As we’ve seen here in the first few weeks of 2014, the landscape of the horror genre is absolutely flooded with found footage movies, and we primarily have two movies to thank/blame for that; The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.
While 1999’s Blair Witch Project is often credited as the first horror movie made in the POV found footage style, such a claim is actually quite untrue. Though Blair Witch is no doubt the movie that popularized the style, and Paranormal Activity the one that re-invented it and brought it into a new decade, there were actually a handful of found footage films that came out well before the horrifying tale of the witch in the woods.
Here are seven of those handheld horror movies, which all predate The Blair Witch Project!
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST – 1980
What’s the very first found footage movie ever made? That honor belongs to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, which was released a full 19 years before The Blair Witch Project. One of the most controversial horror films of all time, Cannibal Holocaust is largely comprised of footage of an ill-fated documentary crew’s expedition to the Amazon Basin, which is recovered by a rescue crew. So raw and real is the footage that many believed it to be much more than a work of fiction, and Deodato was arrested shortly after the film was released, under the belief that he actually orchestrated and filmed real murders. Leading to this belief was the fact that none of the actors were available for interviews, which Deodato had them to agree to in an effort to make people truly believe that the movie contained real documentary footage. The same technique was later used to promote The Blair Witch Project.
MANSON FAMILY MOVIES – 1984
After the infamous 1969 murders of Sharon Tate and friends, rumors suggested that Charles Manson and the members of his ‘family’ may have filmed bizarre home movies, documenting their crimes and possibly even murders. These rumors became the basis for John Aes-Nihil’s Manson Family Movies, which was released straight-to-video in 1984. An exploitation of the murder story that gripped the nation in the late 60s, the 8mm film showed what that home movie footage may have looked like, if it were to be found, and it documents the events leading up to – and including – the Tate/LaBianca murders.
UFO ABDUCTION (THE MCPHERSON TAPE) – 1989
1989 saw the release of Dean Alioto’s UFO Abduction (aka The McPherson Tape), which was shot on a budget of a mere $6,500. In this early entry into the found footage sub-genre, a man is filming the 5th birthday party of his young niece, and things take a turn for the extraterrestrial when he discovers a spaceship and aliens in his backyard. The footage chronicles the final hours of life for the Van Heese family, before they’re abducted by the aliens, and so convincing was the film at the time that many believed they had witnessed a real life alien abduction. Alioto remade UFO Abduction a decade later with the bigger budgeted Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, which aired on UPN in 1998. Though neither film is available on DVD, the original UFO Abduction can be watched in full over on YouTube.
GHOSTWATCH – 1992
One of the most controversial TV broadcasts of all time, Ghostwatch aired on the UK’s BBC network on Halloween night, in 1992. Directed by Lesley Manning, the pre-recorded movie was presented as a live telecast, and viewers were invited into an allegedly haunted house in London, to investigate it with a group of reporters. Inside the house, the supposedly real paranormal activity begins, and the film culminated with the reporters coming to the realization that the program had essentially served as a live séance, which gave power to the malevolent spirit inside. A brilliant bit of faux-realism, Ghostwatch was banned by the BBC for over 10 years after its original broadcast, a result of viewer complaints and it being linked to post-traumatic stress disorder in two children as well as the suicide of a mentally disturbed young man. Ghostwatch is now available on DVD.
MAN BITES DOG – 1992
The three man team of Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel and Benoit Poelvoorde brought found footage to their home country of Belgium with Man Bites Dog, released in 1992. A dark comedy, the black & white film centers around a documentary crew who follow around a charismatic serial killer named Ben, at first observing his murders and eventually taking an active part in them. Man Bites Dog has developed a cult following over the years, and in 2002 it became a part of the prestigious Criterion Collection – the first and only found footage film to receive the honor.
AMERICA’S DEADLIEST HOME VIDEO – 1993
Predating Natural Born Killers by a year, the low-budget film America’s Deadliest Home Video stars Danny Bonaduce as Dougie, a home video enthusiast who’s kidnapped by a gang of killers, and forced to document their ruthless exploits. Written and directed by Jack Perez, who has gone on to direct films like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and Some Guy Who Kills People, America’s Deadliest Home Video has been out-of-print on VHS for years, and is finally being released on DVD later this year.
THE LAST BROADCAST – 1998
There’s perhaps no film on this list that can be more closely linked to The Blair Witch Project than The Last Broadcast, which premiered just over a year before Blair Witch got all the credit for being the first movie of its kind. A live hunt for the famed Jersey Devil is the intention of the hosts of an Unsolved Mysteries type show, which turns deadly when only one man from the four-man crew returns home alive. Directed by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, The Last Broadcast shows the recovered footage that they shot, which a documentary filmmaker is using to figure out exactly what happened out there in the woods. While the makers of The Blair Witch Project insist they had never seen Last Broadcast prior to cameras rolling, many still credit the film with being the one that Blair Witch ‘ripped off.’
Can you think of any other found footage movies that predate The Blair Witch Project? Comment below and let us know!