Top 10 Found Footage Horror Films

Found footage horror films have become very popular in recent years. But with so many out there, which is the best? Most importantly, which is the scariest..?

10. 8213: Gacy House (Fankhauser, USA, 2010)

found footage horror filmsHighlighting the impact The Blair Witch Project had on the genre, Gacy House, about a group of ghost hunters spending the night in a serial killer’s former home, basically retreads the same ground with different actors spouting similar lines. It just goes to show, however, that cliché in generic horror can still excite if you allow yourself to buy-in to the set-up.

9. Lake Mungo (Anderson, Australia, 2008)

found footage horror filmsThe faux-documentary film from Australia uses the found footage device as an addition to the story, preferring to narrate the film through on-screen interviews. However, once the “found” footage is discovered it makes for a terrifically unsettling slice of horror cinema and is certainly the highlight of Anderson’s film.

8. The Last Broadcast (Avalos/Weiler, USA, 1998)

found footage horror filmsMixing found footage with mock documentary, Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler’s twisty horror sees a documentary crew set out to document the legend of the Jersey Devil in a large forest area known as the Pine Barrens. Only one of the crew exists alive and is convicted of the other’s deaths. However, as some “discovered” footage proves, not all is as it seems.

7. Troll Hunter (Ovredal, Norway, 2010)

found footage horror filmsScandinavia gets in on the “found footage” bandwagon with this appealingly alternate take on the technique. Instead of ghosts, a group of students set out to document the life of a bear poacher only to find his prey is actually the mythical Troll.

6. The Last Exorcism (Stamm, USA, 2010)

found footage horror filmsAn effective found footage film about a sceptical Reverend who happily performs dramatic fake exorcisms to help those who claim to be possessed. He meets his match, and finds his sanity severely tested, when his latest case proves to be, shall we say, uncooperative!

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The Attraction of Horror Cinema: Why I Love Scary FilmsHorror films scared the hell out of me as a kid yet I returned to them time and time again. Indeed, some of the genre’s finest works still terrify me today. So why do I enjoy watching them so much?
[Read my celebration of horror in my short memoir here]

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5. Paranormal Activity (Peli, USA, 2009)

found footage horror filmsGhosts are perfect fodder for the found footage genre as director Oren Peli proved. Paranormal Activity has to be on this list if only for its phenomenal success at the box. It struck a chord with audiences like no film since The Blair Witch Project. And rightly so, given the director’s smartly orchestrated scares and tension-filled build-up to a haunting climax. The performances are also a cut above the usual level you see in the genre.

4. Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (Alioto, USA, 1998)

found footage horror filmsThis “home video” tells of the night aliens came calling on the McPherson family. Set at a house in the middle of nowhere, the McPherson’s are terrorised by malevolent extraterrestrials who, it appears, aren’t particularly pleased that their endeavours on earth have been captured on camera. Thankfully, the videotape survives, depicting the family’s horrific ordeal.

3. Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato, Italy, 1980)

found footage horror filmsThe film that inspired the found footage revolution of the late 1990s and 2000s, Ruggero Deodato’s film tells of the doomed expedition of a documentary film crew to the Amazon to film cannibal tribes. Cannibal Holocaust, in addition to its influence on the genre, is perhaps most noted for aspects outside of its control. For example, it was banned in several countries (and that ban still remains in some areas), while its director was arrested at the time of release on obscenity charges. There were allegations that actors were killed on camera but this was proven false and Deodato was cleared. However, the film’s oppressive mood and violence sets it apart from any other film on this list. Indeed, this remains one of the most hard-hitting and emotionally affecting found footage films.

2. Rec / Rec 2 (Balagueró/Plaza, Spain, 2007/2009)

found footage horror filmsJaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s Rec follows a television reporter as, along with her cameraman, she films the exploits of a local fire station on a night shift in Barcelona. This being a horror film, things get very strange after the crew respond to a call about an old woman trapped in her apartment. Along with police, the responders enter the woman’s apartment only to find her becoming agitated and violent. Eventually she becomes so crazed they shoot her. Now, trapped inside the building after it becomes quarantined, the inhabitants must survive a deadly plague that appears to be passing amongst them, turning those inflicted into raging, animalistic killers.

Rec 2 picks up the story from the perspective of a doctor who is sent into the quarantined building with a heavily armed police unit immediately after the events of the first film. The story is naturally progressed, taking the zombie plague themes of the first film into more supernatural territory. It neatly (and surprisingly) interlinks itself with characters from the first instalment. It’s arguably an upgrade on the franchise’s debut and is another terrific addition to the found footage genre.

1. The Blair Witch Project (Sánchez/Myrick, USA, 1999)

found footage horror filmsShot for less than $1 million and grossing nearly $250 million worldwide, the film, one of the most profitable ever released, made its fledgling creators Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick so rich they never had to work again. The found footage craze that appeared after the film can be attributed to The Blair Witch Project, which made the horror sub-genre tick like never before.

blair_witch_project_poster_top10filmsUnlike others, such as Alien Abduction, which arrived a year earlier, the performances were excellent, the photography from the actors was well orchestrated, and the production’s ultra low budget enhanced rather than detracted from the story. The film-makers also utilise the story’s setting – a dense Maryland wood – to perfectly convey a sense of detachment from civilisation and disorientating claustrophobia. Its intriguing set-up – a trio of student documentary makers head into the Burkittsville woods with a 16mm film camera and video camera in order to document the legend of the child-killing Blair Witch – is suitably macabre. Yet, it is the way this darkly mysterious beginning is conveyed to us, an ordinariness that importantly fails to prepare us for the ensuing horror. Through astute editing of the footage “found” by police after the group goes missing, the film brilliantly yet gently turns up the tension.

Sánchez and Myrick have to be applauded for their pacing of the drama, the cinema’s answer to the calm before the storm. We begin with a mystery that grabs the attention and build towards a devastatingly effective encounter with a malevolent unknown. The technique to convey this terror through the “footage” the trio capture is particularly important to the film’s overall impact. Not only does it have an inherent sense of authenticity (which isn’t necessarily a given with found footage as Cloverfield proved, but an indication of the film-makers intelligent use of the technique), it puts the audience within the action. Therefore, we feel the characters’ sense of alienation from the world as well as their increasing paranoia. As our point of view never wavers, we are part of their terror.

The Blair Witch Project is the best found footage film for a number of reasons, not least its effective use of the technique. It took its influences and perfected them, while its impressive marketing campaign drew upon the power of internet buzz well before it became an ingrained part of promotional budgets. It is arguably the most influential found footage film ever made and while Paranormal Activity trumped it for profitability (largely because of the proliferation of cheap digital technology that wasn’t available to Sánchez and Myrick in 1999), one of the most popular. While the sub-genre has produced more misses than hits, The Blair Witch Project is one of few found footage films that would find its way on to top horror movie lists regardless of the technique used to produce them. That’s why, perhaps more than anything, it is the best of the lot.

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens

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Discover More Horror on Top 10 Films: Dan Grant looks at the horror movies that scare him the most and the dumbest moments in the Friday the 13th franchise while Neal Damiano checks out a selection of the most disturbing slices of cinema. Elsewhere, I take a look at the best horror film beginnings, the scariest movie monsters, and the curious horror sub-genre that sees television become the bad guy.

Other Top 10 lists you might like: Top 10 Action-Horror Films | Top 10 Horror Films Sequels | Top 10 Scariest Robots, Cyborgs and Artificial Intelligence | Top 10 Ghost Stories in Film


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What! No CLOVERFIELD!!! Read here to find out why…

Over to you: what are your fave found footage horror films?

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Chris Reply

    Great list Dan! I disliked Cannibal Holocaust for the violence, I agree on 1,2 and 5. Another I’d recommend is Man Bites Dog (1992).

    I’ll tweet Pete Turner about your list, he’s doing a Phd on found footage, so he’ll surely want to read your top 10!

    • Dan Reply

      Thanks Chris. I felt Cannibal Holocaust needed to be on this list because of its influence on the genre. Like you say it is tough viewing but I think that’s what it has built its reputation on and why it’s so memorable.

      Although I didn’t offer a definition of “found footage” I’d hesitate to include Man Bites Dog as it has that mock documentary aesthetic. That said, so does Lake Mungo but it features the found footage device as part of the story.

  2. Chris Reply

    A bit bummed by no Cloverfield, but I’m glad that The Blair Witch Project topped the list. Still one of the creepiest horror flicks, found footage or otherwise, that I’ve seen to date.

    • Dan Reply

      Great to hear from another Blair Witch fan, Chris! As you can tell, I still think it holds up brilliantly today, and as you say, it’s as good as most things in the horror genre – found footage or otherwise.

      …As for Cloverfield – I may be it’s biggest critic! Can’t stand the film. Here’s a better explanation

  3. Mark Reply

    Robust list Dan …

    I probably would have put Rec’d (the original) at number one, possibly because I have a penchant for action-packed chaos rather than slow building tension; plus I couldn’t believe the Blair Witch film crew weren’t aware of one of the first rules of being found when lost in the bush (follow the river – don’t cross it and walk into more wilderness … also, throwing the map away would be the last thing you’d do in a situation like that, particularly if you’re cold, hungry and lost). Ashamedly, when I saw the film on the night it was released in my hometown in late 1999 (it was an 11pm screening), I actually missed the significance of the final shot. That, however, reflected my own lack of attention in the first half rather than anything else.

    I also agree with Chris above that it’s a shame Cloverfield didn’t make it. On the other hand, there are a few of these I haven’t seen, so it’s hard to make a qualified judgement (and, having said that, the exposition in Cloverfield does drag on a bit).

    Not sure man Bites Dog does belong here, as it’s not a “found footage” film per se, but more of a genuine cinema verite mockumentary. The same could be said
    of the Vietnam war film 84 Charlie MoPic, a movie that has a similar final shot.

    I read on another blog the other day that the contract signed by the actors in Cannibal Holocaust stipulated they weren’t allow to grant any interviews with the press until at least a year after the film’s release so to enhance its initial mystique. Obviously the ploy worked until a few gullible fools started asking whether they were watching a found footage film or a bona fide snuff movie.

    • Dan Reply

      It wasn’t easy keeping Rec off the top spot as I think it’s a terrific film (well, that and the first sequel) but Blair Witch had me hooked from the first time I saw it. Still love watching it today.

      I suppose Cannibal Holocaust shows its influence even more when we discuss how the actors were given some sort of gagging order and the accusations that came out of the production. It just goes to show how bad news can be great promotion.

  4. JB Reply

    Remember seeing Alien Abduction years ago and being terrified by it!

    • Dan Reply

      …aside from the dodgy acting it’s definitely a creepy film. I give it extra points for how effective it is despite its very basic production values.

  5. Leigh Bartram Reply

    Blair Witch has always been my favorite.

    • Dan Reply

      …me too Leigh. Audiences that have seen the film years after its release don’t seem to share that passion (did you see it on release?). A bit like The Exorcist. I love them both.

      • Leigh Bartram Reply

        I did see it on release definatly one of the best found footage movies made. I used to have all the books they released too about Rustin Parr, Ellie kedward ect if you read the backstorys *even though not real* make the film alot better. I like the new stuff but for me nothing comes close to The Blair Witch.

  6. Jamie Graham Reply

    Have you seen Willow Creek and The Borderlands yet? Both would be fighting for inclusion.

    • Dan Reply

      Haven’t seen those 2. Just looking them up… both look intriguing, especially like the Bigfoot angle on Willow Creek.

      • Jamie Graham Reply

        Def worth it. Modest and ramshackle but Bobcat turns limitations into USPs. Warm, likeable, lovely SOH, and very scary

  7. Lili Elza Reply

    Cloverfield & The Blair Witch Project.

    • Movies and Bacon Reply

      I second both. There really aren’t any others worth mentioning.

      • Dan Reply

        No others worth mentioning?? Rec 1 and 2, Cannibal Holocaust, Alien Abduction, Troll Hunter, Lake Mungo…

        • Movies and Bacon Reply

          I admit I’ve seen none of those 🙂

          • Dan

            …not a fan of the Paranormal Activity films?

  8. Jim DiCaprio Reply

    I love Cloverfield,but most people didn’t for some reason.also thought VHS 2 was awesome. Mid 2 segments among best shorts ever

  9. Candice Frederick Reply

    Rec

    • Dan Reply

      One of my faves too! Really enjoyed the sequel as well.

  10. Lili Elza Reply

    I like the first Paranormal Activity but the rest I’m not really keen on.

    • Dan Reply

      …me too. Although I thought the 2nd film was okay. Haven’t liked 3 & 4 (they’ve run out of ideas).

      • Movies and Bacon Reply

        Watched the first; didn’t mind it but still not worth including on a list of faves. Never got around to the sequels.

        • Movies and Bacon Reply

          Though Cannibal Holocaust’s been on my curious-enough-about-it-that-I’ll-probably-eventually-watch list for years.

  11. Michael Ewins Reply

    CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is the masterpiece of the genre, but I also liked TROLL HUNTER and most of THE LAST EXORCISM.

    • Dan Reply

      …until the end (Last Exorcism)? I really enjoyed that one too…included it in my recent top 10.

      • Michael Ewins Reply

        Yeah, until those awful last 5 – 10 minutes. I’m keen to catch up on BORDERLANDS and WILLOW CREEK too, both sound intriguing.

        • Dan Reply

          …me too. Willow Creek intrigues two fold: Goldthwait directing & my strange fascination with Bigfoot!

          • Michael Ewins

            Yeah, I really like Goldthwait and I’m intrigued by what he’ll do within genre. Bigfoot also a ripe subject for found footage.

  12. Evan Crean Reply

    This list is a total rarity for me, because I haven’t seen a single film on it. Although I’m big into horror as a genre, the found-footage subgenre just doesn’t appeal to me so I haven’t delved into it much thus far. I’ve heard great things about REC and REC2 however and they’re on my list to see at some point. If you haven’t watched it already and you dig this genre Dan, you should check out Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek. That’s a found-footage style horror flick about a couple searching for Big Foot in the American Pacific Northwest.

    • Dan Reply

      Thanks for the recommendation Evan…you’re not the first to recommend Willow Creek. It’s a film I’m definitely looking forward to seeing. I have a fascination with Bigfoot – probably because I watched Bigfoot and the Hendersons too much as a kid!

  13. thy critic man Reply

    I’ve seen a ton of shitty found-footage flicks over the years. Not a fan of the Paranormal activities with a few exceptions such as the third from what I can remember. However, I have seen some terrific ones such as Rec, Blair Witch and such. 2014 marked the release of Afflicted…you must watch that sir!

    • Dan Reply

      …it hasn’t taken long for people to recommend quite a few new found footage horrors to have been released in the last year or so. After 2010/2011 which seemed to produce loads (mainly bad ones) there seems to have been a lull with another sackful arriving again in 2013. I must check out some of these new ones. Willow Creek and Afflicted are now top of my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

  14. Drewski Reply

    the only answer to this is VHS 2. Watched it the other night and it nearly gave me a heart attack

  15. Jaina Mistry Reply

    Chronicle is up there for me. And the Spanish REC.

  16. Kim Milward Reply

    Give Afflicted a whirl, surprised me as I feel the genre’s become a little oversaturated. Rec and VHS2 also get my vote.

  17. Neil Mitchell Reply

    Cannibal Holocaust, hands down.

    • Dan Reply

      Yeah, couldn’t leave Cannibal Holocaust off my top 10. It’s a must-see for fans of the genre.

      • Kim Milward Reply

        #filmconfession never seen it, but take your recommendation as a definite must-see. This list is growing.

        • Dan Reply

          …it’s the film that successfully inspired the found footage device. Tough viewing though.

          • Kim Milward

            Cheers for the caveat. Tougher than Anthropophagus, Flesh For Frankenstein or Salo? The last being the toughest watch.

  18. Maxwell Hubbard Reply

    Agree with Blair Witch at number 1. Love it.

  19. matt glasby Reply

    good list. Lake Mungo is a great film and needs a bit of e-love

    • Jamie Graham Reply

      Would probably be my no3, behind Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch

  20. Dave Martins Reply

    I’m a big fan of Blair Witch but would perhaps consider Cannibal Holocaust above it. Consider me another supporter of Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek…surprisingly GOOD!

    10. Paronormal Activity 2
    9. V/H/S 2
    8. Rec
    7. Paranormal Activity
    6. Rec 2
    5. Willow Creek
    4. The Last Exorcism
    3. Lake Mungo
    2. The Blair Witch Project
    1. Cannibal Holocaust

  21. Rory Fish Reply

    I have enjoyed the Paranormal Activity films, it’s increasingly amusing to see how the creators find ways to extend the life of the franchise. But they are good found footage films, the first particularly so. I have to agree that Blair Witch comes out on top.

  22. Dan Reply

    @Kim: I can only say – from my own experience – that it isn’t as tough viewing as Salo.

    • Kim Milward Reply

      Will let you know my verdict when I do. Yes Salo was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen – for me anyway.

  23. Courtney Small Reply

    I have only seen four of these but I really enjoyed Blair Witch, Rec, and the Last Exorcism. Troll Hunter has been on my list of films to see for a while, heard a lot of great things about it.

    • Dan Reply

      Great to hear you enjoyed The Last Exorcism too Courtney! It definitely has some great scares and uses the found footage device really well. I also love the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously, I just wish they’d given more consideration to how to end the film. Other than that, an underrated gem of the genre.

  24. Rodney Reply

    Absolutely no way I’d be including Last Exorcism on this list – what a s*ithouse film (and the sequel was actually worse!) that did nothing scary (other than steal its ending from Rosemary’s Baby a little) and was a complete waste.

    • Dan Reply

      The great thing about The Last Exorcism is how it self-reflexively acknowledges it’s shortcomings. It’s like a found footage film that knows we’re growing weary of this sort of supernatural thriller and wants to let us know it’s in on the joke. Despite its obvious failings I still think it stands out of the crowd…it has a great central conceit, a wicked pace and an unusually good (for the genre) central performance from Patrick Fabian. A weak ending and a rather uncontrollable plot derail it at the end but the fun has already been had.

      • Rodney Reply

        Nahh, you’re reaching here mate. Last Exorcism was an ummitigated disaster. There was no “fun” to be had, but at least we agree with the “weak” ending. Perhaps had it been a straight-up narrative film it might have worked, but I’m a little over the “found footage” conceit to really care much at this point.

        • Dan Reply

          I suppose I’m more forgiving to the found footage device but I do feel it has been overdone which has a negative effect on the genre. There’s that feeling of needing low expectations to get anything out of them but that doesn’t always help (eg. The Devil Inside).

          As I said, I did enjoy The Last Exorcism and believe the main reason it worked so well (at least for the first three-quarters) was because it used the found footage device. Had it been traditionally filmed they might have been able to sort out some kind of agreeable ending but I feel it would have lost much of its charm.

  25. Paragraph Film Reviews Reply

    Not a big found-footage fan (only seen Troll Hunter and Cannibal Holocaust from the list) but great inclusion of both! From what I can gather, most of the other just riff off of the Blair Witch anyway?

    • Dan Reply

      There’s a definite tendency to follow the “rules” as set out by Blair Witch, testimony to that film’s enduring qualities. Of course, found footage is ideal for themes around supernatural occurrences which is why so many concern themselves with malevolent spirits hiding out in people’s homes! So it’s refreshing to see something a bit different in films such as Troll Hunter, The Last Exorcism, REC, The Last Broadcast and Alien Abduction. However, I do feel ghost-in-the-home film Paranormal Activity was particularly effective.

  26. sati Reply

    Blair Witch Project remains one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in my life. I didn’t go into woods for 3 months after seeing it.

    • Dan Reply

      Glad you said that Sati. The film had a similar effect on me. Still think it’s damn scary today.

  27. Natalie Reply

    Troll Hunter all the way. It’s such a great balance of spoof comedy and interesting comment. Its a five star movie in my book. Although Chernobyl DIaries had a barrage of flaws I did like the concept and think it’s worth a mention. The first half of the film had an atmosphere that only comes from that kind of barren setting – a setting that fascinates my imagination – but it’s a shame the ending doesn’t deliver on this promise. Great list.

    • Dan Reply

      Thanks Natalie. Troll Hunter was a great surprise to me and a very enjoyable film.

  28. jjames36 Reply

    This time I’ve only seen on of them – your number 1. Which is certainly innovative enough to warrant the top spot on this list.

    • Dan Reply

      …if you enjoyed Blair Witch I’d obviously recommend you try some of the others.

  29. Mark Reply

    Just sat through Lake Mungo …. certainly one red herring too many in there; personally I would argue that there are two too many red herrings. In essence, too many plot cul-de-sacs. The question that the film raises at the end (is there a ghost or not?) should have been answered in the first half hour or so and the story developed from there. Instead this seems to be the film’s feeble one horse punchline. It’s dull urban melodrama with a single scary moment …. I would have included Cloverfield before this one.

    • Dan Reply

      “Just sat through Lake Mungo” – I knew straight away that didn’t sound good.

      And I agree with you on your general sentiment. Indeed, any of the films outside the top 5 in this list could quite easily be found amongst “worst of” lists for their corresponding years and I’d be hard pushed to argue against that assessment. However, I’ve found enough to admire in each of them to consider these selections the “better” examples of the genre.

      For Lake Mungo, I think it has a number of issues and its rather convoluted red herrings are one of them. The fact I felt that it deserved a place here was because its “found footage” section was very effective, in my opinion. The film itself is actually a mock-documentary and wouldn’t have found its way here without that particular sequence. I was vague is my overall assessment of that film above…I think you found out why first hand.

      That said, you need all the background stuff to set up the ending and for that reason I think Lake Mungo has enough going for it. I really did find its mystery found footage unnerving.

      But, BUT…I cannot abide Cloverfield. It is just too orchestrated for its own good. There’s a naturalness to found footage that makes you forget that it is all directed/scripted/plotted-out in advance. Cloverfield, on the other hand, felt very artificial.

  30. Mark Reply

    ” … Cloverfield, on the other hand, felt very artificial.”

    I do agree on that point. I think part of the reason is this is its verite/queasycam is just too self conscious, too hand held for its own good – a criticism we could also aim at Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives.

    The other silly thing about it is the way they all yell “Go, go, go” as if they need prompting while being chased by monsters. That line is now in all chase movies/action sequences – from World War Z to The Avengers.

  31. H.Q. Reply

    Go check out Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007). You can even watch the whole thing on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SigJwcQhc_4

    one of the best found footage films!

  32. Neal Damiano Reply

    I can’t believe VHS 1 & 2 were not included?

  33. Dan Grant Reply

    Wow! I come here for the first time in months and BAM, Dan has this doozy of a top ten. I love horror films and I love found footage films, if they are done right. I haven’t seen half these films and this list will make me go out and look for them. Blair Witch is the obvious number one, and for good reason. I’m glad you put Paranormal Activity on the list because it too kind of changed the game and it is a brilliant film. I’m not high on Cannibal Holocaust because of the real animal killings, but it does have it’s place here. The one found footage film that scared the hell out of me, so much so that I can’t watch it a second time, is the Fourth Kind. I honestly thought the whole thing was real and even knowing now that it is not, doesn’t change the fact that it’s a scary freakin film.

    Great list, Dan!

  34. Paul Green Reply

    Love found footage horror. Blair witch is still my favourite.

  35. Roger That Reply

    Can’t fault this top 10. Blair Witch still remains king!

  36. Dan Grant Reply

    Glad this made the number one spot for the year. Truly terrific top ten.

  37. CineGirl Reply

    Really enjoyed Alien Abduction recently.

  38. Neal Damiano Reply

    I recently saw a found footage film off Netflix called “Creep” a pleasant random pick after seeing the cover in my recommendations from Netflix. An absolutely fun and brilliant ride. Very clever for a found footage film and I would have it at number one.

  39. Dan Grant Reply

    After the debacle of Wingards Blair Witch sequel, it makes me appreciate the original Blair Witch Project that much more. I enjoyed reading this list again this morning. Really well done Dan

  40. Rob Reply

    You should watch BBCs Ghost Watch. It’s not a found footage film but a live broadcast that’s just like one.

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