Found footage is a difficult subgenre to pull off. But when done right, it can be the most effective subgenre of horror. While films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity blew up and spawned franchises, there are several other lesser-known found footage movies begging to be seen.
From forays into the minds of serial killers to otherworldly encounters, these seven found-footage films represent indie horror that is just as effective as big-budget fare.
Written and directed by Robbie Banfitch, The Outwaters is an overlooked found footage masterpiece. One of the only films in the subgenre to showcase a raw depiction of hell, The Outwaters is a visceral experience that shows the audience something they truly haven’t seen before. The film, which was released theatrically this February, follows a group of friends who travel into the desert to film a music video and encounter an unspeakable, cosmic nightmare.
The Outwaters showcases some pretty horrific sequences, but the film also has an esoteric beauty. This is especially true in sequences when the film’s lead, also played by Banfitch, falls into an existential hole, literally. The last half of the film is absolutely horrifying, depicting hideous screeching creatures, mutilation, and a shocking reveal showcasing heads on sticks.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes
The Poughkeepsie Tapes was originally set to be released in theaters by MGM in February 2008, but the film was pulled and not available to view until 2017. Many people speculated that the film was pulled from release because it contained snuff footage, or because it was too scary for the general public. While none of this was true, the movie is still one of the most shocking found footage flicks ever made.
Written and directed by John Erick Dowdle, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a pseudo-documentary where the homemade videos of a serial killer in upstate New York are thoroughly examined. One of the most terrifying scenes in the film is when the killer crawls toward a crying victim, a crawl reminiscent of Reagan’s spiderwalk in The Exorcist. Another harrowing scene is the sudden attack of a child seen through the killer’s point of view.
Released in 2013, The Den is a found-footage horror flick that taps into a very real fear involving the internet. The film follows Liz (Melanie Papalia), a young woman studying webcam users. When Liz witnesses a murder on a webcam, her entire world shatters around her.
Shown entirely through Liz’s laptop, the film showcases the main character being stalked through the internet, and it is a unique and genuinely frightening ride. One of the most memorable aspects of this film is its final scene, in which the film breaks the found footage format.
Random Acts of Violence
Not to be confused with Shudder’s 2019 film of the same name, 2012’s Random Acts of Violence is an underseen comedy horror film that plays out like a murderous video diary. Paying homage to the Belgian classic Man Bites Dog, Random Acts of Violence follows a man named Malcolm who hires a film crew to capture a killing spree he embarks on in NYC in order to drive down real estate, among other inane reasons.
Written, directed by, and starring Ashley Cahill, Random Acts of Violence is super low-budget and endlessly entertaining. The film critiques life in NYC, while still delivering a brutal horror flick.
Hell House LLC
Although the film spawned multiple sequels, including a prequel coming out this month, Hell House LLC is not as well-known as a franchise like Paranormal Activity. Despite being a bit lesser-known, Hell House LLC is frequently named as one of the scariest found footage films of all time by those who have seen it.
The 2015 film follows the events leading up to the fatal opening night of a haunted house attraction. Although the audience knows about the horror that occurred at the attraction since the start of the film, it is unclear what trapped and killed the guests for most of the movie, which makes it all the more frightening. Also, the clown figures are pure nightmare fuel.
Grave Encounters is another film that may have a bit of a cult following, but is not seen nearly enough. Released in 2011 and written and directed by The Vicious Brothers, Grave Encounters concerns a group of TV ghost hunters who get way more than they bargained for when staying the night at an abandoned asylum.
While Grave Encounters begins with a bit of a comedic vibe, the film is actually quite frightening. Throughout the flick, the doors of the asylum disappear and time starts to stop. One of the most frightening scenes of the film is when dozens of arms come out of the ceiling, grabbing at the would-be ghost hunters.
Originally released theatrically as part of After Dark Horrorfest in 2010, Lake Mungo is a film that has held up over the years and gained cult status. The only feature film written and directed by Joel Anderson, Lake Mungo is a mockumentary that follows a family dealing with the devastating loss of their daughter, Alice, who drowned in a dam.
The film’s script plays with multiple angles, such as Alice’s ghost, and a potential murderer, but the scariest part of this film is most likely its ending. At the end of the film, footage is shown of Alice encountering a ghostly apparition of her own corpse at Lake Mungo during a school trip, indicating that Alice was presented with a premonition of her own death before it happened.