Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Characters With Cameras

      Found footage from dead filmmakers, 'home' movies capturing domestic disturbances, documentary makers way out of their depth, crimes caught on CCTV  and helmet-mounted cameras on cops investigating a zombie outbreak.  

      There is a massive trend in horror to have characters in the films holding or in charge of setting up the cameras.  From Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project and Rec's documentary makers to the camcorder captured horrors of Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, horror characters are increasingly the 'makers' of the film the audience sees.

      As part of my PhD, I am exploring this horror trend.  Some people hate these films; their shaky camera, predictable endings, annoying repetition of conventional elements and characters that refuse to stop filming no matter what they are faced with.

      But many others (and just look at the box office figures of some) love these films.  Why?  Well that's what I'm trying to figure out.  

      Is it just the increased realism?  If so why is something 'captured on camera' more real than a traditional film?
      Is it a reflection of modern society and how so much of what we see is mediated by cameras?  
      Is it some kind of cathartic desire to see 'real' footage made by people so stunned by extraordinary events like the so many hours and hours of footage that were uploaded by amateurs after 9/11?  
      Do we identify more with characters if we see the whole film from their point of view?
      Is it more scary to see characters losing control behind the camera than in front of it?
      Is this trend a low-budget reaction to the 'show everything' gore-splashed higher budget trend in horror known as 'torture porn'; e.g. the Saw/Hostel franchises?
      Are audiences more willing to accept amateur camera work due to reality TV, mobile phone footage on the news, YouTube videos etc?

      There are numerous conventional elements to these films; the shaky handheld camera, poor visual/audio quality, the death of the protagonists, setting up the camera on a tripod to capture things that go bump in the night, using night vision or a light on the camera to see in the dark.  Some but not all include these conventions.  The camera is often visible (in mirrors, in the footage of another camera) and discussed by the characters.  They often question why the operator is still filming under the circumstances and so the camera is continually drawn to the viewer's attention.

      Here is a list of films that feature a camera supposedly being operated or that has been set up by a character within the world of the film.  The yellow highlighted films are ones I have yet to find/see and the green ones are sequels, remakes or ones that do not fit quite as easily into this trend of modern horror.

1.       Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato, 1980
2.       Man Bites Dog (Belvaux, Bonzel and Poelvoorde, 1992)
3.       The Last Broadcast (Avalos and Weiler, 1998)
4.       The Blair Witch Project (Myrick and Sanchez, 1999)
5.       August Underground (Vogel, 2001)
6.       My Little Eye (Evans, 2002)
7.       The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003)
8.       Zero Day (Coccio, 2003)
9.       Incident at Loch Ness (Penn, UK, 2004)
10.   The Magician (Ryan, 2005)
11.   Snuff Movie (Rose, 2005)
12.   Alone with Her (Nicholas, 2006)
13.   The Zombie Diaries (Bartlett and Gates, 2006)
14.   Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Glosserman, 2006)
15.   S&man (Petty, 2006)
16.   Exhibit A (Dom Rotheroe, 2007)   
17.   Rec (Balaguero and Plaza, 2007)
18.   Diary of the Dead (Romero, 2007)
19.   Paranormal Activity (Peli, 2007)
20.   The Poughkeepsie Tapes (Dowdle, 2007)
21.   Welcome to the Jungle (Hensleigh, 2007)
22.   Home Movie (Christopher Denham, 2008)
23.   Quarantine (Dowdle, 2008)
24.   Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008)
25.   Resurrecting the Street Walker (Uyanik, 2009)
26.   Rec 2 (Balaguero and Plaza, 2009)
27.   Paranormal Entity (Van Dyke, 2009)
28.   Atrocious (Fernando Barreda Luna, 2010)
29.   The Last Exorcism (Stamm, 2010)
30.   Paranormal Activity 2 (Williams, 2010)
31.   TrollHunter (Ovredal, 2010)
32.   The Tapes (Lee Alliston, Scott Bates, 2011)
33.   Apollo 18 (Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, 2011)
34.   World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries (Bartlett and Gates, 2011)
35.   The Tunnel (Ledesma, 2011)
36.   Hollow (Michael Axelgaard, 2011)
37.   Paranormal Activity 3 (Henry Joost, Arial Schulman, 2011)

      If you know of any others please let me know as I am always on the look out for more.  If you have any thoughts about these films, please comment and let me know.  Love them or hate them, they don't seem to be slowing down production of this type of film so tell me why you think they are so popular.  What is it you hate about them?  What is it you love about them?