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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. The 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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