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The Found Footage Phenomenon: Will it Ever Die?

The horror genre,
arguably more so than any other, experiences distinct bursts regarding the
popularity of varying styles and subject matter. People, it would seem, are
easily bored. This is no recent phenomenon as these modern influxes of specific
classes bare roots beginning decades ago.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween
and Friday
the 13th 
debuted in 1974, 1978 and 1980 respectively, together
launching the slasher genre which was capped off with the last of the truly
iconic brands,
A Nightmare on Elm Street
in 1985. Copycats and sequels galore ensued throughout the ’80s and early
’90s before mostly going dormant. With the arrival of the “Scream”
franchise in the late 20th Century, its popularity resurfaced, followed by a surge of remakes
over the past five years.

In a class of its own,
the “found footage” film is, in relative terms, just a baby to the papa genre
and one that has not yet had the time to run its natural course of mainstream
popularity. But seemingly gearing up more than powering down, when will the
detractors of this gimmick finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief? A few
years? Five? A decade? With the third installment of the “Paranormal Activity”
franchise again seeking to dominate the Halloween season starting this Friday,
Player Affinity will contemplate if this money-making technique will, like its many
protagonists, die a grisly death.

Again digressing
slightly from the topic at hand, the fate of the shaky-cam horror flick could
be likened to that of the torture porn school of scares. Attributed to the
sleeper hit Saw in 2004 and
deconstructed (or would that be dismembered) by Hostel in ’06, the aughties belonged to films of this gruesome ilk.
The torture porn trend, riding high throughout the 2000s,
culminated in its abrupt halt with the death of its ring leader when Saw 3D ended that franchise (for now) just last year. Now there are no
prospects on the horizon, no indication that this genre will be anything but a
sick memory in the minds of those who were inclined to venture to the theaters.
Wild offspring like The Human Centipede and
A Serbian Film have garnered cult
followings in the indie circle, but nothing more. Severed limbs and sadistic
subject matter clearly reached capacity.

Back in 1980, a cheerful
little film called Cannibal Holocaust
was released, leading to widespread shock among viewers and the eventual arrest
of director Ruggero Deodato who was accused of actually killing one of his
actors for the sake of authenticity. Not before presenting the very much alive
actress was he acquitted. Following the same school of thought as that Amazon
blood-bath, 1999’s mega-hit The Blair
Witch Project
managed to convince a great deal of people that this was
indeed “found footage” and not just a creative experiment. From then on viewers
got wise to the authenticity of the subject matter, but this (apparently) did
not matter as it was just the beginning for the burgeoning genre.

Though finally released in
2009, Paranormal Activity was
actually completed in 2007, making its way among smaller film festivals before
finding its wide release. ’07 actually saw two other higher profile doc-style
horror movie releases, the Spanish favorite [Rec] and George A. Romero’s Diary
of the Dead
. This set the stage for what would be a crowded frame for the
remainder of the inaugural decade of the new century. Cloverfield, Quarantine, The Last Exorcism to name a few from
around the time of the first “Activity” and Troll Hunter and Apollo 18 from just this year. A slew of smaller films also
followed, including sequels to [Rec],
but the total number of these larger movies number at just around 11,
where as torture porn made it all the way to 30 before winding down.

So how many more years do
we have to look forward to/slog through before — alliteration warning — found
footage features fade forever? Well, I would say word of its imminent death was
greatly exaggerated. Simply put, these movies are so cheap to produce that even
those which underperform wind up doubling if not tripling their tiny budgets. Tracking
at a high $30 million, low $40-million opening weekend, Paranormal Activity 3 indicates sequels galore will continue to fly
of the line until the margins become too slim. Oren Peli (the director of the
first “Activity”) has another found footage movie coming out next year called Area 51, not to mention a spin-off of The Amityville Horror entitled “The Lost
Tapes.” As I have been alluding to throughout this article, the downfall of
this sub-genre is inevitable as, just like any fad, a new one will swiftly move
in to replace it. But as I also hinted at, expect (10 years down the line or
so) for an acclaimed member of the brand to re-ignite interest amongst a new
demographic of viewers and the genre itself will return. Again likening it to a craze
from any medium, if there is anything people eat up just as much as cutting
edge material, it’s retro.


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