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?


  1. I reckon you have got them all in that list. I cannot think of any more.

  2. Thanks Scott, it feels like every time I think I've found them all , I discover another!

  3. The Blair Witch Project, I thought, capitalized on a concept waiting to be brought mainstream. And it did it brilliantly. Paranormal Activity took it to another level, but it also sent the found footage film over the top. Basically, I'm sick of it now. It seems like most every film is using this technique, and it's mostly failing.

    Oh and Cannibal Holocaust... ho-ly shit.

  4. @Alex, yeah Cannibal Holocaust is at once a horrible, terrible film (acting, animal cruelty, racism) but at the same time quite brilliant in its style and narrative structure! BWP nailed it but I love looking out for new developments in this sub-genre. For instance I loved how Cloverfield had the previous recording on the memory card popping up occasionally. But many of these offer nothing new and I can therefore understand people getting sick of it.

  5. Yeah completely agree. I forgot about the Cloverfield memory card bit, that was a nice touch.

  6. I watched My Little Eye a few years back, and it ab-solutely scared the bejeezus out of me. What a terrific film, even if it is a little unbelievable. The acting and camerawork (such as it is) is excellent, and the mood is highlighted by the complete lack of a traditional score (from memory anyway).... if you get a chance, I can recommend My Little Eye with three skillets to the eyeball.

  7. @Rodney that's one I haven't seen for a long time and need to re-watch but I remember it having one of those excellent horror endings that is totally despairing and bleak. Not sure how well it will tie into my thesis but am going to give it another watch soon. I love the way most of these films don't use a score. The raw footage requires as realitic an approach as possible and music cues would completely ruin the impact.


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