8 Found Footage Horror Movies That Are Genuinely Scary

8 Found Footage Horror Movies That Are Genuinely Scary

One of the biggest complaints about found footage horror films is that they rely too heavily on boring, cheap jump scares to get audience reactions. But these eight examples actually dig deeper — and bring genuine terror to the screen as a result.

8) Grave Encounters

TV's Ghost Adventures is as cheesy and staged as most reality shows are, and is also as formulaic as a Scooby-Doo episode. (I still watch it, though.) Written and directed by the filmmaking team known as the Vicious Brothers, Grave Encounters pokes fun at ghost-hunting TV shows with razor-sharp accuracy. Then it ups the stakes by wondering what would happen if a supposedly haunted filming site was not just actually haunted, but also filled with pissed-off evil spirits.

It's a simple premise that explains why the crew and "talent" (the lead actor clearly studied hours of Zak Bagans footage... god bless him) insist on keeping the camera rolling the entire time. (Most found footage horror films have a documentary element for that very reason, as this list will show.) By the time the Grave Encounters group realises even sky-high ratings aren't worth tangling with a bunch of spooks of the abandoned-insane-asylum type, it's too late.

7) The Taking of Deborah Logan

I kept seeing this title pop up on Netflix and finally gave it a whirl. It's got a clever premise (a camera crew begins following a woman with Alzheimer's, only to realise there are much darker forces at work inside her mind), and it does a good job pacing the reveal of its creepy backstory, making great use of the rambling house where nearly the entire film takes place. It's also elevated by uncommonly good performances by Jill Larson as the troubled patient, who only looks physically frail, and Anne Ramsay as her harried daughter. (The actors playing the documentary crew are less effective, but they're not on camera as much.) Word of warning: The Taking of Deborah Logan is especially chilling if you're terrified of snakes.

6) The Visit

Though the words "a new film by M. Night Shyamalan" are enough to make some filmgoers' blood run cold, The Visit offered a welcome return to horror form for the director. It's also probably the most technically sleek found footage movie ever made, especially taking into account the fact that it's supposedly being filmed by a teenage girl. Best of all, the obligatory twist ending is actually very, very satisfying — highly observant viewers will see it coming, but even then Shyamalan ensures it's still scary as hell when it happens.

5) The Last Exorcism

Speaking of twist endings, The Last Exorcism's last act is quite the seat-kicker. Ashley Bell's performance as a girl who might be possessed by a demon or worse was strong enough to garner rare recognition beyond the realms of horror, including an Independent Spirit Award nomination. (Director Daniel Stamm's precursor to The Last Exorcism is also worth seeking out: A Necessary Death is an eerie faux-doc about assisted suicide that's more thriller than horror.)

4) [REC]

No disrespect to George A. Romero, but the best found footage zombie movie of 2007 was not Diary of the Dead. It was the Spanish production [REC], which managed to scare the bejeezus out of viewers worldwide (and spawn sequels, an inferior American remake, etc.) despite the pesky inconvenience of subtitles.

3) Cannibal Holocaust

The grand dame of cannibal films, this 1980 nugget of nasty trash-sploitation is offensive, violent, racist, and contains allegedly real animal torture. Naturally, it's become a cult classic. Cannibal Holocaust might not scare you in the standard shrieking, horror movie sense, but it will most definitely give you nightmares.

2) Paranormal Activity

The original, and still the best, of the wildly successful series, it's incredibly suspenseful and uses its $US11,000 ($14,444) budget to great effect, proving that sometimes simple and subtle can yield the most believable (and therefore terrifying) results. Never before has a slowwwwwwly opening door caught on night-vision camera inspired such abject terror in audiences.

1) The Blair Witch Project

The film that really, truly started the found footage craze. Oh, Blair Witch Project, we loathe you for clearing the path for so many crappy movies about shrieking kids who can't put down their camera, but we also love you for all the great movies you helped bring into the world (including non-horror entries that didn't make this list, like Cloverfield). And while we're ok with never seeing that snot drool ever again, that last shot gets us every time.


    Some nice picks Cheryl. Nice to see Grave Encounters made the list and Blair Witch Project at number one is great.

    Its a respectable list. PA1 was legitimately scary unlike its tired followups. The new Blair Witch looks fun too.

      The second and third had their moments, especially 3 with the camera taped to the fan making you wonder what was happening where it wasn't currently facing. After that the movies completely dropped in quality.

        I would posit though, that 2 and 3 only had 'moments' as even by the second, they had a formula they stuck to and you could see coming a mile away. With part 1 at least, it was unpredictable and fairly new. REC was a fantastic movie too, at least with REC2 they followed the James Cameron ideal, moving it to a different genre (action) before it went into a nosedive with REC 3 and 4.

          Oh I am glad I never watched the REC sequels then.

            Yeah watch 1 and 2, then leave it. 3 was unrelated except in the most abstract of ways and 4, by god 4 was *fucking awful*, completely terrible. But 1 and 2 are *the shit*.

              I enjoyed 1 and 2, but 3... that pretty much dragged me out of the REC 'series.' How terrible was 4?

                4 involved dragging a certain character (won't spoil it) from 1 and 2 onto a boat in the middle of the ocean. No story about the world getting infected, no larger scale story or ANYTHING. Just set on a goddamn tanker. The rest is in spoilertags and it's the rest of the plot. It may SOUND good but it's not honestly.

                So we have Angela (I warned whoever, it was in spoilertags), on a boat, having been brought onboard, being analysed by a medical team, knowing she is possessed by the parasite-demon. They know it's in her and want to get the thing out as they're doing bloodtests on her. There's an old woman onboard in the room with her, the link to part 3, as she's the only survivor from that movie, but she ends up dying promptly.

                The worm ends up leaving her body at some point and basically bodyhops through the story and honestly it's confusing as to who is possessed, is it her? Is it another guy? When did she get possessed again? Didn't she just SAY she was? Didn't she just SHOW she wasn't etc etc? It contradicts itself numerous times, it's not good. It becomes a case of 'where is the worm' as Angela ends up becoming our heroine by the end, and there's multiple demon-zombies (they're not really zombies, they're actually demons as of part 2 remember) plague the ship as the crew are turned. Angela and some guy end up blowing up the ship and escaping on a life raft.

                We then see the big Medeiros worm demon swim away in the ocean leaving us with the knowledge that this was all just a giant waste of time and we should stick with REC 1 and 2.

                Oh there's also possessed monkeys in there somewhere...

                Last edited 15/09/16 10:23 am

                  Second spoiler tag deserves a different reading:
                  Viewers are lead to believe that the worm has been inside Angela for the entire film, meaning that she let test subjects (the monkeys) during the blackout. However, it's eventually unveiled that Paco has been the host, and it's heavily implied that the worm hopped host during the prologue.

                  Rec 3 reminded me of Evil Dead 2: a complete departure from the themes and tones of it's predecessor, with an affection for horror comedy. It wasn't a particularly successful adventure though.

                  Yeah, I think I'll pass watching it... or watch it with friends so we can mock it.

                1 is a classic, 2 was OK, 3 & 4 were utter crap imo.

            I'd consider it's worth watching the last two Rec films just to see how Bagualeró and Plaza treat the franchise when each is given free reign of writing and directing. Both 3 and 4 have good passages and moments, but neither approaches the novelty or pacing of 1 and 2.

            Really, novelty is the deciding element. Rec did so much right in it's initial rephrasing of conventional horror language, it was a great device to put viewers off kilter. However, replicating that same language across a further 3 films would produce the same indifference that people have towards PA sequels.

            As Weresmurf pointed out, the emphasis of action in Rec 2, as well as the direct continuation of timeline and lore from multiple new perspectives, was sufficient to keep the film feeling fresh and to avoid that PA retread. From there it would be quite difficult to do something new. Which is why I think such divergent and experimental approaches were taken with 3 and 4.

    Cool list. Personally, I'd move all the entries up one place and put Blair Witch Project last.

    There's so much garbage in the found footage sub-genre. It's a nice reminder that there are some great ones out there.

    I feel the subtitles in REC made it that much more scary. Holy christ that was a good watch.

    I enjoyed Grave encounters, but I found Blair witch and Paranormal activity boring. I also liked [REC] and the sequel. I might give the others a shot.

    Solid list. The only ones I can think I might add would be Exhibit A and The Banshee Chapter (though the latter does break the found footage style at times for some more traditional shots).

      The Banshee Chapter is one of my favourite films. Seriously loved it. It's not found footage though - there's a handful of FF bits, but by and large, the movie is just shot traditionally with shaky-cam elements to give it that FF-style aesthetic :)

      I'd also add in The Conspiracy. It's more mockumentary, but I thought they nailed the atmosphere in that one.

      [REC] was a game-changer. The first time I saw it, I was absolutely blown away. It's one of those films that just doesn't know when to quit... that ending.

      Man, 2006-2008 was just amazing for Horror in general. Hostel (it has it's detractors, but I don't care, I loved it), Inside, [REC] and Martyrs really raised the bar for me. So high, in fact, that nothing really has come close since. Bar The Banshee Chapter... that deserves to be up there too.

      Last edited 15/09/16 10:33 am

        Ah, my memory of The Banshee Chapter was that it was mostly FF but it's been a while since I saw it so I was probably recalling the shaky-cam style as FF.

        Inside and Martyrs were full on. The French sure know how to do horror. Looking forward to 'Grave' (or Raw, it's English title).

          Indeed... French horror is totally my bag, haha. And Raw looks awesome! I'm hanging for that one. There's a few up and coming movies I'm really looking forward to, actually!

            Raw doubly appeals to me as I'm an ex-vegetarian vet student haha.

            Despite what I mentioned in a comment below about being adverse to recommendations - care to list one or two of your most eagerly awaited films?

              Sure, I'm hanging out for Raw, as mentioned. I'm also really, really looking forward to the new Blair Witch. I hope it's good, I really do. I'm also waiting on The Unkindess of Ravens. I backed that on Kickstarter, despite not being into the director's previous film Lord of Tears. That movie had so much promise that I feel was butchered by the terrible acting. The Unkindness of Ravens looks like it's got it's shit together when it comes to performances, so I'm really looking forward to it! I'm also itching to see Sadako Vs Kayako. I'm hoping against hope that it's just good enough to be enjoyable, haha. They're the ones off the top of my head at the moment, haha

                Wow, that Unkindness of Ravens trailer really went off the deep end! Some questionable looking fx aside (and lets be honest, it comes with the territory of indie horror flicks) I'm suitably intrigued. Bonus points for being a Scottish production. I'm trying to temper my expectations for Blair Witch but Wingard's involvement is making it hard for me not to get my hopes extremely high.

                  Yeah, the effects aren't world class, but I think they're more than enough so far, and especially compared to what I've seen before, haha. And yep, Wingard has that effect. That got me pumped for the new one more than anything, haha. I just assume I'll hate every movie, that way I'm only ever pleasantly surprised. Case in point, I saw The Conjuring 2 recently. I despised the first one, as I feel that James Wan is a bit of a hack. I was utterly shocked to find that not only did I enjoy it, I actually want to watch it again :D

    Paranormal Activity is on my list of worst films ever. Not only was it not scary, but the characters were so unlikeable I didn't even want to watch them die. I just wanted to stop watching.
    The Blair Witch isn't scary, but it's fairly interesting because of how they filmed it. I recommend people watch it a second time with the director's commentary on.
    [REC] is good, and that's all I can say on that.

      It's strange isn't it. There are those who get it and those who don't with this movie. For me it was a boring as piss waste of time that slowly wound up to a scary face (and I'm actually a bit of a nancy when it comes to scary movies, the Ring almost lost me my job!). The person I watched it with was absolutely terrified the whole time and couldn't sleep that night. It's so bizarre to me that two people can experience the same thing so differently.

        Of all the genres, I've found that horror films get the widest ranging reactions in terms of whether people love or hate a film. There's maybe one friend that I trust when it comes to horror recommendations. Maybe it's because horror, or fear, is such a deeply personal, subjective thing. Whatever the reason, I'm always hesitant to make horror recommendations to people, as they're often so divisive.

        Last edited 15/09/16 11:14 am

          You're right of course, this was just the first time I'd experienced it so sharply. Normally it's a conversation after the fact (such as in this forum). I don't remember watching another horror movie with people where we didn't all walk away with broadly the same impression.

          The one exception is REC of course. I've not met anyone that didn't like it. Perhaps because there's so little chance you'll see it unless you're interested beforehand.

            Ha yeah, agreed. REC is just obscure enough and good enough in all aspects of its filmmaking, that anyone who seeks it out will most likely enjoy it.

        Interested to hear that Ring story.

          It's really not that interesting sadly. I just couldn't sleep for a week. This made 5am starts almost impossible. I would be haggard as fuck when I got to work and the boss thought I was hitting the pub every night. The worst part was trying to explain that I wasn't drinking, I just wasn't sleeping. He asked why and I went with "stress". I got a warning and then hardened up at some stage haha.

            I absolutely love the American Ring, the only American remake that I think really surpassed the original

              I actively loathe the American Ring. Didn't find it scary in the slightest, and felt the American version of the video resembled something from Eat Carpet. That and I spent the whole thing hoping Sadako... sorry, Samara would hurry up and kill Naomi Watts' character because she was utterly unlikable and impossible to empathize with. That and the dodgy faces of the victims in the US version really pulled me out of it, as opposed to the simply 'dead of fright' of the original.

              But my sisters were absolutely terrified of it and couldn't sleep in the same room as a TV. So its really subjective.

              Now, the American version of The Grudge I find to be an excellent reimagining of, even if it lacks the apocalyptic end of the japanese. My ex walked out of the cinema before the end because it was freaking her out too much.

              Last edited 17/09/16 2:55 pm

                Haha I'm the opposite. Much prefer the Japanese version of Grudge.

    I enjoyed many movies on this list but noticed a deficit in the scifi found footage genre, I think alien abduction could have made the list as well as the encounter, there have been alot of great films from England, one the name escapes me but its about a group of friends with metal detectors stumbling upon a secret base, let me know what you think

      I quite liked Chronicle and Troll Hunter as well, but the list is specific to horror so there's a reason sci fi was excluded.

    [REC] will forever be my crowning favourite, but I'll never forget watching Cannibal Holocaust for the first time. Man that soundtrack is still awesome.

    I know it's not scary as such, but then neither is Cannibal Holocaust, but no love for Cloverfield? It's true it was one of the worst offenders in the "why the fuck don't you put the camera down?!" category, but it was a really novel concept and well executed IMO. Well, right up until that guy effectively doesn't notice Godzilla sneaking up behind him.

    Otherwise the list is pretty great. Haven't seen Grave Encounters, and I reckon my GF would love it, thanks for the suggestion!

      Yeah, I agree. I loved Cloverfield. Couldn't stand Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity.

    I only made it 20 minutes into Grave Envcounters. I understand shaky-cam is a necessary evil when it comes to found footage films, but the camera man in GE was like a 6 year old that's just been handed a camera for the first time.

    Zoom in, zoom out, zoom in, zoom out, all in a single shot. It was painful.

    Didn't like Grave Encounters at all, and I think Paranormal Activity 3 was the high point of the series. Otherwise a good list. I would probably add VHS2

    Blair Witch Project is one of the most boring films I have ever seen and is just some weak ranting and cheap jump scares. Most of the horror was from the really bad camera work.

    Last edited 15/09/16 12:04 pm

      There's almost no jump scares in Blair Witch. Still, it's fair enough if you don't like it. It's not for everyone. You can't deny it's legacy though - people thought it was real even after it came out at the cinema... there was some amazing marketing done with Blair Witch that really couldn't be replicated today.

    Dyatlov pass. All the more interesting because its based on a real unexplained event

      I really enjoyed the first 2/3rds of that film. The final act lost me though... there's a game based on the Dyatlov Pass incident that I've been meaning to check out.. I think it's called Kholat or something. The true story is pretty chilling!

      Last edited 16/09/16 11:07 am

    If you guys enjoyed these you should check out V/H/S, it's a found footage anthology film that in my opinion is more hits than misses. A lot of fun regardless.
    Great list

    This list is missing a few of the best found footage style flicks out there.

    To name a few:
    * Creep - This one is my favorite found footage movie easily.
    * Unfriended
    * The Den
    * VHS - I'm divided on whether the first one or the second is the better flick as both are excellent. Just don't watch the 3rd one. It's HORRIBLE.

    Last edited 15/09/16 5:10 pm

      Loved Unfriended, but boy was the ending bad. Creep was a bit like that for me too, it built up so much atmosphere but then kind of lost it's way. Good list though, I especially liked VHS 2

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