5 Great Horror Movies Based On Urban Legends

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Best Of Best of Movies Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Horror movies are always more effective when reminiscent of, or straight up depicting, real world fears. What better way to terrify the masses than by visually portraying urban legends, some of the most widespread of superstitions and irrational paranoias? Many of these folk horror films are tackled by smaller directors looking to kickstart, though some bigger budget gems have been known to shine through. 

Triangle 2009

Triangle Folk Horror movie poster with girl holding axe on a boat with a bloody reflection

Triangle is a twisting, turning, chilling British horror/thriller from Christopher Smith, director of Severance (2006) and Black Death (2010). A potent hybrid of old school slasher à la Friday 13th (1980) and mind-bending science fiction in the vein of Predestination (2014) and Coherence (2013), this unsettling nautical romp is certain to please fans of both. When Jess, a single mother, embarks on a boating trip with her friends, a storm forces them to abandon their vessel for a seemingly deserted cruise liner. Once aboard, the group are faced with a deranged killer, along with waves of psychological mayhem and headache-inducing time loops. 

As the name may suggest, Triangle is centred around the infamous Bermuda Triangle, a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean. The region is said to have played setting to, and been the culprit of, a great number of obscure sightings and disappearances leading back to 1492. It was then that Christopher Columbus and the crew of the Santa Maria sailed through the triangle to arrive at Guanahani, though not before reportedly seeing a strange and unknown light in the sea fog. Since then a great deal of boats and aeroplanes have disappeared in the sinister sea-region, from the USS Wasp in 1814 to Turkish Airlines flight TK183 in 2017, some carrying upwards of a hundred passengers at the time of disappearance. 

Triangle does great justice to the eerie and unexplainable legend of the Bermuda Triangle, it’s warping story leaving viewers guessing and re-guessing until its bleak and poignant closing scene. Weight is added through Smith’s use of bloody violence and tense horror, creating a soft hybrid of a film which remains as entertaining and thought provoking now as it ever was. 

Bermuda is not the only area that has a mysterious triangle. The Alaska Triangle has similar tales albeit over land.

The Blair Witch Project 1999

Blair Witch Project 1999 Movie poster with scared face and text

This pioneer of the found-footage subgenre shocked audiences in 1999 with a claustrophobic and wholly believable portrayal of young adults falling victim to the legend of the mysterious Blair Witch. After setting off into rural Maryland to document and hopefully capture some evidence of the insidious figure, including interviewing locals and camping in some questionable spots, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams (playing themselves) soon become lost in the vast wilderness. Seemingly stalked and tormented by the very myth they sought to invoke, the three encounter dread and distress enough to make any viewer think twice about their next camping trip.

Of course, the legend of the Blair Witch is just that, a legend. That being said, it had more of an interesting start than most. Writer-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez fabricated an entire urban legend regarding the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, plastering missing-person posters around the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and claiming their footage was real. Sundance legally had to confirm the film as a work of fiction, though this did not lessen the impact the marketing ploy had. The rise of a $60,000 indie flick to $248,000,000 blockbuster is staggering, as is the influence the film has had on the horror scene long after its release. 

The Blair Witch Project relied on a strong cast utilising a lot of improvisation to help its desired effect come to life. Not just for the claims of authenticity (though it did help those) but for the raw and genuine atmosphere running through the flick. The actors camped for ten days in the Maryland wilderness while cremembers posed as their antagonist, leaving stick figures and bloody packages at camp, shaking their tents in the early hours. Only Heather, of the three, was given any information about the witch to ensure the others gave authentic reactions and asked plenty of questions. 

While this type of filmmaking can come with complications, such as the actors’ parents being sent sympathy cards over their children’s fictional deaths to this day, it shows a complete commitment from cast and crew. To make something with this impact, small sacrifices must sometimes be made, though we’ll leave it up to the creators to decide whether it was worth it.

Willow Creek 2013

Willow Creek Folk Horror Movie poster with a big foot imprint and red background

When Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) and Jim (Bryce Johnson) travel into Humboldt County, California on a camping trip to find the famous wildman, Bigfoot, their faith and will to survive are tested in equal measure. 

If Willow Creek isn’t a tribute to The Blair Witch Project then it’s at least a loving nod. Effectively sparse and utilising tireless and detailed acting from what is effectively a cast of two, prolific writer/director/comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial foray into tense horror is a potent one. It shares Blair Witch’s theme and structure almost to a tee, other than replacing Myrick and Sánchez’ fictitious urban legend with one very much known in the real world.

Bigfoot, also referred to as Sasquatch in Canadian and American folklore, is an ape-like wildman of worldwide legend and innumerable alleged sightings. While all accounts of the Bigfoot are anecdotal, or highly disputable video footage or photographs, it manages to retain one of the highest cult followings of any urban legend, with followers deeply entrenched in the culture of searching out and worshipping the elusive ape-man. 

Bigfoot has been a figurehead in popular culture for years, appearing on television, in films and countless pieces of merchandise. A few horror films such as Exists (2014) and Evidence (2012) have included the towering hair-covered phenomenon as an antagonist, though none quite so efficaciously as this one.

Ringu 1998 / The Ring 2002

The Ring Horror Movie poster showing a glowing supernatural ring

This Japanese frightfest and its American counterpart are a perfect example of a western adaptation done right. Japan has always had a distinct and dynamic take on horror as a genre, favouring dark spaces, pale ghosts with jet black hair and some truly unsettling signature sounds. One may think that a western attempt would completely miss the mark (or, as they tend to, miss the point completely) on such an unmistakable style, though Ringu’s remake The Ring proved to be as good if not a more accessible way to deliver its story to a wider audience. 

When journalist Rachael (Naomi Watts) comes across a videotape that allegedly kills people seven days after watching, she must act quickly to decipher the meaning behind the object before it claims her own life. Featuring a solid performance from Naomi Watts along with a morbidly bleak atmosphere and some horrendously chilling imagery, The Ring managed to take an age-old Japanese urban legend and present it in a way certain to scare the worldwide masses. As if Ringu wasn’t unnerving enough.

The story itself is, as you may have guessed, based on an old Japanese legend dating as far back as the 12th century. Somewhere between 1333 and 1346 a fort now known as Himeji Castle was erected on Himeyama hill in western Japan. A samurai named Tessan Aoyama was said to have taken a particular fancy to a young servant of his named Okiku, so much of a fancy in fact that he vowed to take her away and marry her. When she refused his advances, the samurai hid one of the ten priceless golden plates Okiku was charged with looking after. He told her that if she did not agree to marry him he would openly blame her for the plate’s disappearance, an accusation that would undoubtedly lead to her being tortured and executed. In full knowledge of her predicament, Okiku was said to have committed suicide by throwing herself into a well in the castle grounds. Each night, so the tale goes, she would crawl back out of the well, appearing to Aoyama on a nightly basis until he went mad from her haunts. She was regularly heard counting the plates she had sworn to protect, throwing a destructive tantrum whenever she realised that number ten was still missing. 

Ringu proves that a terrifying story does not have to be wholly original; sometimes a rework of an ancient tale will do just nicely. 

Candyman 1992

Candyman Urban Legend Horror Movie Poster with a bee in an eye

Candyman is the quintessential urban legend brought to life. Based on a 1985 Clive Barker short story entitled The Forbidden, the film shares a few similarities. The infamous Candyman, with his aura of bees and hook for a hand, will appear to anyone who either uses his name in vain or flat out refuses to believe in him. Say his name five times in a mirror (yep, that’s where that came from) and he’ll appear behind you, ready to drive his deadly hook into your tender form. That’s if you’re brave or stupid enough to even bother.

A graduate student named Helen comes across the Candyman legend while researching her thesis paper. Her examination into the insidious entity brings his attention right back on her, and soon she finds herself fighting for her life against an age-old evil that apparently only she didn’t know not to mess with.

Candyman has taken his share of inspiration from several sources, most notable of which being the Hookman legend. In the story, a young couple are getting steamy in a parked car when an emergency radio bulletin says that a mental patient with a hook for a hand has escaped the nearby asylum. The girl becomes terrified when she hears something scraping along the car, convincing the boy to drive off. When he does, neither of them notice the metal hook hanging from the door handle. While the similarities here are purely aesthetic, the Hookman appearance is unmistakable in any form.

The other clear inspiration for this 1992 classic is one of the many manifestations of the ‘say their name five times in a mirror’ dare, Bloody Mary. One of the most widely known tales to date, Bloody Mary is said to have been a witch who was burned for practicing black magic, though more modern retellings say that she was a young woman who died in a car crash. Every kid’s first sleepover isn’t complete without a game of Bloody Mary, making her one of the first spirits many of us will have encountered.

Links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bermuda_Triangle_incidents

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1187064/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185937/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0

https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/blair-witch-project-true-story-burkittsville-maryland

https://www.mirror.co.uk/film/blair-witch-real-truth-behind-8844017

https://www.vice.com/en/article/8xzy4p/blair-witch-project-oral-history-20th-anniversary

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himeji_Castle

https://screenrant.com/candyman-movie-real-urban-legends-inspiration-tony-todd/

https://www.popsugar.co.uk/entertainment/where-does-candyman-legend-come-from-47313482

7 Sea Hauntings Worth Watching

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“Red Sky at night, Sailors delight; Red Sky in the morning, Sailors take warning.” Ahh the sea, it offers freedom, mystery, tales of glorious expedition, and epic struggles. Sailors have always been a superstitious folk from reading the sky to minding birds for bad luck. The sea is possibly the best backdrop for a good haunting and ghost ships are no exception here. Ships are often seen as almost human entities from being named to how they are referred to as he or she. It’s no surprise that there are piles of lore around haunted ships, ocean locations and sea creatures. It’s definitely one of my favorite locations for horror and here are a list of some of the great sea fairing horror movies out there.

The Fog-1980

The Fog Horror Movie Poster

 You may think that everything is safe, however, when a dense fog rolls into town, you may think otherwise. On the coasts of Oregon, you will find that this fog comes with vengeful spirits looking to haunt. 100 years after a ship mysteriously disappeared and sank, the spirits are back. The people of this small town must take a look at their history to stop this serious problem. One of Jon Carpenters many horror masterpieces here.

The Fog is rated R. 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-fog-1980/id707558494

Ghost Ship – 2002 

Ghost Ship Movie Poster

A 1962 passenger ship that has been lost for many years is soon discovered. This ship was floating in an isolated area of the Bering Sea. It was believed that all the passengers had died until further discovery has shown otherwise. The crew that discovered this long-lost ship is in for a huge surprise when the original crew of the boat is still on board…. in a supernatural sort of way.

https://www.vudu.com/content/movies/details/Ghost-Ship/9750

Death Ship- 1980 

Death Ship Horror Movie Poster

Going on vacation on a modern-day cruise could have you thinking twice. A ghostly-looking ship rams into the cruise ship. The passengers aboard the cruise ship who survive climb to this large vessel. The survivors soon discover that it is a Nazi torture vessel from World War II. They soon realize that they were better off dead than on this new ship.

https://tubitv.com/movies/454503/death_ship?utm_source=google-feed&tracking=google-feed

Triangle- 2009 

Triangle Horror Movie Poster

Nothing is better than a group of friends on a yacht… Until they are in an incident that leaves their yacht upturned. Luckily, they find a cruise ship that was drifting in the open sea. However, soon after climbing aboard this ship, they realize they were better off floating on their capsized yacht.

https://tubitv.com/movies/480291/triangle?utm_source=google-feed&tracking=google-feed

Deep Rising – 1998 

deep rising horror movie poster

Hijacking a luxury ocean liner is not an easy task, however, it is made even more difficult when you are faced with some pretty crazy creatures. Hijackers are looking to loot this luxury ship, however, they soon discover that they are not the only ones that have taken over the vessel. They are faced with man-eating creatures. 

https://www.vudu.com/content/movies/details/Deep-Rising/13317

Below -2002 

Below Horror Movie Poster

An encounter that occurs between two world war II vessels soon becomes the perfect camouflage for paranormal activities to begin. There are not that many submarine horror flicks out there so this one goes on the list simply for picking a new vessel.  

https://www.vudu.com/content/movies/details/Below/31486

Mary – 2019

Mary Horror Movie Poster

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5834854/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_10

An empty sailboat is found adrift at sea and is brought into port. When the owners cannot be located it goes to auction. Unwittingly a fishing boat captain buys it to restore and start his dream business charting tourists on the new sailboat. He sets sail on it’s maiden voyage with his family only to find out it has a haunted past.

A Common Crime – Psychological Thriller

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Best Of Best of Movies Featured Horror Movie Reviews Scary Movies and Series

A Common Crime (2021) is the new Argentinian psychological thriller with supernatural elements from director Francisco Márquez. Having not seen his directorial debut The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis (2016), I went into this piece relatively blind, albeit interested in the Argentine perspective of what a grounded horror/thriller should be. What I didn’t expect was that the film might reignite memories of one of my favorite, though sadly most neglected, directors.

From its opening scenes A Common Crime permeates a sparse realism that, while inducing a mild anxiety, also for me echoes the subtle and meticulous stylings of Austrian virtuoso Michael Haneke. With majority diegetic sound and very little music, viewers are made to feel a part of the world they are watching, that is if they can get past the apparent ‘slowness’ that it shares with Haneke’s work. Long, rigorous camera takes allow each scene and the performances within them to breathe, and the result is absolutely hypnotic. 

The plot is simple enough; sociology teacher Cecilia (Elisa Carricajo) has a maid whose son is constantly harassed by the police. One night Cecilia awakens to the boy knocking frantically at her door. Fear takes over and she merely hides in the shadows as some vague struggle seems to occur. When the boy shows up dead the next day Cecilia is plunged into a personal hell of paranoia and self-blame. Clear and definite themes of guilt and grief are explored within the tight, oddly-claustrophobic framing of Márquez’s world. Subtlety and detail are offered in bucketloads, along with a surprising amount of atmosphere from such a dark and restrained story.

That being said, this is no by-the-numbers thriller. Borderline experimental in presentation, you’d honestly be forgiven for growing tired of the repetitive psychological episodes A Common Crime descends into, or at least for hoping for some kind of payoff at the end of it all. That expectation came to me from repeated past viewings of Haneke’s beautifully bland stylings which almost always involved some kind of heavy shock punishment for letting his work seep into you. While trying to navigate the minefield of spoiler-free reviewing I can only say I was left with a confused, perhaps a little concerned, expression as the credits began to roll on this one. It took until the ending for me to realise that A Common Crime was nothing like I had expected. This is, on the one hand, a testament to its mesmerising nature, though that nature was primarily the thing which left me feeling lost on more than one occasion. 

A Common Crime movie poster featuring a woman screaming

Rather than make a full-blown psychological horror, Márquez shows a lot of discipline and moderation. A Common Crime sticks to it’s drama-fuelled thriller territory while using classic horror tools to enrich the presentation of its story. While most scares are longer-running and based around reactions, any up-front chills attack within enough space to enhance their effect. Even the score felt more dreamy than dread-inducing. That being said, the parts come together quite effectively as a whole. The unease I felt during its run time did reach that of films such as Hagazussa (2017) and Krisha (2015), as it relies more on its commitment to an uncanny feeling of irregularity that admirably holds up to the very end. 

A Common Crime is an honest, bold and intellectual drama which teeters on thriller territory in plot alone. Keeping enough to its chest to allow its mystery to envelop the viewer, it thrives in its own quiet world with barely an enhancement from clever editing or sound tricks, which in itself is an accomplishment. It may not be quite what you’re looking for, but give it time to sink in and you’ll be wanting more like it in a heartbeat.

Best Body Horror Movies

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Body horror movies are films that focus specifically on trauma, mutation, mental deterioration, and illnesses that occur in the human body. Some of these processes are natural, while others are inflicted. Movies that fall into this genre are typically gross, morbidly fascinating, and outright alarming, and the reason they are so effective is because they concern aspects of living we all can relate to: our physical and mental health. It’s quite horrifying when something invades, violates, and/or transforms our conceptions of who we are.

Though the term “body horror” is relatively new in the world of horror, there is thankfully no shortage of examples in film. The list below constitutes some of the best in the genre, along with a dozen other recommendations (and though David Cronenburg’s ouevre could be a list of its own, we did limit him to two films here to allow other movies to shine). 

Check out Puzzle Box Horror’s best movies about body horror!

Possessor (2020)

Possessor body Horror film poster

Tasya Vos is an assassin working for a high-tech secret organization. This organization uses brain implants to sync her mind up with another, giving her control over someone else’s body in order to commit the murder and leave them behind as a scapegoat. That’s already pretty freaky stuff, but then things take an even darker turn when her latest host regains control over their mind/body. There are several layers of disturbing body horror happening here – loss of control, blackouts, possession, transformation – and it’s all very dramatic and unsettling. Possessor is directed by Brandon Cronenburg (of Antiviral fame), and stars Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott.

American Mary (2012)

American Mary Horror Movie poster with woman and chainsaw

Mary is upset because the high tuition costs at medical school are thwarting her dreams of becoming a surgeon. But things take a turn when she performs impromptu surgery at a strip club, and then they take another turn when people being paying her to alter their bodies and introduce her to the world of extreme body modification. Not only are there numerous graphic scenes of highly illegal body modifications, but there is also a revenge storyline involving Bloody Mary and the man who raped her. The film verges on torture porn levels, but it’s also highly intriguing in its subversiveness. American Mary is directed by the Soska Sisters and stars Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, and Tristan Risk.

Teeth (2007)

Teeth Body Horror Movie

We often feel as strangers to our own bodies during adolescence (thanks puberty), but Teeth takes this concept to a strange new level. Dawn suffers from a rare condition, referred to in the film as “vagina dentate” or “vagina teeth”, that makes physical intimacy with another impossible. But when a shocking and nonconsensual encounter awakens her violent side, she realizes she can use her condition to take revenge on other bad man. Heads up for those with male reproductive organs, this is a tough one to watch. It’s also a bleak and unsettling coming of age tale told through emotional performances and streaks of dark comedy. Teeth is directed by Mitchell Lichtensteina and stars Jess Weixler.

Slither (2006)

Slither horror movie poster with worms and lady in a bathtub

A small town in South Carolina is invaded by a malicious alien parasite that immediately infects someone and spawns numerous larvae offspring. These new parasites continue the trend, turning their unsuspecting hosts in all manner of mutated grotesqueries and forming a large hive mind. It’s up to a ragtag group of survivors, led by Police Chief Bill Pardy, to stop the spread before the whole town goes under. The film manages to be both extremely disgusting and extremely hilarious. This blend of alien invasion and body horror is certainly an example of horror comedy at its finest, and it’s filled to the brim with blood, goo, and gross-out scenes. Slither is directed by James Gunn (right?!) and stars Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks.

Society (1990)

Society Horror Movie Poster with woman taking her face off

Bill is a teenager who lives with his wealthy family in Beverly Hills. Bill has always felt a little different from his sister and parents, who subscribe to the upper class elite mentality, and he begins to wonder if there is something darker going on behind the scenes. A series of strange events lead up to a shocking conclusion where all of Bill’s fears will be revealed. Like some of the other films on this list, Society is a movie with something to say. Sure, it’s not very subtle in its satirical take on wealthy urbanites, but it’s certainly memorable (especially that last orgy scene…). Society is directed by Brian Yuzna and stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, and Evan Richards.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Iron Man body Horror Movie Poster

A man and his girlfriend are driving when they accidentally hit and kill another man. They begin having strange visions and noticing horrifying changes to their bodies. Turns out the man they killed was a metal fetishist who is taking his revenge by turning them into a monstrous mesh of man and machine. This film, with its abstract narrative and soundtrack of scraping metal, certainly falls into the avant-garde style of experimentation. This black-and-white cyperpunk nightmare is also one of the wildest movies you’ll ever experience. It begins with a man shoving a metal rod into a cut in his leg, and then it just escalates from there. Tetsuo: The Iron Man is directed by Shinya Tsukamoto and stars Tomorowo Taguchi and Kei Fujiwara.

The Fly (1986)

The Fly Horror Movie Poster

A brilliant scientist finds his world turned upside down when a failed experiment mixes his genes with that of a common fly. This freak encounter leads to a slow and painful transformation for the scientist. The grotesque scenes of mutation are as haunting as they are harrowing for the man and his loved ones. The film, a remake of an earlier movie from the 1950s, takes its source material and elevates it to higher levels of emotion, anxiety, and terror. The film has also become a classic in its own right, especially in the world of sci-fi horror, and is likely the director’s most well-known mainstream movie. The Fly is directed by David Cronenburg and stars Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, and John Getz.

The Thing (1982)

The Thing John Carpenter Horror Movie Poster with alien man

In a remote facility in Antartica, a research team is hunted by a bizarre alien life form that can transform its body to mimic other forms, in this case shapeshifting to assume the form of its victims. The plot of this film is simple and wastes no time in getting to the good stuff. The paranoia and body count runs high as the isolated research station is invaded and the team desperately tries to root out the evil and survive. The movie also has some of the best practical effects ever, making the many “wtf” moments that much more special. It’s bizarre, it’s gruesome, and it’s a whole lot of fun. The Thing is directed by John Carpenterand stars Kurt Russell as well as a great cast of supporting characters. 

Videodrome (1982)

Videodrome Body Horror movie poster with man floating

There’s a shocking new satellite feed airing on television called “Videodrome”, which depicts random people being sodomized, tortured, and murdered in various ways. The president of the TV station, Max Renn, becomes determined to find out who the creators are: a quest that will feature a wide variety of graphically deranged scenes and lead to his own psychological unhinging. It’s a body horror program within a body horror movie, full of the director’s emphasis on surrealism but loaded with even more gore. It also effectively blurs the line between reality and fantasy as it becomes something of a study on the genre itself. Videodrome is directed by David Cronenburg and stars James Woods, Debbie Harry, and Sonja Smits.

Honorable Mentions

Tusk (2014)
Antiviral (2012)
The Skin I Live In (2011)
Cabin Fever (2002)
Brain Damage (1988)
Hellraiser (1987)
From Beyond (1986)
Re-Animator (1985)
The Stuff (1985)
Possession (1981)
Eraserhead (1978)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Best Found Footage Horror Movies

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What makes a horror movie scary? The answer to that question is fairly subjective, but there are likely some commonalities across the board.. And while intense action sequences, shocking twists, chilling imagery, and startling jump scares all deserve a place on that list, one of the most important factors (in our opinion) is realism. The more believable a horror film is, the more genuinely terrifying it will be. This suspension of disbelief, the thing that pulls audiences into the story and envelops them in its horror, is a contributing factor to some of the scariest films ever made. The best found footage horror movies exemplify this.

This is why the found footage horror genre works so well in horror. Found footage movies are presumed to be recovered recordings of actual events. They’re shot with low quality cameras, cast with no name actors, and often created on a tight budget. And yet this obvious lack of “quality” is exactly what makes these films succeed. The handheld cameras and documentary-style narratives help shape movies that seem incredibly realistic – and when they’re in the horror genre this also makes them incredibly frightening. To give you a taste of what this wide-ranging sub genre has to offer, we’ve explored the history of found footage horror to give you some of the best found footage horror films!

Host (2020)

Host found footage horror movie poster

It’s July of 2020, and the United Kingdom is in the middle of a lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus. A group of friends have decided to use weekly Zoom calls as a way to stay connected, and in this latest call they have invited a medium to host a seance. Things start off innocently enough, but when one of the friends feels the presence of their dead friend Zack, things start to go off the rails. It’s a frighteningly good time, blending real world circumstances with supernatural scares. The entire movie was shot on Zoom during Covid, so it works as effective found footage horror movie as well as a marker of life during the pandemic. In the realm of “movies shot on the Internet” this stands out above the rest.

Creep (2014)

Creep found footage horror movie poster

A young, burgeoning filmmaker named Aaron has found a new gig: recording a video diary for a new client. Josef, who wants to film his final moments for his family, invites Aaron to his cabin in the woods. But Josef’s behavior is increasingly erratic and strange, and by the time Aaron realizes the truth of what’s going on it may be too late. This psychological horror film has the found footage horror movie genre hallmarks of a low budget and stripped down story, but it goes a step further by removing many of the obvious horrors. Instead it’s a case study of two men – one whose madness is slowly revealed and the other whose life is in danger because of it. It’s a risky choice for the genre, but it’s pulled off incredibly well thanks to the magnetic energy and chemistry of its leads Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice.

What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

What We Do in the Shadows found footage horror movie poster

It may not be as scary or disturbing as the other entries on this list, but as a horror comedy hybrid What We Do in the Shadows excels. The movie fits into another sub genre known as mockumentary, and the premise concerns a documentary crew who are filming a group of vampires who share a flat in a suburb of New Zealand. These vampires have varying powers and personalities, and much of the film follows their nightly exploits as they search for humans to kill and live their best undead lives. Comedic duo Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement wrote, directed, and starred in the film that has also launched a television show and a cult following of loyal fans.

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

Frankenstein's Army found footage horror movie poster

It’s towards the end of World War II and a Red Army team on the Eastern Front has received a Soviet distress call. The company traces the call to a seemingly abandoned church where one of their members is suddenly attacked and disembowled by a zombot – a murderous half man/half robot creation. It turns out that the church, as well as the catacombs beneath it, are teeming with zombots created by a mad scientist descended from Victor Frankenstein. The movie has its gory moments and the plot takes some interesting twists and turns, but the standout stars by far are the uncanny and unsettling monster designs and grisly practical effects. Altogether the film is a fun mix of grindhouse, sci-fi, and body horror.

The Conspiracy (2012)

The Conspiracy found footage horror movie poster

Two young documentary movie makers, Aaron and Jim, have decided to make a film about a local conspiracy theorist named Terrance. During the course of their movie, Terrance suddenly disappears, leading them further down the rabbit hole. Their search reveals a secret organization named the Tarsus Club, and soon they are wrapped up in its strange rituals and shadowy machinations. The film does a good job of striking a mysterious tone early on before shifting to mounting dread as the plot goes from faux documentary into straight horror. The final scenes are shocking, particularly one involving a bull’s head, and they will stay with you long after the movie ends.

Grave Encounters (2011)

Grave Encounters found footage horror movie poster

Grave Encounters is about a reality tv show that focuses on the paranormal. Its crew consists of ghost hunters, occult specialists, and mediums who journey to various haunted locales. Each episode features a different spot, and their latest is an abandoned and presumably haunted insane asylum known as the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. Part of the hospital’s sordid history involves a mad doctor who conducted ghastly experiments on the residents. The crew decides to spend the night in the hospital and becomes inexplicably trapped inside, filming what may be their last episode. Not only is this movie a humorous parody of actual paranormal reality shows, but it is also one of the more genuinely frightening found footage horror movies.

Lake Mungo (2008)

Lake Mungo found footage horror movie poster

The Palmer family is grieving the loss of their sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice, after she drowns while swimming in a dam. Her younger brother, Mathew, sets up video cameras around their house to record what appear to be images of her ghost as more dark secrets begin to unravel. The film is shot in a docufiction/mockumentary style, where the main story is communicated through a series of interviews with the family and found footage. More than just a supernatural thriller, the movie is a tense and mournful exploration of grief and how families cope with loss. There was no dialogue written into the script, and the ad-libbing of lines lends to the “real” feel of the movie. Overall, it’s a masterclass in making a powerful movie on a shoestring budget.

Cloverfield (2008)

Cloverfield found footage horror movie poster

Unlike most found footage horror movies, Cloverfield was created by a big name creator, backed by big name production companies, and funded with a moderate budget. J.J. Abrams was able to get the project secretly greenlit and utilized a viral marketing campaign of trailers, posters, websites, and merch tie-ins to build hype before the film’s release. The movie is about an enormous monster attacking New York City, and it’s all filmed cinema verite style through the camcorder of a character named Rob. The chaotic scenes of destruction, the incredible design of the creature, and the realistic shaky home video quality (which caused some moviegoers to fall ill) all work in tandem to create a tense and highly enjoyable found footage movie.

REC (2007)

Rec found footage horror movie poster

A reporter and her cameraman are covering the night shift of a local fire station for the television program While You’re Sleeping. A fire station gets a distress call from a nearby apartment building, and after they arrive the building ends up being sealed off due to the outbreak of a deadly virus. The virus, which presents like rabies, is causing the residents to attack and subsequently infect each other, spreading quickly throughout the building. Those who haven’t been infected, including the camera crew, must find a way to escape and survive. The Spanish film was an immediate critical and commercial success, even spawning a less-than-stellar American remake (Quarantine). 

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity found footage horror movie poster

Not many movies (except the next one on our list) are as closely associated with the found footage movement as the Paranormal Activity franchise. The first film centers on a couple named Katie and Micah who are trying to capture evidence of and communicate with the increasingly angry demon that haunts their house. The creation of one-man show Oren Peli, who did pretty much everything but act in the movie, Paranormal Activity was an unexpectedly massive success. It’s one of the most profitable films ever made and, because Peli decided to focus on believability instead of gore and action, it’s also one of the most genuinely terrifying films in the found footage horror movie genre. 

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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Paranormal Activity may have generated more sequels, prequels, and video game adaptations, but its success owes thanks to one of the first found footage horror films that pioneered the genre in America: The Blair Witch Project. The film, which follows doomed student filmmakers as they attempt to investigate and document the local legend of the Blair Witch, has all the classic tropes and markings of the found footage genre. It’s shot mockumentary style on handheld cameras, it features no name actors ad-libbing the script, it utilized a viral marketing campaign, and it grossed many times over its miniscule budget. It may not be the best found footage movie ever made, but it will always hold a special place in our hearts thanks to the groundbreaking work that paved the way for future films and enabled the genre to become a mainstay in pop culture.

Honorable Mentions

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)
Unfriended (2015)
Hell House LLC (2015)
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
As Above, So Below (2014)
Afflicted (2013)
The Borderlands (2013)
Trollhunter (2010)
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

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