Cannibal Holocaust was just the beginning.

Found footage horror movies are usually a hit or miss.  The trend started with the controversial 198o flick “Cannibal Holocaust,” directed by Ruggero Deodato.  The movie was so gruesome and violent that it was reportedly banned in fifty countries.  Ten days after the film premiered in Italy, Deodato was arrested on charges of obscenity and murder.  Deodato didn’t actually kill anyone– he instructed his actors to disappear for a year after filming to maintain the illusion that audience members witnessed their deaths.  Because of all the graphic and realistic violence, law officials and film buffs were convinced that Deodato produced a snuff film rather than a narrative.  Obviously this wasn’t the case.  Seven animals were slaughtered, but the actors were out of harm’s way.

After “Cannibal Holocaust,” a new breed of horror was born.  Because of movies like “Cloverfield” and “Paranormal Activity,” found footage films are now more popular than ever.  Here’s a list of the top five that is available for your viewing pleasure.

1)  V/H/S and V/H/S 2

If you ignore the overarching narrative of these movies and just focus on the found footage, these films are pretty good.  The videos in the movie vary greatly in terms of theme, plot, structure, and level of supernatural presence.  While one segment deals with aliens using earthling hosts to incubate their young, another follows a biker who straps a GoPro to his head and is bitten by, and turns into, a zombie.  While, admittedly, a few segments aren’t as well done as the others, these movies kill it in terms of found footage.

2)  The Last Exorcism

A disillusioned Evangelical preacher allows a documentary crew to follow him as he travels to an isolated farm to perform an exorcism– the last one he will ever do.  Early footage shows the tricks the preacher does to make it seem as if he is expelling demonic forces out of a girl’s body.  The girl and her family seem to be satisfied with the placebo effect the phony exorcism provides.  But only for a while.  It seems that there is something more sinister happening.

3) The Blair Witch Project

Arguably the mother of popular found footage.  This film relies on psychological terror and emotional distress rather than jump scares and gory murders to scare the viewer.  The movie follows three student filmmakers hiking through the woods to make a documentary about the legendary “Blair Witch”.  They get some interviews with locals, visit some haunted sites, and finally get hopelessly lost in the woods.  They’re convinced that someone, or something, is following them. The scariest part about this movie is the lack of visual cues and scares.  The characters don’t know what’s going on and neither do we.

4)  The Taking of Deborah Logan

Another “student film”.  A college senior, Mia, decides that, for her thesis, she will make a film about a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s.  Mia films interviews with the Alzheimer’s patient, the titular Deborah Logan, and her adult daughter, Sarah, who has moved in to take care of her.  In the course of the filming, Deborah’s condition rapidly deteriorates.  Suddenly, Mia and Sarah aren’t so sure if Deborah is being taken by Alzheimer’s or by something else entirely.

5)  Paranormal Activity 1-3

The original trilogy of the Paranormal Activity franchise is about two sisters who have been haunted by the same entity since they were children.  It scared them when they were kids, and now it’s back and fucking up their lives as adults. While the movies rely heavily on jump scares, slamming doors, and flickering lights, they stand up to the only important test of a decent horror film: Were you scared? Yes? Good.

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