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