Found footage might be all the rage right now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s new. Most trends in horror aren’t. The genre just moves in cycles. The concept of a film shot in a POV style, maintaining that what you’re watching is real, this has been around for a long time. The found footage film can be traced at least to 1979’s Cannibal Holocaust if not even further than that. Its popularity was cemented by The Blair Witch Project in 1999, yet it took another ten years for the genre to truly take off in the public consciousness. Everything we’re seeing now, all the documentary-style ghost stories in theaters were created in the wake of Paranormal Activity.
Between those three defining pictures for this sub-genre, there are years and years of empty space. But there were films in that time that could certainly be called found footage, only for one reason or another they never became famous. They were never embraced by the public. These sorts of features are naturally cheap. It’s amazing that Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity got the kind of release that they did. Most don’t get so lucky and their low budget generally dictates that they get a direct-to-video release.
Others were released theatrically, but never took off. And they’re not as remembered as the three major classics. Whatever the reasons may be, these forgotten found footage movies are worth rediscovering, if only for the sake of curiosity.
This feature, which is about the last recordings of a family before their abduction by aliens, sounds like it would fit right at home in today’s horror climate. It especially brings to mind movies like The Fourth Kind. The major difference here is that the UFO Abduction is from 1989. It’s not great, and it’s $6,500 budget shows, but from a historical perspective it’s nonetheless interesting. Ten years later the same director remade the feature as Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County. This still predated the release of The Blair Witch Project. This one set the course for a lot of things to follow, but is nonetheless barely remembered. It might be worth pointing out that a large part of the reason why you won’t see this on many found footage lists is because a lot of people still believe that everything you’re seeing in this film is real. In that respect, it might have worked even better than Blair Witch.
The Last Broadcast is more frustrating in some ways because it beat The Blair Witch Project to the punch by just a few months. This film deals with a local documentary crew who set out to try and uncover the truth about New Jersey’s own demonic version of Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil. Unlike the Blair Witch, this is a supposedly true creature. At least, people have reported seeing it for years, so the audience can at once feel right at home with the mythology. In some ways, it’s even scarier than The Blair Witch Project. What’s really astounding about this film, which is not without its flaws but has a charm nonetheless, is this: it cost $900 to make. I cannot think of a movie that was actually released, especially with any kind of theatrical bow, that cost less than $1,000 to produce. The fact that it’s even remotely competent for that amount of money is simply astounding.
Essentially remade in 2007 as Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (although that film is incredible and certainly put its own spin on things) Man Bites Dog is a French movie that centers on a documentary crew following a serial killer and recording his horrific crimes. Unlike Behind the Mask, there’s very little to no element of comedy here and that makes for a completely different and wholly unsettling viewing experience. At first the film crew are perfectly content to be flies on the wall, impartial observers, but as the chaos builds and builds they find themselves questioning the ethics of what they’re doing and whether or not they can actually go through with it. This one is a truly well made, incredible feature and was put together with the equivalent of just $30,000 USD.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes is interesting, because it is fairly recent, although it still predates the recent trend that began with Paranormal Activity. It’s certainly worth including, however, because it may literally be lost to time. Yes, you can find a copy through back market channels if you really want. But it was held off from release for years. It was finally released on VOD in July of 2014, with no simultaneous DVD or Blu-Ray release, but was almost immediately pulled and there have been no solid plans for another means of getting it out there any time soon. There are rumors that MGM has been planning a theatrical release, but there’s nothing concrete there and it’s been some time since that was even discussed. The Poughkeepsie Tapes deserves to be seen. Anything that people put this amount of work into deserves at least some kind of concrete release.