How many times can something be paranormal before it becomes just, you know, normal?
Movie fans will find out Friday when Paranormal Activity 4 lands in theatres, marking the third consecutive year an installment in the low-budget, high-grossing fright flick series has debuted a couple weeks before Halloween.
You can’t fault the producers of this series for going back to the haunted well again and again. The first three movies about malevolent spirits harassing suburban families have grossed over $575 million worldwide on a combined budget of a paltry $8 million, a return on investment that is anything but terrifying.
But is the whole so-called found footage phenomenon – in which movies purport to be made up of footage shot by the participants themselves – played out? Or is it just the Paranormal Activity franchise itself that’s running out of steam, which each successive film drawing less enthusiastic reviews than the one before?
We were ready to bare our fangs and tear into the found footage genre, because lately it feels like everyone is just trying to do substandard Paranormal Activity ripoffs: Paranormal Entity, Paranormal Effect, Paranormal Incident and Paranoid Activity, to name a few.
But among the clones and junk and indie filmmakers who think found footage is code for “I can shoot my crappy horror movie with a camcorder and make millions of dollars,” there is the odd gem. Or at least a movie that’s trying something a little different. Here are five recent-ish scary movies that do found footage effectively.
This Spanish found footage horror revolves around a disease outbreak in an apartment building which is then sealed off, trapping the residents and a reality TV show camera crew inside. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the film was remade in English as Quarantine. Skip the remake, though. This one is muy bueno.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
Although the shocking and abrupt ending enraged many filmgoers, this is a clever and creepy psychological horror with surprisingly deep characterization for the genre. It also gets props for trolling people on Chatroulette as part of its viral marketing plan.
Troll Hunter (2010)
This Norwegian found footage fantasy-horror (sounds like one of those super-niche Netflix categories) is about a student documentary crew that stumbles across a man who, well, hunts trolls. It’s oddly entertaining, and some of the giant troll CGI effects are amazing.
The Bay (2012)
Director Barry Levinson (Rain Man) does a major U-turn with this indie eco-horror flick, tracking a parasite infection in a seaside Maryland town through news crew footage, security camera feeds, FaceTime chats and more. Creepy and gory, it’s out in limited theatrical release and video on demand in November.
Marble Hornets (2009 to present)
We’re kind of cheating with this one, as Marble Hornets isn’t a film but rather an ultra low-budget web series. But it’s also genuinely scary, chronicling a student filmmaker’s descent into paranoia and fear as he’s stalked by the Slender Man, itself a web-created phenomenon. Find it on YouTube via http://bit.ly/marbhorn, if you dare.
Those are the found footage horrors you want to seek out. Here are three you definitely want to avoid.
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)
This old-school mockumentary about a Bigfoot-type swamp monster is so bad it’s almost good, and has become something of a cult classic. In addition to spawning some equally stinky sequels, it’s actually said to be one of the inspirations for The Blair Witch Project.
The Amityville Haunting (2011)
The Amityville Horror scared the crap out of moviegoers in 1977. Since then, there have been almost 10 sequels, spinoffs and remakes, ending with this pile of crap that tries (and fails) to cash in on the Amityville name and the Paranormal Activity phenomenon.
The Hulk Hogan Sex Tape (2012)
Most found footage horrors are works of fiction. This one is not. According to those who have seen the leaked tape, it’s 30 minutes of the leathery Hulkster doing not-safe-for-the-wrestling-ring moves with his friend’s wife, and may require you to immediately gouge your eyes upon viewing. It hasn’t been “officially” released yet, so count your blessings.
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