6. Hell House LLC (Stephen Cognetti, 2015)
Some ‘haunted building’ found footage films are decent. As has been mentioned, ‘Grave Encounters’ and its in-film exploration of a malicious abandoned mental asylum, was an underground hit, now loved by many film fans. Yet films of this nature spawned many wannabe films, until the sub-genre was oversaturated by them. This pool of copycats was crying out for an injection of innovation and creativity. Along came ‘Hell House LLC’.
While not being a commercial hit, ‘Hell House’ has garnered something of a cult following and has even spawned two sequels exclusive to the horror streaming service ‘Shudder’. The film of its origin, ‘Hell House LLC’ is unsurprisingly its strongest instalment, but fans continue to enjoy its premise.
The film documents a group of young entrepreneurs setting out to turn an old and allegedly haunted hotel in Abaddon into a scare house in time to capitalise on Halloween and young people seeking cheap thrills. Ignoring signs of something genuinely frightful hiding within the hotel’s walls, the group fall victim to the entities residing within the building.
The premise, though simple, allows an interesting blend of reality and make-believe that leaves even the viewer searching the movie’s frames for… something. With the hotel slowly becoming adorned with obnoxious haunted house decorations, the viewer is open to the power of suggestion. The film provokes one to ask: was that mannequin there before? Was that someone moving in the background? This is a film that truly plays tricks on you.
Demonstrating another successful adaptation of documentary style into the execution of the found footage genre, ‘Hell House’ provides some truly eerie chills that will have you drawing further and further away from the screen. It also contains possibly one of the most frightening clowns ever to grace the medium of film.
7. Creep / Creep 2 (Patrick Brice, 2014; 2017)
The ‘Creep’ franchise comprises two films that will run you through an array of emotions. Quite the rollercoaster, ‘Creep’ and its successor ‘Creep 2’ will make you break into peals of nervous laughter one moment, before catching you off guard and forcing you to hold your breath the next.
Documenting the unsuspecting absorption of unsuspecting filmmakers into the world of a devious serial killer, ‘Creep’ is an unsung diamond in the ruff. While many found footage films give way to poor performances and cheesy scares, in ‘Creep’ there is no such thing. Packed with great performances, uncomfortable moments and intense payoffs, this series, while not overtly terrifying, is an entertaining journey for any film fan.
Mark Duplass as the mysterious title figure is both entertaining and utterly terrifying. He is able to create an air of unpredictability around him which forces your eyes to remain on him throughout the entire picture. He takes you through lilts of charming and empathetic monologues, to sparks of bizarre and erratic behaviour, often involving a gaudy wolf mask he affectionately names Peachfuzz. It is as disturbing as it sounds.
Both of the ‘Creep’ films are successful for entirely different reasons. While the first film is a slow, uncertain introduction to Duplass’ serial killer, the second is a knowing but equally enthralling exploration into the more unsuspecting side of this creepy character collecting his trophies of victims he claims to ‘love’. Both films are an unsettling depiction of one man’s twisted narcissism and perception of obsession as love. As a result, both should be watched and enjoyed.
8. Lake Mungo (Joel Anderson, 2008)
Much like ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes’, ‘Hell House LLC’ and ‘Noroi’, ‘Lake Mungo’ is a clever faux documentary comprising both ‘homemade’ footage and a factual editing style. This way of presenting such found footage films has certainly generated the more powerful films of the genre in the last fifteen years of filmmaking, and ‘Lake Mungo’ serves as another fantastic example.
‘Lake Mungo’ is a melancholy ghost story presented through the eye of a documentary of a family grieving for the loss of their daughter. The lack of closure brought by the mysterious nature of her death is something which provokes the family, most specifically the mother, into believing the spirit of the deceased Alice still lingers in the house.
‘Lake Mungo’’s scares are set deep within the tragic nature of the film’s story of loss. It refrains from delivering the sensationalist jump scares many of the other movies on this list rely on. Instead, its ability to induce fear lies in the movie’s drawn-out sense of dread. Its tone is increasingly somber but tinged with an air that is indescribably unsettling.
As the movie reveals more about the events leading to Alice’s death, the more the movie turns back on itself, reversing the audience’s faith in the presented facts. Premonitions and eerie allusions to Alice’s death in her life become apparent, presenting some imagery that will stay with the viewer for a long time. Within this is ‘Lake Mungo’’s true genius: as a found footage it fails to live up to the conventional expectations of the genre. Instead it serves up a corkscrew of a mystery concealed within the clever format of a documentary about a forlorn and grieving family.
9. As Above, So Below (John Erick Dowdle, 2014)
It is safe to say that ‘Poughkeepsie Tapes’ director John Erick Dowdle has a knack for bringing interesting concepts to the realm of found footage filmmaking, and ‘As Above, So Below’ is another demonstration of this. The film has a little bit of everything: demonic entities, a handful of jump scares, oodles of claustrophobia, and a generous helping of gore. ‘As Above, So Below’ has slowly gained an increase in appreciation by horror fans since its lukewarm reception in 2014.
The film is subject to some unavoidable faults. Its characters, particularly its rather irritating know-it-all protagonist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), fall somewhat flat and have cringe-inducing interactions. They may almost grate on your nerves during certain scenes, and what is supposed to be endearing sometimes clouds the more engaging elements of the catacombs’ supernatural secrets.
However, if one mostly ignores the character arcs supposedly attempting to tie you to the film, then ‘As Above, So Below’ becomes a far more enjoyable watch. With a unique and eerie setting of the Paris catacombs, the film is made all the more enthralling by its premise, which is coated by historical lore. With references to the medieval philosophies of Nicholas Flamel and Dante’s nine circles of hell, ‘As Above’ is packed with frightening imagery as the gang of archaeology prodigies descend deeper into the catacombs’ many layers.
Despite its execution problems, ‘As Above’ is an interesting film with merits that come with its borrowing of medieval legends. Paired with the claustrophobic sequences involving the band of explorers wriggling through some uncomfortably narrow passageways, the film is an intriguing one to say the least. Its setting and premise alone are enough of a reason for it to secure a place on this list.
10. REC / REC 2 (Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, 2007; 2009)
‘REC’ and ‘REC 2’s success lies not merely in their strong utilization of the found-footage genre to generate effective scares, but also in its frightening and innovative concept. Imitated in an almost shot-for-shot American remake named ‘Quarantine’ (2008), ‘REC’ is superior in almost every aspect. What begins as the apparent outbreak of a rabid ‘28 Days Later’ style virus in a quiet Spanish apartment block becomes a sinister investigation broken loose by a resilient news reporter.
Containing perhaps one of the most visually-harrowing movie ‘monsters’ in film history, ‘REC’ details a strain of demonic possession originating from the potent satanic inhabitation of a young girl some years ago, and the subsequent observation of her case by a man who use to dwell in the apartment’s penthouse.
The possessed ‘zombies’, with their crazed eyes and bloody mouths, are horrifying, and serve to deliver some exhilarating scares. But the jewel in ‘REC’’s crown is most certainly its climax, ending horrifically in a night-vision encounter in the mysterious penthouse. It is in these scenes where ‘REC’ delivers a fatal punch and gets under the audience’s skin.
To fully experience the true horror of ‘REC’, both initial parts of the franchise must be watched together, as both contribute to a picture of this unfurling truth regarding a formidably potent religious virus. ‘REC’ and its successor are a brilliant fusion of two hallmarks of the horror genre: infection and possession. Its blend of these two genres is both seamless and unique without creating a cringeworthy B-movie. It represents one of the strongest and most well-executed movie narratives within the found footage category of horror and is a pioneer for innovative films going against the grain in a world of jump-scare riddled camcorder stories.