In honour of the new Blair Witch release being announced, I felt it would be proper to highlight a few lesser-known found footage films that were inspired by the original.
Thanks to The Blair Witch Project, we have a sub-genre of horror films that have produced such classics as Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, and Grave Encounters. Each of these films follow the same basic plot of the curious wishing to document the paranormal, and usually filming more than they bargained for.
The Taking of Deborah Logan
The Taking of Deborah Logan is one such film. It’s a found footage piece that is treated as if it were the filming of a documentary about the effects of Alzheimer’s on an elderly woman.
This truly bizarre movie involves snake worship, serial murders, heavy doses of suspense, and will keep you guessing until the very end.
Set in rural Virginia, the film plays on our innate fear of growing old. It revolves around Deborah Logan, an elderly woman, who is being filmed by a documentary group composed of three film students. Deborah allows Mia and her crew to stay with her as they document her descent into madness due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Deborah’s daughter, Sarah Logan, is there to take care of her mother and keep her affairs in order. The crew installs cameras throughout the house and carry cameras with themselves to catch anything that happens. They begin documenting her strange behavior, such as nailing the windows shut, screaming in the middle of the night for her trowel, and her handling of snakes.
They slowly unravel a mystery revolving around a serial killer and an ancient Native American ritual that would allow a person to live forever. This film has outstanding reviews from nearly all of its critics and maintains itself as a classic film that helped set the bar for other found footage films.
Troll Hunter centres around the fictitious Norwegian “population control” of various Troll species.
It sounds like a strange premise, and it truly is, but the film itself transcends the horror genre by turning a surreal fantasy creature into something that could live in the modern world — as if it were any other natural predator. They have fears, they have a breeding cycle, and they have biology that can be tested scientifically.
Troll hunter Hans is a surly and knowledgeable man of the wild, and invites the college students making the documentary (who originally believe him to be a bear poacher) to join him in his current investigation. He only does so after they’ve caught him baiting a troll in an attempt to get a blood sample.
The creature itself is gigantic, as are all the trolls in the movie. All of the special effects are wonderfully done, with superb acting based off an amazing script. Following Hans & co, we learn of the various troll species and their various traits. Some grow additional heads as they age, while some prefer to live in caves in large groups. They all can smell the blood of a Christian and will hunt them mercilessly unless held at bay by ultraviolet light, which slowly turns them to stone.
Hans explains how after every troll attack, the “Troll Security Service” arrives to deposit a bear carcass and create fake tracks so that the trolls remain a secret. The fact that many species are leaving their territories and acting far more aggressive than normal is reason enough for Hans to be working overtime.
This is a near-perfect found footage film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It’s filled with suspense that’s broken by intense action sequences, and silly moments that bring a much-needed laugh.
The final film is one I recommend to nearly every fan of horror that asks for something a little different. Devils Pass (Originally known as The Dyatlov Pass Incident) is a UK/Russian-produced film where a group of students and mountain climbers go to the infamous Dyatlov Pass, where a mysterious group of dead climbers were found in 1959.
The movie combines the fears of Cold War era Russia with the odd comings and goings of strange entities, which seem to dog the footsteps of the intrepid camera crew.
After finding a weather tower with a human tongue resting on the frigid wood, the mountaineers begin thinking that the camera crew is setting them up, making a fake documentary for scares. This is a fun bit of meta-humor as they continue to argue over whether or not the strange footprints were made by the students, what the sounds are at night, and what a mysterious door is doing frozen solid, beneath the snow in the cliffs of the Pass.
The movie goes from strange to bizarre when they are attacked by Russian soldiers after an avalanche nearly killed them. They retreat to the door and manage to sneak in, only to find that the soldiers won’t enter after them. They lock them in what turns out to be a bunker, sealing their tomb.
If you’re watching this for the first time, I really suggest you open up your mind and keep a sense of humor with the visceral horror that accompanies the last thirty minutes of the film. This is a must for anyone who wants a good horror film with an original plot, regardless of whether or not they care for “found footage” films.
The three films I’ve listed are but the tip of the glacier of this branch of horror. There are literally hundreds of films that all revolve around a similar premise – i.e. the suspense derived from the “Point of View” camera work. Yes, there are some that are terrible, but there are some real under-the-radar gems to be discovered, and you can normally find one that’s worth watching.
If you’re looking for other titles, I would suggest The Last Exorcism as a good place to start, as it combines found footage with possession — two of my favourite horror subgenres. From there, I would just troll (no pun intended) through the lists of movies hidden on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and pretty soon you’ll find some quality cinema that is worth exposing to friends and family for some good old fashioned scares.
By Nicholas Paschall (@Nelfeshne)
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