The 40 Best Found Footage Horror Movies

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The 40 Best Found Footage Horror Movies

Horror movies made us jump for decades thanks to their calculated constructions. Creepy sets and props, outrageous kills, gruesome makeup, and camera moves perfectly designed to deny us just enough—horror owes more to its consistent visual language than perhaps any other genre. But a relatively modern subgenre innovation, the found footage horror film, seemingly throws all that out the window. An unstable camera, hyper-realistic performances that feel intentionally non-professional, the blurring of fiction and truth through framing devices—found footage has defining markers of its own, but it’s a truly distinct and diverse subgenre that’s got so much more to offer than Paranormal Activity (and even that movie is unfairly maligned).

As found footage has evolved alongside technology, either through freaking out a new generation on TikTok or by updating its methods of being “found” for the digital era, the subgenre has proved itself one of the most flexible and welcoming to filmmakers looking to play around with form and to scare the bejesus out of us. We at Paste enjoy horror of all flavors, so our ranking of the best found footage horror films include movies both from our ranking of the best 100 horror movies of all time, and our examination of 100 years of horror movies. But also expect to find hidden gems of the subgenre, underappreciated franchise entries and plenty of films that will leave you wondering if what you saw was true.

Here are the 40 best found footage horror movies:

1. Creep

Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Brice

Creep is a somewhat predictable but cheerfully demented little indie horror film, the directorial debut by Brice, who also released this year’s The Overnight. Starring the ever-prolific Mark Duplass, it’s a character study of two men—naive videographer and not-so-secretly psychotic recluse, the latter of which hires the former to come document his life out in a cabin in the woods. It leans entirely on its performances, which are excellent. Duplass, who can be charming and kooky in something like Safety Not Guaranteed, shines here as the deranged lunatic who forces himself into the protagonist’s life and haunts his every waking moment. The early moments of back-and-forth between the pair crackle with a sort of awkward intensity. Anyone genre-savvy will no doubt see where it’s going, but it’s a well-crafted ride that succeeds on the strength of chemistry between its two principal leads in a way that reminds me of the scenes between Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina. —Jim Vorel


2. Lake Mungo

Year: 2008
Director: Joel Anderson

Lake Mungo could scarcely be more different from something like Grave Encounters—there are no ghosts or demons chasing screaming people down the hall, and it’s chiefly a story about family, emotion and our desire to seek closure after death. You could call it a member of the “mumblegore” family, without the gore. It centers around a family that has been shattered by a daughter’s drowning, and the family’s subsequent entanglement in what may or may not be a haunting, and the mother’s desire to determine what kind of life her daughter had been living. Powerfully acted and subtly shot, it’s a tense (if grainy) family drama with hints of the supernatural drifting around the fraying edges of their sanity. If there’s such a thing as “horror drama,” this documentary-style film deserves the title. —Jim Vorel

3. The Blair Witch Project

Year: 1999
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick

Where Scream reinvented a genre by pulling the shades back to reveal the inner workings of horror, The Blair Witch Project went the opposite route by crafting a new style of presentation and especially promotion. Sure, people had already been doing found footage movies; just look at The Last Broadcast a year earlier. But this was the first to get a wide, theatrical release, and distributor Artisan Entertainment masterfully capitalized on the lack of information available on the film to execute a mysterious online advertising campaign in the blossoming days of the Internet age. Otherwise reasonable human beings seriously went into The Blair Witch Project believing that what they were seeing might be real, and the grainy, home movie aesthetic captured an innate terror of reality and “real people” that had not been seen in the horror genre before. It was also proof positive that a well-executed micro-budget indie film could become a massive box office success. So in that sense, The Blair Witch Project reinvented two different genres at the same time. —Jim Vorel


4. Paranormal Activity

Year: 2007
Director: Oren Peli

Here’s a statement: Paranormal Activity is the most wrongly derided horror film of the last decade, especially by horror buffs. That’s what happens in the wake of massive overnight success, and immediately derivative, inferior sequels: The original gets dragged down by its progeny. The original Paranormal Activity is a masterful piece of budget filmmaking. For $15,000, Oren Peli made what is probably the most effective “for the price” horror movie ever released, surpassing The Blair Witch in terms of both tension and narrative while pulling off incredibly unnerving minimalist effects. Yes, there are some stupid, “I’m in a horror movie” choices by the characters, and yes, Micah Sloat’s “get out here so I can punch you, demon!” attitude is irritating, but it’s calculated to be that way. Sloat is a reflection of the toxic “man of the house” attitude, a guy who would rather be terrorized than accept outside help. Meanwhile, Katie Featherston’s realistic performance as a young woman slowly unraveling is a thing of beauty. But beyond performances, or effects, Paranormal Activity is a brilliant case study in slowly building tension, and in raising an audience’s blood pressure. I know: I saw this film in theaters when it was still in limited release, and I can honestly say I’ve never been in a movie theater audience that was more terrified. How could I tell? Because they were so loud in the moments of calm before each scare (the most dead giveaway of all: when a young man turns to his friends to assure them how not-nervous he is). This was just such an event—there were actually ushers standing at the entrance ramps throughout the entire film, just watching the audience watch the movie. I’ve yet to ever see that happen again. Deride all you want, but the arrival of Paranormal Activity scared the hell out of us. —Jim Vorel

5. Hell House LLC

Year: 2015
Director: Stephen Cognetti

This is just about as lean and minimalist a concept as you can choose for a modern found footage horror movie, but Hell House LLC is much more a practice in execution than imaginative settings. It’s the documentary-style story of a haunted house crew that picks a decidedly wrong location for their attraction, and boom—they all wind up dead. Very standard set-up for a “no one gets out alive” entry in the found footage genre, but Hell House LLC actually does have some inspiring scares and performances. It gets a whole lot out of very small set-ups and deliveries, such as the shifting positioning of props and the life-size (and appropriately horrifying) clown costumes, shooting scenes in what looks very much like “real time,” with no cuts. There’s a naturalistic air to the actors’ sense of frustration and unease as weird events start to mount, but of course it all goes quite off the deep end and into unintentional humor in the closing moments. Still, there are many islands of genuine, blood pressure-raising fear in this well-executed film. Certainly, it’s better than most found footage efforts in the post-Paranormal Activity landscape. —Jim Vorel


6. REC

Year: 2007
Director: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

2007 was a breakthrough year for post-Blair Witch found footage horror, including the first Paranormal Activity and Romero’s own Diary of the Dead, but it wasn’t only in the U.S. that people were effectively employing that technique. The best of all the found footage zombie films is still probably REC, another film on this list that exhibits some playfulness in redetermining exactly what a “zombie” is or isn’t. The Spanish film follows a news crew as they sneak inside a quarantined building that is experiencing the breakout of what essentially appears to be a zombie plague. The fast-moving infected resemble those of 28 Days Later and are later revealed to be demonically possessed in a way that moves through bites, ably blending traditional zombie lore and religious mysticism. It’s a capable, professional-feeling film for its low budget, and there are some excellently choreographed scenes of zombie mayhem that feel all the more claustrophobic for being filmed in a limited, first-person viewpoint. Zombie horror seems to go hand-in-hand with the found footage approach more naturally than some other horror genres—perhaps it’s the fact that in the digital age, we’d all be compelled to document any such outbreak on our phones or other devices? Regardless, it’s not nearly so forced as some entries in this particular horror subgenre, and gives an excellent sense of what it might be like if you were just an average person locked in a huge apartment building filled with zombies. —Jim Vorel

7. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum

Year: 2018
Director: Jung Bum-shik

With the rise of social media and other technological advancements came a revitalization of found footage horror, with Gonjian: Haunted Asylum taking a unique approach for a new age. The film follows a horror YouTuber who, upon learning of the disappearance of two amateur ghost hunters after they visited an abandoned psychiatric hospital, pays the facility a visit and livestreams it. Much like some of the other films in the genre, the fake scares planted by channel owner Ha-Joon are no match for the real horror within the hospital’s walls as it consumes each member of his crew. The film does its best to address found footage gripes, by explaining professional camerawork through the characters’ backgrounds as well as utilizing an impressive arsenal of equipment ranging from drones to night vision cameras. Each hospital room becomes more familiar with each scene until it becomes etched into your brain, and as the real threat of these entities becomes clear, it is easy to pinpoint each character’s growing disgust with the voyeuristic premise as they start to wonder what is and isn’t staged. At Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum’s heart is a lesson about greed which definitely welcomes multiple eye rolls, but it is nonetheless an ambitious and effective entry into the genre that balances its self-awareness with genuine fear.—Jade Gomez


8. One Cut of the Dead

Year: 2017
Director: Shin’ichirô Ueda

Director Shin’ichirô Ueda’s exceedingly clever backstage zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead has been dazzling Japanese genre fans in limited release ever since 2017, but it took a few years for the rest of the world to become aware of what a completely charming film we had been missing. The only thing that holds this particular entry back on a list of the “best zombie movies” is the fact that its zombies ultimately aren’t “real”—they’re actors attempting to produce a single-take, 30-minute long, live broadcast of a zombie short film, something the audience only realizes after the first third of the film has passed. It’s the rare case, though, of a story that gets exponentially funnier and more satisfying as it goes on, as it’s impossible not to get swept up in the shoestring, DIY spirit of the crew as they overcome a series of potential catastrophes behind the scenes of the 30-minute uninterrupted short film we’ve already witnessed. Everything that seemed odd or stilted about the short upon first inspection becomes a major source of humor in the backstage segments, building to a conclusion in which the sense of joy in having somehow achieved the impossible feels entirely earned. It may not be a “zombie movie” in the most literal sense of the words, but One Cut of the Dead poignantly captures the creative spirit and adaptability displayed by low-budget filmmakers like George Romero when they were birthing the genre in the U.S. —Jim Vorel

9. Host

Year: 2020
Director: Rob Savage

At a mere 56 minutes long, it wouldn’t be hard to make a case for Host as an extended short film rather than a legitimate feature, but the fact that horror fans didn’t seem to feel compelled to be sticklers about this—pretty damn rare, considering this particular arena of geekdom—speaks to the fact that filmmaker Rob Savage’s pandemic-era horror film was received very warmly by we shut-ins jonesing for a good scare in the middle of a lost summer. Host will forever be recognized as a time capsule of our struggles to adapt to the social isolation of COVID-19, being accomplished exclusively via the exact sort of error-tinged Zoom calls we’ve all become very familiar with, almost a year since the pandemic began. On a basic level, the film is an impressive technical accomplishment, having been executed by a director who was never once in the same room as any of his performers, and featuring some nifty DIY effects that presumably had to be rigged in some instances by the performers themselves. But Host is also just a tense, exciting supernatural thriller that cuts straight through the treacle and brings Conjuring-like bumps in the night into the age of complete digital dependence. When it comes to thematic relevance, it’s perhaps 2020’s tightest hour of no-frills, no-fuss frights. —Jim Vorel


10. Noroi: The Curse

Year: 2005
Director: Koji Shiraishi

Over fifteen years have passed since the release of Noroi: The Curse, and admittedly some of it did not age well due to the nature of found footage recycling certain tropes. However, the film is still a landmark release in the realm of both Japanese horror and found footage as a whole. Entangled within the film is a complicated web of curses and demons that need a rewatch and a notebook to keep track of, but the film’s effectiveness lies within its dull moments that craft its underlying dread. It relies less on conventional scares, although the few that occur truly stick into the brain. The film’s main character, paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki), finds himself in the middle of the dark abyss that is a demon’s potent curse. It’s a complicated film, with a two-hour runtime and massive cast. The pathways that lead up to the film’s dramatic conclusion are at times convoluted and silly, but it is done with the precision and love of J-horror mastermind Koji Shiraishi and is one of the most captivating and ambitious films in the genre.—Jade Gomez

11. The Taking of Deborah Logan

Year: 2014
Director: Adam Robitel

This recent spin on the extremely crowded possession genre is the real definition of a mixed bag. Its initial premise is solid, as it follows a college film crew documenting the titular senior citizen, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease. What they don’t realize is that someone or something else may have been welcomed into Deborah’s mind as her mental faculties weaken. The film gets points for stylishness on a budget, and especially for the chilling, nuanced performance by Jill Larson as Deborah, but it’s eventually unable to sustain itself in the last third, becoming increasingly divorced from logic. There are moments of great, disturbing imagery, but that’s counterbalanced by characters who act incredibly irrationally—even for a horror film. It becomes more and more difficult to find reasons for any of the story being filmed at all, which leads to an ending that some might label a cop-out. But with that said, it’s still a far cry better than most entries in either the found footage or possession subgenres, with inherent style winning out over tight scripting. —Jim Vorel


12. Trollhunter

Year: 2010
Director: André Øvredal

There’s no denying that at its beginning, Trollhunter seems like another Blair Witch Project knock-off. The first 20 minutes show us a young camera crew investigating some unexplained bear deaths and a suspicious man who may be poaching them. But rather than drawing out the mystery, it takes a sharp turn and tells us matter-of-factly that of course it was trolls killing the bears, and not only that, here’s one of them ready to bonk you on the head. The titular Troll Hunter extraordinaire is played by the affable comedian Otto Jespersen, who brings the entire monster premise to an entirely different level through his nonchalant attitude. In every sense, Trollhunter lives up to its ridiculous name and premise, delivering both surprising humor and extremely effective CGI on a budget. —Sean Gandert

13. Unfriended

Year: 2015
Director: Levan Gabriadze

Playing out in real time and framed as a continuous shot, Unfriended’s novel formal experiment quickly establishes the self-appointed limitations of its approach. But that is actually one of the core strengths of the movie: The audience only ever sees Blaire’s (Shelly Hennig) computer. The camera focuses on her screen; we see what she sees. This includes her friends on their computers, and her in her own window as well. She flips back and forth between tabs and applications, talking with someone, IMing someone else, fielding Facebook messages, Googling answers to questions, checking her email. The open tabs at the top of the screen offer insight into the character: She’s shopping, doing research for school or watching the video of Laura’s death (as well as the video that pushed Laura over the edge). In a little bit of meta-commentary (or cross-marketing), one window is even open to the page for MTV’s Teen Wolf, a show in which Hennig appears. All of this admittedly sounds clunky, but director Levan Gabriadze makes it feel organic; there’s a logic and flow to Blaire’s actions online. Where Unfriended works best is in the build up, and as things gradually get creepier and creepier—Blaire and her online pals think there’s a glitch, then they think someone is playing a trick on them, then it becomes clear that there is something more sinister at work. The narrative peels back layers until the story is legitimately unsettling and uneasy: Something very familiar, but off just enough to seriously signal that not all is right with this world.—Brent McKnight


14. Deadstream

Year: 2022
Directors: Joseph Winter, Vanessa Winter

Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter, who co-wrote and directed with his wife, Vanessa Winter), a recently disgraced and subsequently demonetized YouTuber decides to livestream his greatest fear in order to win back his fanbase: He’ll spend the night alone in a haunted house. The livestream format, in addition to solving the plausibility problem, manages to simultaneously intensify the film’s scariness. Shawn brings with him all of the high-tech recording equipment that you’d expect a high-caliber internet personality to have: Multiple GoPros, a tablet where he can watch all of their streams and a laptop where he can watch his livestream, reading the comments as they pop up. Shawn’s status as an influencer and his hunger to get back into the upper echelons of internet stardom solves some of found footage’s main technical problems: How can you optimize the use of chilling footage without us wondering why it is so high quality and, perhaps more importantly, why the cameraman is still filming in the first place? The Winters don’t let any element of their beloved format go to waste. The comments on Shawn’s livestream are consistently laugh-out-loud funny. Deadstream’s cleverness extends to its storytelling too. The stakes are clear: If Shawn fails to spend the night surrounded by haunted spirits, his career won’t live to see another day. It helps that he is an easily likable character—once you get used to his hyper YouTube persona, that is. Shawn is a goofy scaredy-cat who screams at the top of his lungs every time the floorboards creak. It’s hard not to welcome a horror protagonist who is utterly terrified of the things that go bump in the night, and refuses to seek out bloodthirsty ghosts. —Aurora Amidon

15. V/H/S/2

Year: 2013
Directors: Adam Wingard, Gareth Evans, Simon Barrett, Timo Tjahjanto, Jason Eisener, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale

Your taste in the V/H/S series will likely depend on which entry has your personal favorite segment. At the very least, the second film contains what might be the single best segment in the entire series, Eduardo Sanchez’s “A Ride in the Park.” Without giving everything away: It involves bicyclists, zombies and helmet-mounted GoPro cameras, which help give us a perspective we’ve never really seen in horror while deftly avoiding the question of “Why would anyone be filming this?” There’s still some not-great segments—really the ideal V/H/S would be a compilation that takes only the best segments from each entry to create a really solid horror anthology. One has to wonder if Viral killed this series for good, or whether they’ll eventually act like it never happened and release a straight-up V/H/S/3 one of these days. —Jim Vorel


16. Cloverfield

Year: 2008
Director: Matt Reeves

When Matt Reeves dropped Cloverfield on unsuspecting multiplex audiences in 2008, it quickly became painfully clear that the average viewer wasn’t quite ready to absorb what he was dishing out. Today, the same film would no doubt arrive as a streaming original feature from the likes of Netflix or Amazon, where its genre-redefining camera perspective would be less of a risk. That Cloverfield hit theaters in wide release at all is actually something of a marvel, considering how profoundly different it was in a visual sense from anything that the majority of its viewers had ever seen before. The film is of course on some level a “monster movie,” but it’s one where the primary creature is never the center of the film’s attention, precisely because we spend our time following regular folks who are in no way responsible for or connected to its rampage through New York City. For the film’s entire duration, we see only what they see, cleverly capturing one aspect of the true horror present in disaster situations—the very likely reality that no one present will have any idea what is happening, or any idea of what to do about it. Cloverfield puts its characters into some insane situations, but never breaks the trust it establishes that this is a bystander-eye’s view. No four-star general suddenly shows up to explain what’s going on, or empower our protagonists to take on the creature. No key to the creature’s origin is unearthed. It’s just a shaky-cam tribute to the idea that utter chaos can run rampant in one’s life, and there may not be a damn thing you can do about it. —Jim Vorel

17. Grave Encounters

Year: 2011
Directors: Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, “The Vicious Brothers”

It’s hard to understand why Grave Encounters doesn’t have a better reputation among horror geeks, who largely seem to be aware of it but deride the found footage movie as either derivative or cheesy. In our own estimation, it’s one of the best found footage offerings of the last decade, and certainly one of the most legitimately frightening, as well as humorous when it wants to be. It’s structured as a pitch-perfect parody of inane TV ghost-hunting shows, in the style of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, and imagines the satisfying results of what might happen when one of these crews full of charlatans is subjected to a genuinely evil location. But Grave Encounters goes beyond what is expected of it—you hear that premise and expect some frantic, handycam running around and screaming in the dark, but it delivers far more. The FX work, on a small budget, is some of the best you’re ever going to see in a found footage film, and the nature of the haunting is significantly more mind-bending and ambitious than it first appears. We’ll continue to defend this film, although you should steer clear of the less inspired sequel. —Jim Vorel


18. As Above, So Below

Year: 2014
Director: John Erick Dowdle

In the wake of Paranormal Activity, “found footage” as a horror subgenre had a pretty tough time getting a fair shake from critics, and often from audiences as well. It’s not as if it wasn’t often warranted—anyone who remembers the likes of Apollo 18 can attest to that. Unfortunately, though, it often meant that even found footage movies with more ambition or verve than typical, such as Grave Encounters or As Above, So Below, went overlooked. This one gets by on high concept more than anything else: A camera crew descends into the legendary catacombs beneath Paris, but finds much more there than bargained for. One might expect such a story to involve mutants, or marauders, but As Above, So Below is considerably more cerebral—instead, the story unfolds as a metaphysical descent into hell with numerous parallels to Dante’s Inferno, the crew confronting various sins and failings. Even the jump scares are solid; in an era when shoddy found footage movies were being churned out en masse, As Above, So Below hardly deserves to be lumped in among its more forgettable peers. —Jim Vorel

19. V/H/S

Year: 2012
Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence

We already mentioned that horror anthologies are, by nature, almost always uneven in terms of quality, but if there’s one constant, it’s usually that fewer stories is better than MANY stories. That’s one of the factors that helps V/H/S work better than, say, the unrestrained insanity of The ABCs of Death, along with a more coherent framing narrative. It features segments by some of the best young directors in horror such as Adam Wingard and Ti West, but it’s ultimately David Bruckner, who also directed the genre-bending 2007 horror flick The Signal, who steals the show with his segment, “Amateur Night.” That story, about a group of douchey guys who bring home a strange girl from the bar and get much more than they bargained for when she turns out to be a literal monster, is now getting the full-on feature film treatment under the title of Siren. As for which of the first two V/H/S entries is strongest, though, it’s a bit of a toss-up. Both of them have highlight segments and a few downers. The one thing there’s no doubt about is that both of them are fun, and MUCH better than the abortive 2014 second sequel, V/H/S: Viral. —Jim Vorel

20. Creep 2

Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice

Creep was not a movie begging for a sequel. About one of cinema’s more unique serial killers—a man who seemingly needs to form close personal bonds with his quarry before dispatching them as testaments to his “art”—the 2014 original was self-sufficient enough. But Creep 2 is that rare follow-up wherein the goal seems to be not “let’s do it again,” but “let’s go deeper”—and by deeper, we mean much deeper, as this film plumbs the psyche of the central psychopath (who now goes by) Aaron (Mark Duplass) in ways both wholly unexpected and shockingly sincere, as we witness (and somehow sympathize with) a killer who has lost his passion for murder, and thus his zest for life. In truth, the film almost forgoes the idea of being a “horror movie,” remaining one only because we know of the atrocities Aaron has committed in the past, meanwhile becoming much more of an interpersonal drama about two people exploring the boundaries of trust and vulnerability. Desiree Akhavan is stunning as Sara, the film’s only other principal lead, creating a character who is able to connect in a humanistic way with Aaron unlike anything a fan of the first film might think possible. Two performers bare it all, both literally and figuratively: Creep 2 is one of the most surprising, emotionally resonant horror films in recent memory. —Jim Vorel


21. Frankenstein’s Army

Year: 2013
Director: Richard Raaphorst

Indie found footage horror, contrary to what the success of Paranormal Activity would have you believe, is not an easy proposition—not at all. The original Paranormal Activity succeeds as a low-budget triumph because it has such modest goals, and most of the other found footage successes share that in common, but Frankenstein’s Army is very different in that regard. It’s the story of a troop of Russian soldiers in the waning days of WWII, infiltrating a German compound that turns out to be the testing grounds for a Frankenstein-descendent mad scientist. When his undead soldier creations come to life, the Russian soldiers end up fighting for their lives. Plot and performances are essentially unimportant—what ends up being extremely impressive here are the fabulously grisly monster designs, practical effects and inventiveness in staging found footage action sequences. This is an ambitious film that can be dull when there aren’t monster attacks happening, but what they achieved on a limited budget in depicting their monsters is absolutely remarkable. —Jim Vorel

22. The Last Exorcism

Year: 2010
Directors: Daniel Stamm

The Last Exorcism has the air of a cynical, rushed-out found footage cheapie about it, a seeming attempt to combine The Exorcist with the found footage presentation of Paranormal Activity during a period when exorcism/demonic possession horror movies were already especially prolific, but it’s actually a film that is far more interested in character than one might expect. Our protagonist Rev. Cotton Marcus, played with boundless charisma by Patrick Fabian, is in fact something of a con man—he’s a showy Pentecostal preacher who performs exorcisms not because he believes in demons, but because he figures that some mentally unwell people will simply respond to the power of suggestion. The cameras following him around and framing our perspective are in the process of making a tell-all documentary about a phony preacher who wants to come clean—a sort of horror-focused Marjoe—when our weary reverend runs into a case that finally knocks him on his ass; one that may or may not involve a legitimate possession. This sets the stage for an effective mystery that never tips its hand for the vast majority of its runtime, effectively making us question the delusions of both the reverend and the supposed victim, while slowly ramping up the tension. Ultimately, The Last Exorcism ditches its uneasy ambiguity for a shoehorned Hollywood ending that dispels all doubt about what has been going on, but the cadre of central performances—especially Fabian and the disturbing flexibility of actress Ashley Bell—lift it far above the rank-and-file possession films that dotted the horror landscape in this moment. —Jim Vorel

23. The Visit

Year: 2015
Directors: M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan’s The Visit is the least serious offering he’s ever given audiences, and this is for the best. Ostensibly a horror movie about kids being menaced by the creepy grandparents they’ve never before met, it’s in actuality a surprisingly funny horror-comedy that finds a degree of success on multiple levels. It features above-average performances from its teenage leads, and that’s really all it needs to coast to acceptability. Interesting, though, is the way the film seems to almost satirize the director’s previous storytelling conventions—it at times feels slightly apologetic, as if he’s come to understand (and perhaps even agree with) past criticisms of his pretension. Regardless, it’s the most entertaining film that Shyamalan has made in quite a while—not one that reaches for a profound goal, but a pulpy little picture that shares DNA in common with Devil but executes better, with better performances. Unfortunately, the studio marketed it as a serious horror film in the hope of reaping bigger box office grosses, so hopefully audiences weren’t led astray on what kind of film they should be expecting.—Jim Vorel


24. Paranormal Activity 3

Year: 2011
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

The third installment of the iconic Paranormal Activity franchise is perhaps its most terrifying, particularly in its use of camera techniques. Paranormal Activity 3 is a prequel to the saga of Katie’s demonic haunting, showing her and sister as children as the presence starts to appear in their home and terrorize their family. Its most tense scene is one of the most iconic moments in horror history: The camera placed on top of an oscillating fan. As the fan slowly moves back and forth, strange occurrences are gradually revealed (such as an entity wearing a sheet standing behind the babysitter). The speed of the fan is key as its movement is agonizing. This isn’t a moment about jump scares, but about skillfully building tension with a slow, horrifying reveal that transcends a quick reaction. While that is the best scare by far, Paranormal Activity 3’s jump scares are also earned, and only further prove that this may just be the best film in the franchise.—Mary Beth McAndrews

25. Be My Cat: A Film For Anne

Year: 2015
Director: Adrian Tofei

There is something about horror films that deal with obsession that seem to resonate differently, speaking to a more realistic form of horror that is within almost all humans. Be My Cat: A Film For Anne is a grotesque study of that premise, with director and lead actor Adrian Tofei playing an obsessive aspiring film director seeking to cast Anne Hathaway in his film. It is a daring and effective example of meta-cinema, as Tofei plays a terrifyingly convincing murderer living with his mother, played by his actual mother. As he lures unsuspecting aspiring actresses into his fold, played by Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton and Alexandra Stone, Be My Cat delves into a perverse chaos underscored by a bleak sense of humor as Tofei switches between himself as an actor and himself as a director, constantly criticizing himself in his desperate pitch to Anne Hathaway. At its center is a deeply troubled, sheltered man whose misogyny and perversion combine to create a terrifying portrait of passion and obsession, one that is both terrifying yet deeply fascinating.—Jade Gomez


26. The Den

Year: 2013
Directors: Zachary Donohue

Unfriended is often thought of as the film that brought screen life horror—or horror films told exclusively through computer and phone screens—to the mainstream. With Skype windows, text chats and Facebook messages peppering the screen, these films replicate our everyday interactions with technology. But there is a film before Unfriended that examined the dangers lurking online in 2013: Zachary Donohue’s The Den. Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) is a graduate student studying sociology with a focus on how relationships develop online. Her dissertation research involves her sitting on a chat site called The Den, similar to ChatRoulette, where a user is randomly connected to another user through video chat. But the more time Elizabeth spends in The Den, the more she realizes that it’s being used for something much more sinister. The Den ups the stakes, as there is nothing paranormal here—it is only the monstrosity of human beings and the depravity enabled by just having an internet connection. It’s difficult to watch as the violence feels all too real, but that is part of what makes The Den so effective.—Mary Beth McAndrews

27. Paranormal Activity 2

Year: 2010
Directors: Tod Williams

The first Paranormal Activity was the film that completely changed the landscape of found footage horror, second in importance only to the cultural phenomenon of The Blair Witch Project, although it’s important to note that Blair Witch didn’t really kick off a true wave of wide release studio imitators back in 1999. Paranormal Activity, on the other hand, most definitely did—as an immensely profitable sensation, it was inevitable that it would receive both rip-offs and proper sequels. The first of those sequels, Paranormal Activity 2, is actually a prequel, taking place a few months before the events of the first film, which hints at exactly what would become the undoing of this series—its ceaseless attempts to keep building more and more mythology onto a story that was originally so effective because of its more anonymous, mysterious nature. The constant reexamination of the life and demonic entanglements of original heroine Katie present in this film and several more subsequent sequels is increasingly labored, and primarily serves to muddle the impact of the original, which is a shame. On the plus side, however, whenever Paranormal Activity 2 is concerning itself with simply being a scary showcase of novel, low-budget effects, it actually works quite well. It has no shortage of “jumping in your theater seat” moments, which is of course how these films are really best experienced. If there’s one thing that greatly enhances the experience of this sort of found footage horror, it’s having other people around to watch the jump scares do their work. —Jim Vorel


28. The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Year: 2007
Directors: John Erick Dowdle

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is not a film for the faint of heart. John Erick Dowdle’s 2007 film is a pseudo-documentary centered around boxes and boxes full of tapes recording a serial killer’s depraved actions, from stalking and kidnapping his victims to their slow, agonizing torture and eventual deaths. Interspersed with the disturbing footage are interviews with FBI agents and survivors of the killer to provide more insight into just how disturbing these tapes are. But they don’t need to give that context as each clip shown is more upsetting than the next. He murders indiscriminately and uses death as a mode of performance. It’s sickening and also one of those found footage films that taps into the snuff film-like nature of the technique, playing with audience expectations and reality.—Mary Beth McAndrews

29. Afflicted

Year: 2013
Directors: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse

Afflicted is a vampire found footage film. That alone should convince you that this is one special horror movie. Vampires are not often seen in found footage, so this makes Afflicted all the more watchable in its spin on the lore of bloodsuckers. Two best friends, Derek (Derek Lee) and Clif (Clif Prowse), set out on a trip in Europe that they’re documenting through daily vlogs to keep those back home updated. But when Derek is bitten by a vampire, the trip takes a strange turn. His transformation is intimately documented from both of their perspectives which gives a deeper insight into the idea of vampirism. Becoming a vampire is usually shown in either a quickly edited montage or in one agonizing scene. Here, the entire film is dedicated to showing Derek’s terrifying physical transformation and Clif’s own helplessness in watching his friend’s pain.—Mary Beth McAndrews


30. Cannibal Holocaust

Year: 1980
Director: Ruggero Deodato

Infamous and influential in equal parts—that’s Cannibal Holocaust for you. It wasn’t the first of the Italian cannibal films, but it’s certainly the most famous, and left the longest-lasting impact on horror cinema and pop culture. In its wake, films in this mold flourished—American (or just generally white and naive) tourists or activists get lost in the jungle, captured by cannibal tribes and subjected to sadistic torture—the formula has stayed the same all the way up to Eli Roth’s recent The Green Inferno. Cannibal Holocaust, on the other hand, became more infamous for the rumors that surrounded it, namely that real-life human deaths had occurred on screen. This was blatantly untrue, although there are numerous real-life animal slayings, which make it a very difficult watch for anyone squeamish about animal violence. The brutality isn’t its only attraction, though—Cannibal Holocaust is actually a better film and more interesting story than most give it credit for, and it’s better than most of the Italian follow-ups.—Jim Vorel

31. Murder Death Koreatown

Year: 2020
Director: Unknown

Found footage horror primarily relies on blurring the line between reality and horror, a feat that is not as effective anymore with upped production costs and social media. Murder Death Koreatown recognizes this, and the anonymous filmmaker takes audiences on a twisted journey that tests where ethics stop and horror begins. Utilizing real events occurring around his Los Angeles apartment, the cameraman’s understandable concern with his neighbor’s murder quickly turns into obsession that begins to deteriorate his life. Summer breezes become messages from the dead and common graffiti turns into sinister messages from a murderous cult-like network. As each clip gets more ridiculous, shifting the narrator’s reliability further to the left, the film’s criticism of true crime fascination slowly bubbles to the surface. It is a visual panic attack, at times deeply upsetting, and showcases a realistic portrayal of unhealthy obsession forged out of loneliness that is a closer reality than one might accept.—Jade Gomez


32. Unfriended: Dark Web

Year: 2018
Director: Stephen Susco

If Searching argues that, for all the intricately layered parts of our digital identities, that there is indeed a “true” or “authentic” version hiding somewhere—you just need a dad-knack for the internet and a dozen vaguely condescending zooms into the screen to point you in the right direction—Unfriended: Dark Web, 2018’s other desktop film, is its antithesis, claiming not that online identity isn’t true, exactly, but that our dependence on creating a multiplicity of digital “selves” is our ultimate failing. “True” and “authentic” have nothing to do with it—our mortal sin is what we are and are not willing to sacrifice in order to maintain these versions of ourselves, this myriad of personae. If the first Unfriended was a Nancy Jo Sales Vanity Fair teen culture op-ed piece brought to life as a horror film, Unfriended: Dark Web’s notion of a slasher presumes that no one is innocent. How bleak: Online honesty is so mediated by digital artifice that those many identities—as well as the ideas, beliefs and feelings creating those identities—must be radically rethought, lest we end up in Hell.—Kyle Turner

33. The Tunnel

Year: 2011
Directors: Carlo Ledesma

Carlo Ledesma’s Australian pseudo-documentary The Tunnel is one of the scariest found footage films most people have never seen. The film is structured around the raw footage of a journalist and her film crew who want to reveal the truth of a government cover-up within a network of abandoned tunnels beneath the city of Sydney. Led by Natalia (Bel Delia), they venture into the tunnels to find answers. But the answer they find is hunting them. The film also uses interviews with the surviving crew members that frame the footage and give the story a more terrifying context, especially in regards to the suspected government conspiracy. It’s a format similar to films such as Lake Mungo and Hell House LLC where this is more than just footage discovered in the woods or a trash can; this is an obviously edited piece of horror that feels real. The Tunnel contains one of the most bone-chilling moments in found footage as whatever is lurking in the dark picks up the camera and begins filming. Nothing necessarily gory or scary happens, but the viewer is now viewing the world through the eyes of a creature. Taking up that subject position is disorienting and anxiety-inducing, especially as it creeps up beyond the remaining crew members. This isn’t a film that often makes lists about found footage, but it’s time that the The Tunnel gets its due.—Mary Beth McAndrews


34. REC 2

Year: 2009
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Most found footage horror buffs would agree that 2007’s REC is one of the finest first-person thrillers of its era, cobbling together the bones of the Romero-style zombie movie (in the same year as his own Diary of the Dead) with just enough demonic gobbledygook to make its antagonists freshly terrifying. Its claustrophobic tenement setting was a particular stroke of genius, enclosing all the characters in an endless series of honeycomb-like rooms where the infected could be behind any given door. REC 2 picks up exactly where the first film left off—on a particularly memorable cliffhanger—and continues the story, wisely returning actress Manuela Velasco as the tough-as-nails TV reporter Angela Vidal, who projects an Ellen Ripley-esque “do not mess with me” vibe throughout. REC 2 does suffer in comparison with the original, however, in terms of what surprises it can throw at the motley crew still stuck in this building, as most of the scares are directly reminiscent of the first offering, and it has little if anything fresh to offer. Still, competence is competence, and REC 2 manages to wrap up the events of the first film with a nicely circular (if meanspirited) twist. It’s the only sequel in this series that is really worth noting, being head-and-shoulders more satisfying than the unrelated third installment, or the cash grab of REC 4: Apocalypse. —Jim Vorel

35. V/H/S/94

Year: 2021
Directors: Jennifer Reeder, Timo Tjahjanto, Chloe Okuno, Simon Barrett, Ryan Prows

To call a horror film anthology “uneven” is essentially a trope of anthology reviewing at this point, an assumption so universal and taken for granted that it barely needs to be uttered in the first place. Horror anthologies are uneven by nature, often scattershot in the level of talent and production capability available to them. Typically, this is simply a function of the unpredictable nature of filmmaking and producing, but Shudder’s new V/H/S/94 may be the first time I’ve watched a horror anthology where the “unevenness” seems less an unintended consequence and more an acknowledgement of intent from the start. Put simply, V/H/S/94 is almost less an anthology than it is a vehicle for a single, deliriously creative segment from director Timo Tjahjanto, which dominates the entire center of the film. All the other segments simply orbit this central anchor, caught in the inexorable pull of Tjahjanto’s demented imagination, which manages to give V/H/S/94 at least 30 minutes in which one cannot look away. It’s impossible to divorce one’s opinion of the film as a whole from Tjahjanto’s segment—it feels like the reason why the rest of them were shot. —Jim Vorel


36. Occult

Year: 2009
Directors: Koji Shiraishi

Koji Shiraishi is a king of found footage. His films such as Noroi: The Curse and A Record of Sweet Murder showcase his mastery of the art. While there’s no doubting Noroi is his masterpiece, Shiraishi’s 2009 film Occult is a cosmic horror nightmare told through a fascinated cameraman (played by Shiraishi himself) who wants to get to the bottom of a strange murder. He slowly becomes embroiled in something that transcends what we consider our reality. The ending of Occult is perhaps the weirdest thing you’ll ever see. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a found footage film and while it is jarring, it also fits in with the chaos that’s been building throughout the entire film.—Mary Beth McAndrews

37. The Bay

Year: 2012
Directors: Barry Levinson

Barry Levinson’s 2012 film The Bay is a found footage creature feature with an environmental message. A small waterfront town is completely decimated by a parasitic creature that’s created from pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. They take over the body of their host and slowly eat them from the inside out. The Bay is an example of a truly gory found footage film as people are shown covered in boils, losing their minds, bleeding out of every orifice, and screaming in pain in the middle of the street. It is pure, unadulterated chaos brought on, ultimately, by manmade pollution. The Bay will make your skin crawl, pun intended, and make you rethink stepping foot into the ocean.—Mary Beth McAndrews


38. Megan Is Missing

Year: 2011
Director: Michael Goi

This nihilistic movie about the dangers of the internet has people flooding Twitter timelines and For You pages with their reactions of shock, horror, and disgust. But why did this specific little indie film from 2011 go viral on TikTok in 2020? While there is no single user or video as the specific source of the trend, the central reasoning Megan Is Missing has entered the zeitgeist is its shock value. Megan Is Missing is director Michael Goi’s response to the growing dangers of meeting strangers on the internet, which is rather ironic seeing how it’s now spreading like digital wildfire. His goal was to create a cautionary tale about what lurks in the digital world. The film was perhaps too successful as it took five years to find distribution and was banned from New Zealand for its graphic content. Megan Is Missing is often cited in movie lists or YouTube videos as one of the most disturbing films ever made, particularly due to its brutal finale that involves the assault and murder of two young girls. Thanks to the found footage style, watching Megan Is Missing feels dirty and exploitative. It is formatted as something forbidden that should be kept secret and away from the eyes of the masses. This air of reality is what makes Megan Is Missing both repulsive and alluring. Amy and Megan on their video camera isn’t much different from a teen filming themselves and posting it on TikTok: they are both documents of personal lives through the eyes of young people. And now, posting a TikTok after watching it feels like a badge of honor, a testament to your willingness to stomach depravity. Yes, you suffered, but you are suffering alongside millions of other strangers on the internet, which is the antithesis to the film itself. It has created a twisted idea of community, united by a common trauma. —Mary Beth McAndrews


39. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Landon

While creator Oren Peli remains the name most readily associated with the Paranormal Activity series, it’s actually Christopher Landon who’s been more actively involved with guiding the franchise. Having had written every installment since Paranormal Activity 2, he was handed the directorial reins for Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. What The Marked Ones delivers are comfort chills and familiar shocks to unadventurous consumers who want to know precisely what type of terror they’ll be subjected to. Rather hypocritically, Landon opens his film with a high school commencement speech extolling the virtues of change. Subsequently adjourning to their two-story apartment block for the summer, fresh-faced graduates Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) tellingly fall back into old habits. Whether engaging in Jackass-ery, getting high or cajoling Jesse’s grandmother (Renée Victor) into downing tequila shots, they film everything with a handheld video camera. While these scenes may lack for major incidents, they do succeed in making these friends unexpectedly endearing fodder.—Curtis Woloschuk

40. JeruZalem

Year: 2016
Directors: Yoav Paz, Doran Paz

I don’t like found-footage movies, and, frankly, I hate this wave of first-person perspective films we’re seeing now. Yet, with this clever monster outbreak flick from Israel, I’m willing to make an exception. Told entirely from the perspective of a Google Glass-wearing American tourist in Jerusalem, JeruZalem has an incredibly slow build up as it introduces us to the intimacies of its main characters. They’re mostly all likable and engaging, which is the point when the doorway to hell finally opens up and we have to run frantically with them through the streets of a city overrun with zombie demons and into the ancient catacombs below. Whether JeruZalem is more effective as a gimmicky horror film or 90-minute commercial for Google Glass is up for debate, but the film’s makers aren’t coy about how the technology is used. Skype, Facebook and other apps make plenty of appearances. It’s surprisingly effective, but like so many movies of this type, we’re left wishing to see more of the actual monsters and the epic battle for the Holy Land. Still, it’s far superior to much of this genre, since these characters aren’t completely twits and there are some strong elements of comedy spaced around really fascinating historical elements that add to the overall sense of dread. The ending is a lot of fun, too, so while I still would have preferred JeruZalem had been filmed more traditionally, it’s worth seeing. —Jason D’Aprile

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