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Fake Horror Documentaries: Almost, But Not Quite, True Horror Movies

Updated on January 28, 2013

The sleeper hit Paranormal Activity has been taking the theaters by storm. It is the latest in a long line of what I like to think of as "found footage" horror movies: documentary style footage used to tell a scary story. Whether it is the upcoming horror movie, The Fourth Kind, or the old classic The Blair Witch Project, these cinema verite style films induce their own special kind of terror.

Here are some of the best and most influential horror documentaries of all time. Be sure to check out the new upcoming horror movies as well!

Incident At Lake County (1998)

Released in 1998, a full year before The Blair Witch Project would make the genre famous, Incident At Lake County (occasionally titled Alien Abduction or Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County) was a made for TV horror movie that didn't go anywhere. However, it found new legs when it was cut up and represented on late night Unsolved Mystery knock offs as real footage.

Featuring a slightly dysfunctional family event recorded by a teenaged son, Lake County documents what happens aliens touch down in the secluded woods nearby. A few brief shots of a crashed space ship and mysterious aliens milling about send the family back to their cabin where they prepare for a long night of terror.

Throughout the night, the family is assaulted by bizarre blackouts, nose bleeds, and finally an otherworldly invasion into their home. Although the special effects are poor, the movie uses the hand-held video recording and low light to obscure the low budget and help turn it into a truly terrifying horror movie.

Last Broadcast Movie Poster
Last Broadcast Movie Poster

The Last Broadcast (1998)

Yet another pre-Blair Witch horror movie based on footage left behind after a supposedly horrifying event.  Here, the footage is just as important as what happens afterward.  After two of his friends are killed, the third is railroaded in a murder trial.  However, an intrepid cable access journalist tries to create a documentary uncovering the truth behind the slayings and the subsequent trial.  Is the Jersey Devil really responsible?

Hands down one of the scariest films I've ever seen, the entire film oozes with tension and implied menace.  There are very few jump scares.  Instead, the audience will remain unsettled by the entire affair rather than truly terrified.  Although it suffers from a poorly thought out twist ending, The Last Broadcast is worth any horror movie buff's time.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Everyone knows about the Blair Witch Project. You don't need me to talk about it. But it is notable for being the first truly successful movie in this particular genre.

[Rec] (1997)

Recently remade into the hit horror film Quarantine, [Rec] is a Spanish made horror film that follows a camera crew into a house infected with some type of terrible virus. Filled with plenty of jump scares, monsters, and violence, this is one of the first documentary-style horror movies to combine the gore and violence of more traditional horror movies with the realistic terror of hand held footage.

A scene from [Rec]
A scene from [Rec]

Cloverfield (2008)

J.J. Abrahms big budget hand held monster movie took the world by storm last winter. Although other films like [Rec] applied classic horror movie filters to the low-budget camera style adopted by films like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield is the first to add big budget movie CG to the mix.  Half the fun of Cloverfield was the unknowable terror of a giant monster that was unseen throughout the previews.

The theater audience was craning their necks along with the characters caught on the hand held camera to see what exactly was destroying New York.  Some claim the result was a bit disappointing, but no one can claim there weren't any good scares to be had in this monster movie classic.

Paranormal Activity (2009)

Oh brother.  I can't recommend Paranormal Activity enough.  The beneficiary of a rather obnoxious marketing campaign, Paranormal Activity remains one of the scariest horror films of the decade.  Perfectly paced, this ultra-low budget film has managed to scare the pants off of nearly everyone who has seen it.

A young couple is enjoying their lives but an old haunting begins to terrorize the young woman once again.  The macho boyfriend brings along a camera to try to prove the supernatural does exist.  When a psychic claims that the haunting is caused not by a ghost but a demonic entity, the ante is raised.

The otherworldly interference gets worse night after night and the camera sees all.  unlike other movies, the camera is always on so we often see things the unconscious characters are unaware of.  The tension builds over the entire run time of the film, culminating in twenty minutes of pure terror.

Trailer for Paranormal Activity

There are a few other notable inclusions.

  • Cannibal Holocaust: Probably the original found-footage horror movie, this exploitation flick follows a doomed scientific team trying to find a lost tribe of cannibals. You can guess how that turns out.
  • The Poughkeepsie Tapes: Not a lot going on here.  Mostly just a serial killer terrorizing victims with some talking heads in a documentary format.  No real mystery or allure. A lot of wasted potential.


What's your favorite horror movie? Personally, Paranormal Activity might be in my top ten list now. Here's to more high concept, low budget horror!

Comments

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    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 

      3 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      Awesome - just re watched the Blair Witch and came across your hub - love the reviews

    • duppycon2 profile image

      duppycon2 

      6 years ago from Yuma AZ

      Copenhagen mentioned "Paranormal Entity" (2009) above - an obvious "Paranormal Activity" knockoff, which I came in with very low expectations. It was actually pretty decent. Worth a look.

      And I thought "Poughkeepsie Tapes" (2007) was actually alright. It followed the "less is more" route, building the tension quite decently.

      And, of course, "Cannibal Holocaust" (1980)... if you can get over feeling guilty for watching it, it's a great little video nasty...

      Recommendation: "Grave Encounters" (2011). If you can watch it for free, it's definitely worth the price!

    • profile image

      Cesar 

      7 years ago

      Some of your release dates are off. Specially REC, it was released in 2007 not 1997

    • profile image

      QINO 

      7 years ago

      i saw this trailer and it seems to be interesting

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puGV3YMWTS4

    • saif113sb profile image

      saif113sb 

      7 years ago

      Thank You for sharing your knowledge

    • profile image

      Alan 

      7 years ago

      1.Noroi The Curse

      2. Occult (also known as - "The Unidentified")

      Both by Director "Kôji Shiraishi "

      WATCH THEM

      They are available on youtube "Occult" is listed as "The Unidentified" its in 11 parts

    • profile image

      Betty 

      7 years ago

      Cloverfield is a really great movie, one of my favorites. It seems very real and the perspective with the hand held camera makes it even more realistic. You should check it out if you are a fan of sci-fi movies, and of course, Aliens!!

    • profile image

      Linda 

      8 years ago

      [Rec] is TERRIFYING! Lake Mungo was awesome, too~

    • profile image

      Pa8ax 

      8 years ago

      Can I also suggest the serial killer movie 'Man Bites Dog.'Which funny and horrifying.

    • Len Cannon profile imageAUTHOR

      Len Cannon 

      8 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

      I did hear about Lake Mungo just recently, I want to get around to watching it. So much on my plate!

    • profile image

      jillsilver007 

      8 years ago

      Great list, thanks so much! I really liked Lake Mungo....although the first time I watched it was at night and I had to turn it off b/c it freaked me out :)

    • kpfingaz profile image

      kpfingaz 

      8 years ago from ~~~

      Because of the CG effects of Cloverfield, that one would be the least believable film of the pack. Blair Witch Project is probably the most overrated film of this genre. Didn't scare me at all.

      [rec] looks scary as hell. Might check that one out.

    • profile image

      filips88 

      8 years ago

      The best film si Lake Mungo.The is the scariest film.Just watch and no sleep :)

    • profile image

      Movies All Time 

      8 years ago

      Was there a paranormal activity released on 2009? The one I have seen was released on 2007 if I remember. Is this Paranormal Activity Counter part or what?

    • profile image

      Copenhagen 

      8 years ago

      You guys should check our Paranormal Entity if you like Paranormal Activity

    • profile image

      MrMidNight 

      8 years ago

      Interesting hub, yeah cloverfield turned out to be not as bad as i thought it was, but paranormal activity, i couldn't even make it through the first five minutes from when the movie started, i am truly glad i didn't pay for what ever they were trying to accomplish creating that garbage....

      Who knows i could be jumping the gun on this one......

    • lilly_dens profile image

      lilly_dens 

      8 years ago

      The paranormal activity did really got me jumping out of my seat :D

    • profile image

      jayson burns 

      8 years ago

      u guys ever heard of head case? its sort of like the ones u mentioned above. an old married couple decides to film themselves killing a bunch of people. its really creepy and weird.

    • profile image

      eddie 

      8 years ago

      last broadcast was great

    • yeah yeah profile image

      yeah yeah 

      9 years ago from long beach

      hey man that hub was "hubbin" sweet. that video about ufo abduction, i remember seeing that on channel 13 as a young lad. but about that movie "paranormal activity" ......ah.......hmmmmm.... "WORST.....MOVIE...EVERRRR" -comic book guy. but I did like your hub a lot!

      -yeah yeah

    • sukhera143 profile image

      sukhera143 

      9 years ago from Home

      Informative.

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