Categories
Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Scary Movies and Series

Fact or Fiction: Found Footage Horror

What is Found Footage Horror?

If you’re newer to the horror community, then you may not be aware of the found footage style that makes up a widely celebrated part of the genre. That being said…

Relatability and Morbid Fascination

The dark, savage aspects of human nature have a certain allure that cannot easily be disregarded. We’re more likely to see characters who are awkward, trashy, creepy, oblivious, or skeptical throughout the movie—the found footage style has been known to explore those traits more fully since it needs to feel like candid camera footage. As a culture, we tend to have a fascination for things that we can identify with and many people find reality entertainment more relatable—while others find them to be like a trainwreck they can’t stop watching.

Fact or Fiction?

When The Blair Witch Project premiered in 1999, the world witnessed what could reasonably be believed to be real footage of three student filmmakers. These students would go on to disappear while filming their investigative documentary; their footage, as revealed by the movie, was later found by a third party and published for the world to see. The documentary-style film allowed the audience to see through the eyes of the protagonists. We were able to step into their shoes, with a growing sense of trepidation, as they dove into the gruesome legends woven into the history of Burkittsville, Maryland (Derry 228).

Indie Horror Creation

There are only really a handful of found-footage films that directly benefited from the cult following The Blair Witch Project developed at the turn of the century. Regardless, the horror genre branched out into the of found-footage and made it feasible for indie filmmakers to put themselves out there with a low film budget and then expect a larger profit margin in return. Since the mockumentary style of The Blair Witch Project required nothing more than handheld cameras, or more recently, a GoPro. The technology was no longer a barrier. There was a preference of unknown faces that were hired for talent because it would leave the audience with a more authentic quality of film. The promised result was an otherwise cheaply produced finished product with no over-the-top special effects. This style lent directly to the perceived authenticity of the events that would occur within the confines of the film (Derry 229).

Growing Popularity of Reality Horror

The rising popularity in this “reality” horror soon caused the film budgets of these types of movies to rise significantly and the profit margin to subsequently decrease—but why is that? Because, when you think about it, if a found footage film is properly executed they can be an indie filmmaker’s dream. Then again, there also has to be the consideration that most indie horror filmmakers would love to have their film be the next Blair Witch Project. Most just aren’t naive enough to believe that their film will achieve that level of notoriety. Even a movie such as Cloverfield (2008), arguably one of the highest budgeted movies in the style can showcase archetypal lo-fi aesthetic (Kring-Schreifels), but then they blow their budget on special effects. Explosions, enormous alien monsters, and entire buildings being knocked over certainly didn’t help them to cut costs. If their featured talent hadn’t done a wonderful job at performing their roll, it would have been a lot less convincing (although, let’s be real, none of us thought it was real—unlike many with The Blair Witch).

Convincing Storytelling

Thankfully, it’s no longer the believability factor, as much as it is the feel of authenticity and the purity of the scares or creepy story they tell. So, it’s now far less important that these films are regarded as found footage, if we’re distinguishing films being true to the style. If we’re looking for a true found footage film, we must consider movies that fully utilize a diegetic camera, which means that both the camera and if applicable, the person behind it are part of the story. Since the diegetic camera in found footage films is acknowledged by the characters, it can be considered a prop of the fictional world (Turner 8).

Whether we are witnessing the events of the film through security footage, or we’re experiencing the events as a camera-wielding character or part of a film crew, we’re left with room for interesting developments. Even though I won’t deny that security footage style is a diegetic camera, it does have the drawback of removing the closeness we’ve obtained with the character behind the character. When we’re seeing through the camera being held by one of the characters, it feels like we’re literally seeing through their eyes.

The Eyes of Narration

Going back to the previous example of Cloverfield we rarely see the character behind the camera and the longer we go without acknowledging that character, the more closely we get pulled into the him. When he’s nosey, we’re also inclined to be curious of what’s going on—likewise when he’s in a situation where he’s afraid for his life, the audience feels uneasy and fearful. I feel like this not only happens because we’ve identified as the character behind the camera, but because if that character dies, then we’re unaware of where the story will take us next. Typically, someone else is conveniently around to pick up the camera in order to continue to film. We’ve been allowed to suspend our disbelief just long enough to identify as the person behind the camera (Turner 4).

Anything that allows the viewer to more closely relate to the film or the characters within tends to provide a more interesting viewing experience. Whether it’s considered a diegetic camera film, a found footage film, or a “reality” horror film, if “the viewer cannot maintain distance between the events of the story and their own viewing,” then they cannot help but becoming part of the story (Turner 8).

The Beginning of Found Footage Horror

The Blair Witch Project isn’t considered the first found footage horror ever created—that honor is regularly attributed to Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) regardless of whether it was deserved or not. After watching Cannibal Holocaust I started to wonder why it was declared as being found footage at all—sure it utilized the technique for the recovered documentary crew’s film, but there was also a significant part of the movie that is noticeably shot with an objective camera. I submit to you that if we’re going to consider Cannibal Holocaust a found footage film, that we also consider Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) a found footage film.

Reality Entertainment

In many ways, shows like “The Real World” and “Cops” were more of an influence on the initial popularity of a movie like The Blair Witch Project than its found footage predecessors (Kring-Schreifels). Like the reality television trend that people were already enjoying, The Blair Witch Project blended fact and fiction; which appealed to the landscape of entertainment of the time and has helped it continue on as the benchmark for all indie horror creators. So despite the fact that The Blair Witch Project isn’t considered the first of its kind, it still held a unique draw for younger generations of adults who were already immersed in the trend of reality television.

YouTube and Access to the Internet

Just six years after the film’s inception, the world saw the arrival of YouTube which made it even easier to blur the lines between fact and fiction; it’s been noted by those involved in the film, that their successful marketing tactics slipped through a narrow window of an audience that was on the brink of overly accessible information. That, in today’s world, someone looking for more information on Heather Donahue, the female lead, would be able to find with no uncertainty that she was in fact, an actress who had not gone missing at all (Kring-Schreifels). Still, filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez drew on the most important aspect of creating horror by heightening tension and fear; they accomplished this by way of primarily composing the movie as POV shots which limit what the audience sees and creates feelings of anxiety (Turner 16).

Acceptance of New Styles

The Blair Witch Project took a simple and otherwise unprofound concept and made something that rocked the entire genre of horror (Derry 229). Rather than spur a new series of films, however, it signaled the beginning of almost a full decade with no overly notable films in the style (Derry 230). Hill explains that “horror nostalgia emerges precisely when new generations of audiences have embraced more recent developments in horror,” which leads to a sort of conservation of horror as it was when they first found their love of the genre (Hill 101). So when found footage films were making their way into the genre, children of the eighties were clinging to their late-era slashers like Scream and the newly emerging torture porn of Hostel and Saw. There was also an overwhelming boom of paranormal and supernatural horror films that were created in the 2000s.

Unrepeatable Success

Fans of the horror genre are known to form an emotional attachment to the version of a film they see first, regardless of which one is considered the better film. As a result, those who saw The Blair Witch Project during their youth are more likely to prefer the original to the remake Blair Witch of 2016 (Hill 101). It was clear that a remake of The Blair Witch Project would not be as successful as the original; not only because the guerrilla-style marketing campaign couldn’t be replicated, but a remake would hold less appeal for those who enjoyed the original film (Hill 102). Over twenty years since its premiere and there are still people who look back at The Blair Witch Project wanting answers. Of course, this isn’t because they still believe (if they ever did) that it was a true documentary, but because the movie left them with questions—namely, what does the Blair Witch actually look like?

There is no denying that what The Blair Witch Project accomplished was phenomenal. From the boots-on-the-ground marketing campaign to the missing person posters designed to boost the level of authenticity of the film, the filmmakers utilized tactics that could never again be repeated. The nostalgia for a time since passed contributed to the success of The Blair Witch Project and in essence has contributed to the success of many of the found footage films that have come since.

Works Cited

Hills, Matt. “Horror Reception/Audiences.” A Companion to the Horror Film, by Harry M. Benshoff, Wiley Blackwell, 2017, pp. 90–108.

Kring-schreifels, Jake. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ at 20: Why It Can’t Be Replicated. 30 July 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/07/30/movies/blair-witch-project-1999.html.

Categories
Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

From the Original Vampires to Modern Representations in Movies

Vampire woman walking through the forest
Photography by Racheal Lomas

Have you ever wondered where the modern vampire first appeared within human history? Well, any documentation outside of ancient mythology came with historic value, from credible sources such as historian William of Newburgh. Due to his reputation as a noteworthy and careful historian, his History of English Affairs serves as one of the earliest records of vampire phenomena of the British Isles. Unfortunately, his reliance upon spoken folklore caused these chronicles to come under scrutiny and these chronicles are often considered to have vague and inaccurate content. The reliance on this folklore was due to commonplace belief in the dead returning to life as vampires, so it seemed that diminishing these beliefs would have been considered a disregard of viable information. The relish with which Willaim of Newburgh accounts for the living dead in several of his chronicles is present in his History of English Affairs, he speaks of visible ghosts or animated corpses that were believed to have returned from the grave to terrorize the living–his reports documented several stories of the undead, however, they do not attest to any blood consumption by such creatures. So were these true vampires he was documenting or were these revenants a different type of demon or spirit that was dedicated to terrorizing those who still lived? Well, they did have a few similarities with what we consider vampires.

The first report from William of Newburgh occurred in Buckinghamshire, in which a man returned from the grave and assaulted his wife for several nights; when she finally told her family about what was happening, her husband returned to terrorize her family and her neighbors as well. Only when a local clergyman wrote an absolution and placed it upon the corpse, was the body formally bound to the grave. Another report from History of English Affairs states that the body of a deceased clergyman escaped from his grave to haunt the abbey and in particular a woman from the town in which he had served in life. This woman sought out a monk who vowed to stand guard over the grave at night; when the corpse tried to escape from the grave again, the monk attacked it with an ax until it returned to its grave. When a group of monks dug up the corpse the next day, they found it sleeping in a pool of its own blood from ax wounds. They burned the corpse to ashes to prevent it from coming back again. This wasn’t the only account in which the returning corpse was burned to ashes in order to keep it from returning, as it is a common belief that vampires are exceptionally difficult to kill, but their vulnerability lies during the day while they are sleeping. As nocturnal creatures, they reportedly avoided the sunlight and then would come out at night as a means to hide their true nature. None of these reports indicated a bloodlust, but it’s still possible that these instances were missed.

Vampire lovers aren’t always aware of the vast amounts of lore that is connected to their favored creatures of the night, but the long history of the blood-sucking undead is as colorful as it is convoluted and complex. Within what can be considered the modern era, the lore attached to vampires has inspired hundreds of books, movies, and television references to these creatures and will continue to do so in times to come.

Ambrogio, the First Vampire

Swan with open wings on a lake
Photography by Kari

The very first recorded story that depicts the origin of vampires is from ancient Greek mythology, it is not as well-referenced as it should be in modern times. This story came from Delphi, a city that has existed and been inhabited since 1600 BC–the Scriptures of Delphi written by the infamous Oracle of Delphi were one of many archaeological discoveries that have emerged. These scriptures provided a solid foundation of ancient beliefs and evidence, but there are reportedly other archaeological finds that date back even further into ancient times that validate the existence of vampires. Within these scriptures is a section that has come to be known as the “Vampire Bible,” which tells the story of a man named Ambrogio, an Italian adventurer whose lifelong dream was to have his fortune told by the Oracle of Delphi.

Upon meeting this Oracle, she offered only a few cryptic phrases which translated to, “The curse. The moon. The blood will run.” Needless to say, our hero Ambrogio was disturbed by this message and spent the night pondering this message and its possible meanings. When the morning came, a sister of the Oracle, the beautiful young maiden Selene, came to care for her sister and the temple as she did every morning–upon meeting her, he decided to stay and met with her again every morning before he fell deeply in love with her. He asked for her hand in marriage and to return with him to Italy, but the god Apollo had watched this all unfold and took great disrespect that a mortal would try to take the maiden that was dedicated to him.

In a rage, Apollo cursed Ambrogio so that the sun would burn his flesh, which kept him from meeting Selene again the next morning and depart with her to his homeland. Ambrogio sought the protection of Hades, having fled to the caves, and the god of the underworld made a deal and Ambrogio had to leave his soul with Hades. Hades bestowed upon Ambrogio a magical wooden bow with eleven arrows, with which he was to hunt and kill a creature and offer it up to Artemis in order to gain her favor; once this had happened, he would have to steal her silver bow and deliver it back to Hades in order to retrieve his soul. Unfortunately for Ambrogio, he squandered the arrows killing swans and writing poetry to Selene in their blood. Realizing his plight, he stole the silver bow of Artemis anyway, but upon discovery of her missing bow, she too cursed Ambrogio, so that the touch of silver would also burn his flesh.

This new curse caused him to be unable to deliver the bow to Hades and in his grief, he fell to his knees and begged for mercy–Artemis felt pity for him and gave him one more chance. She bestowed upon Ambrogio the speed and strength of a god so that he would be as powerful a hunter as she was, as well as fangs so he may draw blood from his prey and continue to write his poetry. Newly immortal, Ambrogio was to abandon all other gods but the virgin goddess Artemis and with that pursuit of any physical love with Selene. Even though he agreed to the demands of Artemis, he wrote Selene a message that night, instructing her to meet with him on his ship. She found a coffin in the hull of the ship, with a note attached that told her to order the ship to sail and to not open the coffin until sunset–they ended up living inside of the caves of Ephesus together for many years, Ambrogio not having aged a day but Selene, still a mortal fell sick with age.

blank
Statue of the Greek Goddess Selene

Ambrogio knew that he would not be able to spend the afterlife with Selene because Hades still possessed his soul, so he sacrificed a swan to Artemis to gain the favor of her appearance. Artemis was pleased with his loyalty and service to her, so she made him one final deal, that he may touch Selene one time in order to drink her blood. Upon drinking her blood, her mortal body would die, but she would return an immortal like himself and they would be able to spend eternity together. Selene’s spirit rose to the heavens and at the behest of Artemis became the Goddess of moonlight, where her soft light would touch Ambrogio and the children of the night who were created by him.

The Truth Behind the Legend of Dracula

In the whole of vampire lore, there are no stories that have caused more fear than Dracula; this legendary creature was invented by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel, Dracula. His novel has inspired more horror movies, television shows, and books than any other vampire origin story–while Dracula as a character in the book is entirely fictional, Stoker actually gave him the likeness of a real historical figure who lusted after blood, who was rumored to have executed between 40,000 and 100,000 people in his famous fashion of impalement. According to legend, Vlad III allegedly feasted on the blood of the dying victims as they writhed in agony, but according to the historical references of Vlad Tepes he was regarded as a hero of his land.

Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia

Son of Vlad Dracul, Vlad Tepes the Prince of Wallachia is more famously known as Vlad the Impaler–this moniker served as testimony to the brutal way in which he dealt with his enemies. Born in 1431 in what is now known as Transylvania, a central region of Romania–but according to a professor of medieval history and archaeology at the University of Florida, there is no record of Vlad Tepes ever having owned property in Transylvania. This means that while Stoker’s Dracula may be centralized in Transylvania, the historic Dracula, Vlad Tepes, didn’t have much to do with Transylvania after his birth. The supposed Castle Dracula was never inhabited by Vlad III, but has been turned into a tourist attraction due to its location and physical appearance.

The Order of the Dragon

The year of Vlad the Impaler’s birth, his father was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, an order of knights, the designation of which earned Vlad II the surname of Dracul, the old Romanian word which translated to “dragon,” this was derived from a related word, drac which translated to “devil.” Eventually, this would lead Vlad III to inherit the surname and come to be known as Drăculea, son of Dracul.

Vlad the Impaler

According to the legends that were spoken after the death of Vlad III, he got the name of the Impaler, when he was the voivode, or ruler of Wallachia. He had invited hundreds of boyars–aristocratic Romanians, who had played a pivotal role in dethroning him–to a banquet where he had them all killed and impaled upon spikes while they were still warm. The terror he reigned and the blood he spilled didn’t stop there, as he is also credited with doing the same to dozens of Saxon merchants who had allied themselves with the boyars who had stolen his throne. Another alleged bloody tale is when a group of Ottoman messengers refused to take their turbans off due to religious necessity, at which point Vlad had their turbans nailed to their skulls so they would forever remain on their hands.

Dante and Virgil in Hell by William Adolphe Bourguereau (1850)
Dante and Virgil in Hell by William Adolphe Bourguereau (1850)

Films that are based on Dracula

Vampires as they are in the Movies