Found footage films don’t exclusively belong to the horror arena — some film historians even posit that the first found footage film was an experimental joint by Shirley Clarke about drug addicts, certainly its own kind of horror story — but the technique has become so prevalent within the genre that it’s almost impossible to extricate them from each other. Horror filmmakers have always been canny creators, using what’s available to craft all manner of scares and, in the three decades since “The Blair Witch Project” changed the game, what’s become more scary and more omnipresent than technology that can record every inch of the real world?
And that’s the great trick of found footage: sometimes, just sometimes, if the films are really good and the people behind them are really adept at getting into the gag, they can convince their audience it truly is the “real world” they’re watching on the big screen. From an ill-fated movie that “ended” in a haunted forest to a suburban couple lost forever to dark forces, found footage is at its arguable best when toeing the line between fantasy and reality, bending it until it disappears.
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Ahead, a dozen of the very best found footage movies ever made, from the standard-bearers like “Blair Witch” and “Cannibal Holocaust” to underseen low-budget wonders like “Lake Mungo” and “Willow Creek” to bonafide blockbusters like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield,” plus all sorts of chilling (and very, very “real”) treats in between.
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