Though "The Blair Witch Project" didn't invent the found footage horror genre (that is often attributed to "Cannibal Holocaust") it helped popularize it and became the predecessor for some of the most popular fright flicks of the 21st Century. With the trend coming full circle with "Blair Witch," let's look back at some of the most notable films to use this grainy style.
"The Blair Witch Project" (1999): Filmed on a budget of $60K, "The Blair Witch Project" grossed nearly $250M worldwide. Today it still has one of the highest return on investment ratios in box office history, though it has been eclipsed by a film it influenced, which we'll get to soon.
"The Black Door" (2001): Following the release of "Blair Witch," the indie horror scene saw the arrival of several films that also worked a camera into its story. Here, a camera crew is brought in to document the investigation of a man who has been been infected with an occult curse.
"The Collingswood Story" (2002): Instead of camcorders, this film is told entirely through dial-up webcams as a long-distance couple uncovers a satanic cult that threatens their lives. Though it got poor reviews, it became a cult hit among hardcore horror buffs and attained popularity purely through word-of-mouth.
"The Last Horror Movie" (2003): This found footage spin on "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" shows the videos made by a British wedding photographer who moonlights as a sadistic murderer. The film itself is presented as a snuff tape the killer left at a video rental store so he could stalk and kill whoever rents it.
"Zero Day" (2003): While not strictly a horror movie, Ben Coccio's found footage take on the creation of a school shooting is still horrifying to watch. "Zero Day" shows two teens going about their lives while planning and executing a school shooting in which they kill 12 of their classmates.
"Noroi (The Curse)" (2005): One of the most critically-acclaimed found footage films of the 2000s, this Japanese horror film shows the footage of a paranormal documentarian who disappeared while working on a film about a violent demon called Kagutaba. The film earned praise for building a plot more complex than its J-Horror contemporaries.
"Paranormal Activity" (2007): In a watershed year for found footage, this was the crown jewel. The tale of a married couple who sets up cameras to monitor paranormal activity in their home grossed $193M worldwide on a $15K budget, passing "Blair Witch Project" for the ROI record and spawning a franchise that has released five sequels.
"[REC]" (2007):While not as financially successful as "Paranormal Activity," this Spanish film received just as much critical praise after it was screened out of competition at Venice. The footage for this film comes from a reporter and her cameraman who stumble upon a zombie outbreak in Barcelona while working on a story.
"Diary of the Dead" (2007): Even horror legend George A. Romero got in on the found footage craze, using it for an installment in his famous zombie series.
"Exhibit A" (2007): Sometimes found footage doesn't need demons or zombies to be horrifying. This British indie film starts by telling us that the footage we are about to see is evidence in a murder case before showing a father slowly lose his mind thanks to unbearable financial pressure. It's a pressure cooker of a film with an ending that's brutal in a far different way.
Along with "Paranormal" and "Project," J.J. Abrams
' "Cloverfield" completes the Triple Crown of found footage. Unlike those two films, though, Abrams gives us found footage on a bigger budget, showing a monster attack on New York through the camera footage of a couple caught in the crossfire. "Cloverfield" polarized critics when it was released, particularly due to its' allusions to 9/11.
"Quarantine" (2008): The found footage boom of '07 triggered an even bigger wave of popularity for the genre. One of the more notable results of this boom was "Quarantine," an American remake of "[REC]."
"Trollhunter" (2010): The next big foreign contribution to found footage came from Norwegian director André Øvredal. The film starts similarly to "Blair Witch Project," with a group of college students whose documentary project lands them in hot water, but unlike "Blair Witch," we get an explanation for what's going on.
"Grave Encounters" (2011): A cult favorite that takes a bite out of paranormal reality shows like "Ghost Hunters" by presenting what might happen if the cast and crew of one of those shows actually encountered a life-threatening situation in one of those haunted houses.
"V/H/S" (2012): Found footage had become so ubiquitous by 2012 that it finally got the anthology treatment. In this series of short films, a team of robbers is tasked to find a single tape from an old house. When they arrive, they find dozens of tapes, a small number of which become the other found footage short films featured in "V/H/S"
"Missing In The Mansion" (2012):
But just because a genre is ubiquitous doesn't mean it can't get a new spin. Take this viral internet short film
, which was filmed entirely on Disneyland's Haunted Mansion Ride
"Unfriended" (2014): While "The Collingswood Story" was made at a time before YouTube made webcams popular, "Unfriended" caught the wave of social media and concern over cyberbullying and wove it into a story told entirely from a computer screen.
"Blair Witch" (2016):And now we've come full circle with modern found footage with a sequel of the film that proved its popularity. The brother of the college student who went off to find the Blair Witch in the first film heads off with a new team into the forest where the infamous footage was found. Cue an encore performance of mysterious disappearances, stick figures, and traveling in circles.