The found footage subgenre has provided some of the finest horror movies in modern cinema – found footage, of course, being when all or a substantial part of the work is presented as if it was film or video recordings that had been discovered.
Some of the very best examples from the subgenre have found their way onto streaming services – and we’re going to take you through the best of them and show you exactly where you can find them.
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1. Cloverfield (2008)
Cloverfield was the first truly big-budget found footage movie, costing $25 million to make. It follows follow six young New York City residents whose farewell party is interrupted by the invasion of a gigantic monster of unknown origin, as well as other smaller creatures that fall from it.
It has a great cast that includes Lizzy Caplan, Mike Vogel and T.J. Miller – and it’s one of the most intense creature features you’re ever likely to watch. It’s a subversive take on the classic monster movie, but easily matches the likes of Godzilla or King Kong for thrills.
2. Willow Creek (2013)
Watch on: Amazon Prime
Willow Creek is a fantastic found footage movie based on the iconic North American legend of Bigfoot. It stars Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson as an otherwise happy couple who head into the woods of Willow Creek, California looking for material for their documentary on Bigfoot lore. What they find is a horrifying reality that the legend Bigfoot isn’t only real, there’s also more than one of them – and they aren’t particularly friendly (to say the least!).
There’s no new ground broken in this movie, but it offers a new take on the whole Bigfoot thing – and as well as being genuinely unsettling at some points, it’s also quite funny at times. The highlight is an eighteen-minute long scene inside a tent, in which the camera doesn’t turn off or move (which was filmed in one take, incidentally). It’s one of the most suspenseful and terrifying eighteen minutes you’ll ever experience in cinema.
3. Devil’s Pass (2013)
Watch on: Amazon Prime
Devil’s Pass – also know as The Dyatlov Pass Incident – is a horror movie about a group of students who go the location of the infamous Dyatlov Pass incident – an event in which nine Russian hikers died in the northern Ural Mountains between the 1st and 2nd of February in 1959, in uncertain circumstances – to make a documentary. Things take a turn for the worse as the horrific (fictionalized) secret of what really happened there is revealed.
Although the explanation for the incident is extremely outlandish, the movie is shrewdly made and the special effects are decent. On the whole, it’s a highly enjoyable horror that you should definitely watch.
4. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Cannibal Holocaust is an iconic and highly controversial found footage movie. It achieved notoriety due to its graphic violence. In fact, after its premiere in Italy, it was ordered to be seized by a local magistrate, and Deodato was arrested on obscenity charges – it turned out some animals were actually killed during filming (although no humans were, as originally feared).
The movie stars Robert Kerman as Harold Monroe, an anthropologist from New York University who leads a rescue team into the Amazon rainforest in order to find a crew of filmmakers who had gone missing while filming a documentary on local cannibal tribes – with horrific consequences.
This is a must-see movie for horror fans. Above all else, it’s a serious and well-made social commentary on the then-modern world. The fact that the horror was so believable in 1980 – to the point that it fooled some very senior people in the legal world – is testament to its special effects and how well produced it was.
5. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Paranormal Activity is arguably the most well-known found footage movie this side of the millennium. It was shot on a budget of just $15,000 and ended up making $193.4 million at the global box office, making it one of the most profitable movies in horror history.
The movie focuses on a young couple who are being haunted by a supernatural presence in their home. The haunting prompts them to set up a camera in order to document what is haunting them – and the results are rather terrifying.
You don’t really get to see much in terms of ghosts or spirits in Paranormal Activity, but that’s part of what makes it so good. It’s a very simple movie that’s absolute teeming with suspense, even when absolutely nothing is happening. It’s spawned no less than six prequels and sequels – and while we won’t list them all, you can find them online (although none of them are as good as the original).
6. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
One of the most disturbing horror movies ever made, period. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a little different to the other entries on this list. It’s about the murders of a serial killer in Poughkeepsie, New York, but it’s told through both interviews (in documentary style) and footage from an enormous cache of the killer’s snuff films.
Some of the scenes in this movie are horrific. One such example sees the killer kidnapping a couple and taking them both, unconscious, to his basement. When he wakes the woman up, he reveals he’s performed a sort of reverse C-section on her – except the thing he’s put inside her womb isn’t a baby, it’s her partner’s severed head.
It’s a tense movie that is creepy, unnerving and brutal in equal measure. It’s certainly not one for any viewers with a weak stomach. It does, however, fulfil the desires of two different sets of fans; those who love gory horror movies and those who love true crime (although, it really should be stressed this movie isn’t true crime, it’s just presented as though it is – and it does so in a very believable way).
7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Probably the most famous found footage movie ever made, The Blair Witch Project had a lot of people fooled when it was released – in much the same way as the aforementioned Cannibal Holocaust. The movie had a viral marketing campaign that had much of the world convinced it really was found footage.
It follows three student filmmakers – Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard – as they hike into the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland, to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. They disappear, but their equipment and footage are found a year later.
Although no evil entities are ever shown on screen, this movie is absolutely full to the brim with suspense and terror. Thanks to its use of sound and, in particular, the dark, it had people closing their eyes in movie theatres around the world. It spawned sequels that you’ll also find online, but they don’t come close to this.
8. The Last Broadcast (1998)
Watch on: Amazon Prime
Back in 1999, a lot of people thought the aforementioned The Blair Witch Project was a new idea, but this actually came out a year sooner.
The movie tells the story of a man who was convicted of murdering several of his team one night in 1995, during an expedition to find the mythical Jersey Devil in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
It’s believed to be the first feature-length film shot and edited entirely on consumer-level digital equipment – and it only cost around $900 to make (which makes its $4 million+ worldwide gross rather impressive). It’s arguably the weakest movie on this list in terms of its quality, but it’s still watchable and comes with a fair amount of suspense – and it has an unexpected twist at the end that’s definitely worth waiting for.