Released in 1999, “The Blair Witch Project” stunned audiences worldwide with its intensely creepy story, viral marketing mystique and found footage film approach. It soon went on to become one of the most successful movies of all-time, and helped reinvigorate a low-budget documentary style of horror movie-making that’s since permeated the genre for almost two decades. Unfortunately, “The Blair Witch Project” made the shtick seem easy — probably too easy. In the years after the cult classic’s debut, a slue of imitators have cashed in on found footage horror, some more successfully than others. What’s more, even before the tale of a menacing ghost in the Maryland woods terrified moviegoers in 1999, people were trying their hand at faux-realism in the genre, often failing miserably in the process.
The surprise direct sequel to the low-budget spookfest, simply titled “Blair Witch,” is now in theaters, and to celebrate, we’ve taken a look back at examples of the worst of the worst in found footage horror. Ranked chronologically for simplicity’s sake, the entries made it on the list for poor delivery, easy thrills, pointless existence or some combination thereof. Sit back, pop a Dramamine, and peruse this list of genre duds to appreciate just what “The Blair Witch Project” did so well.
10. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Decades before audiences actually debated whether or not “The Blair Witch Project” was real or phony, Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust” stunned viewers with its sleazy, gore-soaked exploitation flick about a group of hapless documentarians falling prey to an Amazonian tribe of — surprise — cannibals. The movie itself was banned in multiple countries for its gratuitous use of violence, sexual abuse and real animal cruelty, eventually resulting in Deodato himself actually having to appear in Italian court to prove that he didn’t really kill his lead actors. With buzz like that surrounding a movie, horror aficionados might be interested in checking this one off their lists, and they’re more than welcome to try. But “Cannibal Holocaust” is about as subtle or watchable as the name implies. It’s poorly shot, unnecessarily brutal, pitifully acted — and pretty racist, to boot. Its one redeeming factor is perhaps proving that “The Blair Witch Project” wasn’t solely responsible for the other films on this list.
9. Diary of the Dead (2007)
Horror auteur George Romero forever changed the game in 1968 with his unequivocal classic, “Night of the Living Dead,” a film which launched the zombie horror craze that permeates pop culture to this day. It was a surprisingly nasty little movie, especially for the time it was released, and also managed to thread in a scathing critique of American racism. Flash forward to 2007’s “Diary of the Dead,” and all the bite — pun unintended — is gone from Romero’s work. The film is one of his latter-day sins, and a pretty transparent attempt to cash in on the found footage subgenre while doing nothing to expand the universe he first created. Never mind that continuity has gone out the window — the zombies first show up in the late sixties, but the outbreak now happens when handheld cameras are a thing? — but the film is perhaps the first on the list that begs the question, “Why are you still filming?” Too bad it won’t be the last time audiences will have to ask that.
8. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
In the same vein as slasher faux-portrayals like “Henry: Portrait of Serial Killer,” “Behind the Mask” and the lesser-known “August Underground” series, “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” is an indie docu-horror film purported to center on an extensive series of videos made by a creepy, masked psychopath. Probably the most memorable thing to come of the movie is a series of creepypasta GIFs that have since circulated places like Reddit and 4chan. Like “Cannibal Holocaust,” it relies primarily on hyper-sexualized violence, torture, and flat characterization. There is definitely some genuinely spooky imagery throughout the movie, and the storyline is effectively upsetting, but overall it relies too heavily on easy scares and gross-out moments to justify its existence. Distributors seemed to agree, too. Filming was completed back in 2007, but never received an actual theatrical run nationwide, and didn’t get a widespread VOD release until only a couple years ago. At least the serial killer managed to set his cameras on tripods, so “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” keeps from being as frustratingly dizzying as other found footage duds.
7. The Last Exorcism (2010)
“The Last Exorcism” is probably one of the more technically proficient entries on the list, as well as one possessing — again, pun unintended — one of the more creative premises, but it still runs up to the classic “why are they still filming?” problem plaguing most found footage movies. Following a disillusioned reverend while he performs his final exorcism in hopes of exposing what he’s come to believe is the fraud of faith, he stumbles upon a real demon plaguing a young woman. Again, while the film is by no means as awful other entries, it largely draws too much from older satanic horror titles, namely “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist,” while still relying on shaky-cam to nauseating effect. It’s much maligned sequel, “The Last Exorcism: Part Two,” is easily a worse film, but unfortunately for this list, filmmakers learned at least one thing from the first outing and ditched the found footage style. Props for them for also attempting to explain away the stupidity of making a sequel to what was promised as the “last” exorcism…
6. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
If there’s one found footage horror flick that gave “The Blair Witch Project” a run for its money both at the box office and through the Internet grapevine, it was “Paranormal Activity.” The haunted house tale, while not perfect, featured some genuine thrills and what’s already become pretty iconic genre imagery that would be imitated and spoofed in the years to come (just wait for later entries on the list). Given its massive success, a sequel was all but assured, although you probably could predict the franchise that was soon to come. Like the “Saw” series, audiences began seeing “Paranormal Activity” movies on an annual basis, most of which retread the same tired formulas and jump scares. All that started with the first sequel, which introduced cliched ways to invest viewers in the story — Not the dog! Not the baby! — while also unnecessarily expanding the lore of the original. What makes the first effective up to a point is the mystery surrounding the demon and its motives. Revealing too much, as “Paranormal Activity 2” began to do, not only results in muddied films, but cheapens the original, as well.
5. Apollo 18 (2011)
Again, another not-so-bad premise gets hopelessly marred by lazy storytelling, far too few scares, and shoddy camerawork. “Apollo 18” tells the story of a top secret NASA mission that goes awry after astronauts encounter some pesky aliens hanging out on the dark side of the moon. Apart from anything else, the movie is just not frightening in the slightest. There are some lame jump scares every so often, but for the most part, “Apollo 18” is a dizzying slog to get through, especially when you essentially know how the film will end up. It’s no spoiler: How do you think it’s gonna turn out for the characters when you already know the story concerns a nefarious government alien cover-up? Throw in questionable acting, even more questionable CGI, and the filmmakers’ hope that you’ll be scared of sentient moon rock bugs, and you’ve got yourself another entry on our trek down found footage memory lane.
4. The Devil Inside (2012)
Sure, pre-screenings for 2012’s “The Devil Inside” were withheld from critics, probably because the production company suspected it would be universally panned — it was — and sure, it opened number one at the box office only to fall off the radar nearly immediately thereafter, but that’s not the point of this entry. The point is, for about $1 million dollars you can throw together a slapdash horror movie using cheap cameras and cheaper actors, only to have the film go one to gross $101.8 million at the box office. And that’s what you get with “The Devil Inside,” a docu-horror story chronicling one woman’s attempt to delve into a history of demonic possession in her family before it’s too late for blah blah blah, you’ve heard it all before. Perhaps the biggest sin — get it? — that “The Devil Inside” commits is its abrupt, weak, and borderline insulting finale. Without getting into spoiler territory, the movie feels like it ends right before the finale takes place, and leaves the audience with a website they can visit “for more information on the ongoing investigation.” The website is now defunct, which further drives home the point. Most of these movies aren’t made to tell a story, they’re made to make a boatload of cash. Alas, “The Devil Inside” was successful on both these fronts.
3. A Haunted House (2013)
If anything, perhaps the biggest shock in “A Haunted House” is that a major studio didn’t push a spoof of the genre earlier. Parody movies can be enjoyable — see “Airplane” and “Young Frankenstein” — but this one is particularly unfunny. A late-entry Wayans Bros.’ production, “A Haunted House” crams in every horror movie reference it can next to C-list celebrity and comedian cameos, and somehow manages to be blander and more borderline offensive than its creators’ previous “Scary Movie” franchise. If there’s a silver lining to “A Haunted House,” it’s that at least other filmmakers out there apparently know and understand that found footage movies are a dime a dozen these days, and therefore are easy to make fun of. But that’s not exactly enough of a cause to go out and make one yourself. What’s more, it’s definitely not a reason to go out and make a sequel, which is what happened with “A Haunted House 2.” But let’s not even touch that one, shall we?
2. V/H/S: Viral (2014)
The first two entries in the “V/H/S” anthology horror series were extremely hit or miss, but they both contained at least a couple decent shorts from contributors. The third film, “V/H/S: Viral,” on the other hand, arguably lacks a single laudable story. The first, for instance, concerns a magician’s demonic cloak that eats people to generate its power. Things only go downhill from there, and while the wraparound story that anchors the standalone shorts leaves the door wide open for yet another “V/H/S” entry, hopefully the lack of audience and critical enthusiasm will keep it from happening. But, much like the bad but inevitable jump scare that ends a disappointing horror movie, we get the feeling another sequel will pop out at us right when we least expect it.
1. Area 51 (2015)
The most recent entry on the list comes from someone who apparently didn’t appear to learn from their previous mistakes. 2015’s “Area 51” was written and directed by Oren Peli, the man co-responsible for the “Paranormal Activity” franchise. Unlike his breakout found footage movie, however, his most recent project was restricted to a minuscule theater and VOD release, and didn’t so much breathe new life in to the genre as it did barely whisper its own existence. “Area 51” concerns a group of youngsters managing to sneak into the highly secretive and conspiracy-shrouded military base, only to subsequently find out that — dun dun dunnnn — the stories are all true. Dizzying POV camera chases ensue, aliens are uncovered, and, well, not much else. The film alludes to some larger mysteries that are frustratingly either never explained, or forgotten completely. Like a lot of the previously mentioned movies, it ends too early, probably because a satisfying conclusion couldn’t be thought up quick enough.
To find out if “Blair Witch” should be added to the list, you can now check it out in theaters.
- Ad Free Browsing
- Over 10,000 Videos!
- All in 1 Access
- Join For Free!