The evil force that haunts the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, invades movie theaters on Sept. 16 with one goal in mind: to scare you out of your wits. Directed by Adam Wingard, “Blair Witch” wisely returns the supernatural saga to its shaky-cam origins, a style which the poorly received first sequel largely ignored. And with films like “Unfriended 2” and “Found Footage 3D” on the horror horizon, fans of the genre have a lot to look forward to. Until then, here are ten found footage chillers worth searching for… and five that should remain buried.
Courtesy of TIFF
10. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2014)
This faux documentary about a serial killer with a fetish for video tapes was completed in 2007, yet wasn’t shown publically until 2014. In an odd move, MGM released it as a VOD title, but shelved it again less than a month later. To this day, it remains unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray. That’s a shame, since it contains scenes that are so disturbing and profoundly unpleasant, it deserves a chance to frighten a wider audience. The movie’s director, John Erick Dowdle, went on to helm two more found footage horror films: “Quarantine” in 2008 and “As Above, So Below” in 2014.
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
9. V/H/S/2 (2013)
Found footage horror films often mirror the aesthetics of YouTube videos, so it was only a matter of time before someone strung a few of them together and called it a movie. That someone was producer Brad Miska, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the influential genre website Bloody-Disgusting.com. A crew of ten indie directors was tapped to helm segments of a gruesome anthology film titled “V/H/S.” Yet it was the sequel that truly delivered on the premise. In particular, the short called “Safe Haven,” directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans, pulled out all the stops in its depiction of an apocalyptic bloodbath at a religious compound. A third film in the series was released a year later.
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
8. My Little Eye (2002)
In an isolated mansion filled with video cameras, five young contestants on an internet reality show begin to suspect that the people watching them have sinister motives. Directed with clinical precision by Marc Evans, “My Little Eye” turns a gimmicky concept into a skin-crawling exercise in mounting dread. Notable for its suffocating atmosphere and bleak imagery, this meta-horror sleeper lingers in the mind long after the final fade to black. In his second feature film role, Bradley Cooper plays a snowbound stranger whose arrival at the house ratchets up the paranoia.
Courtesy of Focus Features
7. The Sacrament (2013)
Four years after his expertly crafted throwback “The House of the Devil” breathed new life into the occult sub-genre, director Ti West proved just how frightening found footage films could be with this masterful spin on the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. When a team of American journalists investigate a utopian religious community in an unnamed country, they unwittingly trigger a nightmarish murder-suicide rampage by the sect’s crazed parishioners. The film’s slow-burn first half eventually gives way to sequences of pure visceral horror, made even more unsettling by their similarity to the real-life Guyana tragedy.
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
6. The Last Horror Movie (2003)
Similar in theme to the 1992 Belgian mockumentary “Man Bites Dog,” this deeply disturbing British film depicts the murderous confessions of a part-time serial killer. As the grinning psychopath, actor Kevin Howarth delivers a performance of blistering intensity. Part philosophical rogue, part depraved monster, he’s one of the most memorable maniacs in recent cinema. Though not especially gory, the film’s matter-of-fact murder scenes are so chillingly naturalistic they resemble outtakes from an actual snuff movie.
Courtesy of Gore Zone
5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
In the ’40s, producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur perfected the less-is-more school of horror filmmaking. Half a century later, directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez brought a similar aesthetic to “The Blair Witch Project.” With nothing more than a few off-camera whispers and a pitch black screen, this deceptively simple tale of three friends who become lost in the woods managed to freeze audiences’ blood.
Courtesy of Artisan Entertainment
4. REC (2007)
The cinematic equivalent of a walk-through haunted house attraction, this Spanish chiller about a TV news crew and a team of firemen who become trapped in a tenement building overrun with zombies is guaranteed to make you jump out of your seat at least a dozen times. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza put the handheld camera format to great use, turning every dark hallway into a potential threat. A huge hit in its home country, this intensely claustrophobic thrill-ride generated three Spanish sequels and an American remake.
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
3. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Stephen King revolutionized horror by taking ghosts and demons out of their clichéd graveyards and unleashing them in the suburbs of middle-class America. Borrowing a page from the bestselling author, writer/director Oren Peli set his feature debut in an Ikea-furnished home in sunny San Diego. Proving that lo-fi techniques can yield huge box office, Peli’s micro-budget ghost story about a young couple being terrorized by a supernatural entity captured the public’s imagination to the tune of $193 million worldwide. Four sequels and one spinoff followed, but the original remains the most frightening of all.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
2. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
A transgressive masterpiece that’s as thematically dense as it is utterly nauseating, this Italian exploitation classic is widely credited with inventing the modern found footage horror genre. Directed by cinematic provocateur Ruggero Deodato, “Cannibal Holocaust” tells the tale of an American documentary film crew whose sadistic mistreatment of a primitive tribe in the Amazon rainforest leads to their shocking demise. Filled with unflinching moments of savage horror (as well as distressing footage of real-life animal slaughter), it’s a movie that once seen can never be forgotten.
Courtesy of United Artists
1. Lake Mungo (2008)
Most horror films are about death, but very few deal with the overwhelming grief that follows. The eerie Australian ghost story “Lake Mungo” is the rare exception. Structured as a documentary about a family’s emotional breakdown after the accidental drowning of a 16-year old girl, this subtly brilliant investigation into the supernatural builds slowly at first, gradually breaking down the viewer’s defenses until a sudden image of unexpected horror shatters the preceding calm with the force of a sledgehammer. Watch this movie in a dark room, right before bed, and prepare to lose some sleep.
5. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
For a series that began with innovative simplicity, it’s somewhat depressing that this fifth and (hopefully) final entry in the haunted house franchise wraps things up with a laughable CGI blob. Relying on the same stale jump scares and hokey mumbo-jumbo that plagued the disappointing fourth installment, “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” proves the law of diminishing returns.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
4. Devil’s Due
This stillborn thriller about a dull pregnant woman with a demonic bun in the oven manages to rip off elements from the “Paranormal Activity” series, the “V/H/S” series, “The Last Exorcism” series and just about every other found footage film you can think of. Riddled with one cliché after another, “Devil’s Due” is less frightening than an episode of MTV’s “Teen Mom.”
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
3. Apollo 18 (2011)
For what it’s worth, this tale of a 1972 lunar mission gone horribly wrong deserves credit for dragging the found footage genre out of the backwoods and suburban living rooms of Anytown, USA. Unfortunately, that’s all it has going for it. Set primarily in an unconvincing space capsule, “Apollo 18” plods along at such a glacial pace, its scant 88-minute running time feels like an eon. When the film’s ultimate horror is finally revealed, you’re more likely to snore than scream.
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company
2. Area 51 (2015)
“Paranormal Activity” director Oren Peli began production on this tedious “X-Files” knockoff in 2009, while his acclaimed debut was still in theaters. Six years (and untold rewrites) later, it was finally released… and promptly forgotten.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
1. The Devil Inside (2012)
Jesus wept! Two years after “The Last Exorcism” took the found footage genre by storm, this dreadful possession movie landed in theaters. A cheap looking mess about an American girl’s satanic encounters in Italy, “The Devil Inside” is so abysmally threadbare, it literally doesn’t bother to include an ending. Instead, during a climactic car chase, the image suddenly goes black and a title card appears on screen, directing unlucky viewers to a (now inoperative) website for additional info. It might just as well have said “Go to Hell” instead.