Friday, 4 April 2014

When The Camera Shows All Is Still and Quiet...

...don't you just know something awful is going to happen?

Well, you certainly do if the 'still and quiet' camera shots happen to be on your DVD of a 'found footage' horror film.

In common with many people, I should imagine, my first exposure to this type of film was The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Now, I know an awful lot of people love this film. They get quite passionate in their defence of it, but I'm sorry, I have watched it a couple of times and it still doesn't really do it for me. It's entertaining enough in its own way, but I never felt it got going enough. I did, however, applaud its originality. Needless to say, so cheap was it to make and so popular was it at the Box Office, it spawned many imitators in the year that followed. Some worked, some didn't. Most incorporated the principles of low budget, unknown actors and minimal sets.

But 'found footage' films had been around for over nearly thirty years (at least) before Blair Witch hit the screen and the headlines. Early examples included Punishment Park , made in 1971, and UFO Abduction - The McPherson Tape from 1989. Even the BBC got in on the act. Halloween of 1992, saw the televising of  Ghostwatch - presented by popular TV host, Michael Parkinson in live documentary style. In fact, Parkinson and his co-presenters - all well known personalities - were interacting with footage shot weeks earlier. The premise of the story concerned an ordinary family, haunted by a presence they call 'Pipes' (because he taps on the water pipes). During the hour and a half transmission, some 30,000 calls were received by the BBC switchboard. As a result, many simply heard the engaged signal and never got through. Any viewers who were able to get through were instantly greeted with a message informing them that the show was pure fiction, before inviting them to contribute their own ghostly experiences. It fooled a lot of people and caused quite a furore at the time. Judge for yourself:

All good clean (if now somewhat dated) fun.

Moving beyond Blair Witch, we'll skip past the first of the phenomenally successful Paranormal Activity series and alight briefly on a 'found footage' film that worked well, in my opinion. The excellent sci-fi monster movie, Cloverfield. In common with many of its genre, considerable 'handheld camera shake' was incorporated into this movie. In fact, there was so much of it that, in some cinemas, audience members were warned about it and told what to do if they experienced 'motion sickness' - as some reported so doing. J.J. Abrams, hot on the heels of his success with TV series Lost, scored a winner with this in many people's eyes but, for others, the handheld camera wobbles were too much. Told in the first person, you either love the ending, or hate it. There are some heated exchanges to be found on the subject across the internet.

From titles such as, Cannibal Holocaust, Man Bites Dog and The Zombie Diaries to Long Pigs and The Last Exorcism, the list keeps growing, but now to return to Paranormal Activity.

The first in the series kept me riveted, had me hiding behind a large cushion (and my cat) and made me jump on more than one occasion. I actually squawked (well, gave sort of a mini squeal actually) at the ending. Excellent stuff, I thought, and eagerly awaited the sequel. Paranormal Activity 2 . Yes, I enjoyed it. Some really scary moments. Paranormal Activity 3 . OK, I've put the cushion down now and my cat is sleeping soundly on my knee. Still enjoyed it though. Paranormal Activity 4  gives further continuity to the story of demonic possession etc., but am I becoming sensitised? Or maybe the storyline is getting a little weak? I'm not sure, but it didn't deliver quite the ratio of scares I had hoped for.

Having said that, I am looking forward to the recent spin-off Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

So far it has gained a wide spectrum of reviews - from 'Where was the story line', to 'Winning entry in this terrific franchise'. The only way to judge is, of course to see it for myself. Which I fully intend to do. Will I also watch Paranormal Activity 5 when it comes out in the autumn? I expect so. And so will millions of other people, hooked on the series. Even though it has lost a lot of freshness and impetus, largely as a result of our over-familiarity with the techniques employed here, I have this fascination that comes with so much of the 'found footage' genre. You see, I just have to know what happens next...


  1. Another fab post Cat... Just catching up on all the blogs after last week's PC crash and this one was worth the wait!