look at that troll should make Trollhunter's tone fairly clear. Yes, this is one of the sillier entries on the list, but it's also one of the most well-reviewed. While the troll itself might not be that imposing — it's large, yes, but a little cartoonish — the search for the troll and the havoc it wreaks are very real. There is plenty of suspense in Trollhunter, and high stakes with severe consequences. No matter how goofy it looks, anything that big is bound to do some serious damage.

16. Grave Encounters (2011)

Tribeca

Directed by: The Vicious Brothers

Written by: The Vicious Brothers

If the internet is to be believed, there are still some people who are convinced Grave Encounters is real. That's a great sign for a found footage movie (though it doesn't reflect highly on people who have seen Grave Encounters.) Sure, the setup is believable enough — a ghost investigation series heads to an abandoned psychiatric hospital — but what they find there is strictly fiction. Either way, the ghoulish imagery leaves a lasting impression.

17. V/H/S (2012)

Magnet Releasing

Directed by: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence

Written by: Simon Barret, David Bruckner, Nicholas Tecosky, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella

With V/H/S, found footage horror finally got the anthology treatment. The results are, as might be expected, hit or miss — but to its credit, V/H/S produces more of the former. And those highs are very high. In the first sequence, an attempt at filming amateur porn turns into the terrifying documentation of a succubus attack. The highlight of the first V/H/S, however, is The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, told entirely via webcam.

18. The Bay (2012)

Lionsgate

Directed by: Barry Levinson

Written by: Michael Wallach

Though not an anthology, The Bay combines different sources of footage to great effect. The central conceit is that everything you're seeing had been confiscated by the government and leaked to the public: It documents the rise of a mutant parasite that feeds on humans and quickly takes over a town in the Chesapeake Bay. The staggered, diverse footage reflects the chaos of the situation, and the sense that there are only fragments left from this once thriving community.

19. Chronicle (2012)

20th Century Fox

Directed by: Josh Trank

Written by: Max Landis

Chronicle isn't really a horror film: It's more of a thriller and, in a manner of speaking, a superhero origin story. But at its heart, Chronicle is about the danger of gaining too much power. Three high school students (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan) develop telekinetic abilities, and it's not long before the frequently bullied Andrew (DeHaan) is exploiting his gift with violent consequences. Chronicle may not be horror, but it's definitely scary.

20. V/H/S/2 (2013)

Magnet Releasing

Directed by: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans, Jason Eisener

Written by: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans, John Davies

If you've seen V/H/S, you know what to expect from V/H/S/2, but the sequel actually improves on its predecessor with a couple truly exceptional segments. A Ride in the Park is zombie found footage, with the innovative use of a GoPro camera. And Safe Haven is an overwhelmingly disturbing look inside a death cult. The latter is especially hard to shake, even long after the movie is over. (The third film in the franchise, V/H/S: Viral, is mostly disappointing.)

21. The Sacrament (2013)

Magnolia Pictures

Directed by: Ti West

Written by: Ti West

The Sacrament isn't technically about Jonestown, but it might as well be. The cult leader at its center, Father (Gene Jones), is more than a little reminiscent of Jim Jones. And the story plays out about how you'd expect, with Father's followers gathering together for a mass suicide. Recontextualizing the story as found footage horror adds another level of anxiety to this familiar tale. You're in it — and knowing the awful outcome doesn't mean you can change it.

22. Willow Creek (2013)

Dark Sky Films

Directed by: Bobcat Goldthwait

Written by: Bobcat Goldthwait

Willow Creek is clearly inspired by The Blair Witch Project: It's also about people in the forest looking for the truth behind a strange phenomenon and stumbling on a reality they're not prepared for. More to the point, both films show a tremendous amount of restraint. Willow Creek is ostensibly about Bigfoot, but it's more about the culture surrounding the mythical creature, and the overwhelming fear of the unknown, which is somehow worse than the monster itself.

23. Afflicted (2013)

CBS Films

Directed by: Derek Lee and Clif Prowse

Written by: Clif Prowse and Derek Lee

The past couple years have been especially heavy on found footage horror: Luckily, much of it's been very good! The genre has also kept up with the times, as is the case with Afflicted, which is probably the first vampire flick about YouTubers. Here, the found footage genre provides a fun new take on the transformation narrative, while also serving as a commentary on itself. Why does Derek keep filming despite the horror he's experiencing? Millennials never know when to put the camera down.

24. The Borderlands (2013)

Metrodome Distribution

Directed by: Elliot Goldner

Written by: Elliot Goldner

There are more common found footage themes are on display here: a team of paranormal investigators (led in this case by Gordon Kennedy's Deacon), a location that may or may not be haunted (a church on the English countryside), and a desire to document strange occurrences (hence all the footage). The Borderlands is a good reminder that there are still new ways to tell these oft-repeated stories. And yes, they can still be nightmare-inducing.

25. Europa Report (2013)

Magnolia Pictures

Directed by: Sebastián Cordero

Written by: Philip Gelatt

Found footage sci-fi is yet more terrain to be explored. Europa Report is a more intriguing entry than, say, Apollo 18, although Apollo 18 is also more clearly a horror film. No matter. Europa Report makes sense as a found footage film: This is a genre that's very much about exploring the unknown. That's central to horror, which is why the two are so often paired, but the documentation of the unknown — the search for proof — is perfect sci-fi.

26. The Den (2013)

IFC Midnight

Directed by: Zachary Donohue

Written by: Zachary Donohue and Lauren Thompson

When the trailer for Unfriended (see below) first hit theaters, some horror fans immediately recalled The Den, a little-known film that also restricted its action to computer screens. And both movies are strong in their own right. The Den is particularly brutal, showcasing a murder via webcam. It offers a strong condemnation of online behavior and anonymity, and it's scary enough to leave a lasting impression.

27. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

Millenium Entertainment

Directed by: Adam Robitel

Written by: Gavin Heffernan and Adam Robitel

The Taking of Deborah Logan is fascinating on a couple levels. First, it conflates the symptoms of Alzheimer's with that of possession: Turns out, they line up eerily well. Second, the film uses found footage to fully explore the character of Deborah (Jill Larson), who may be an older woman suffering from an all-too-common disease — or who may be experiencing something else entirely. It's an innovative approach to an already subversive spin on horror. Nothing about it is predictable.

28. Unfriended (2014)

Universal Pictures

Directed by: Levan Gabriadze

Written by: Nelson Greaves

Unfriended may not be the first found footage horror film to take place solely on a computer, but it still represents an exciting step forward for the genre. What's incredible about the film is that it manages to be more than just its concept: It's tense, darkly comedic, and a joy to watch overall. As we step forward to more realistic technology in films, it's comforting to see a movie that manages to be steeped in the present without losing the classic ability to jostle viewers.