Found Footage Streamfest
October 30, 2022 by Ted Crawford
Hey everybody, I'm back again. It's been a shocking, inexcusable 5 years since my last blogpost and I know a couple of you were worried that I didn't survive the covid-19 pandemic. I'm happy to say I'm alive and well and things are more or less the same in my world except that I'm older, of course. I was in my mid-30s when I started this blog and now I'm nearing age 50. It's scary how the years start to get away from you as the sands of time sprinkle down through the proverbial hourglass. I'm still living here in the basement of mom's house (aka "the crawlspace"). Mom is enjoying her recent retirement and spends her time playing cards and planning Meetups for her Riverdale Appreciation Society group. I've recently gotten engaged to my on-and-off girlfriend of recent years, Sierra, who now lives upstairs with her son (Garrett) and Mom. Maybe I'll write more about that in my next post.
There have been some interesting changes in my TV watching habits over the last few years, so I thought it would be a good time to fire up the old TV blog again. If you have read my previous columns, you know I have always been an unapologetic fan of television and had no regrets about my perpetual couch-potato status. But around 2018 the unthinkable happened and that started to change.
I have always preferred traditional over-the-air network television over cable channels. After all, that was the home of such classics as Seinfeld, The X-files, ER, Supernatural, and Lost. But in recent years these networks that brought me so much escapist bliss in the past have settled into a formulaic complacency that consists of mostly old, worn out reality shows, crime dramas, and painfully stupid sitcoms. My faith in network TV finally can to an end after I suffered through the entirety NBC's The Good Place. In the first season, the show was full of promise and originality, but it started to go downhill after that. It wasn't as funny and the plot became more convoluted with each season. I watched in horror as it turned into one of NBC's typical slow-motion train wrecks which dragged on until the show's awful, head-scratching series finale which (spoiler alert) found our non-heroes convincing the residents of heaven to kill themselves because they weren't being productive enough. (Yes, according to the show's cheerful writers, it's possible to die again in the afterlife.) If that wasn't creepy enough, this episode aired one month before the start of the Covid pandemic, but I'll leave it to the readers to ponder the ramifications of that one.
What do you mean you didn't like our show?
Everybody else forkin' liked it!
I have a news flash for the Good Place writers if they ever happen to discover this blogpost: if you have made it through this earthly existence and somehow found yourself in heaven, you've earned to right be lazy for all of eternity. That's part of the deal. But I guess in today's world, heaven has gone the way of pensions and comfortable retirements for average people. It's starting to look like that only way to be lethargic anymore is to be reincarnated as a tree. Although, I'm proud to say I do a pretty good job of it myself in spite of today's prevailing hustle-culture attitudes and an apocalyptic crisis waiting around every corner.
Anyway, back to the topic. I liked, maybe even loved, The Good Place in its first season. Like My Name is Earl back in the day, it had a unique story, interesting characters, and a lot of potential. Then NBC stomped the life out it, probably by bringing in a bunch of extra writers and micro-managing executives, and by including every stupid idea that got spitballed in the writers' meetings instead of being faithful to the vision of the show's creator. It's really not a surprise that the Good Place production team dropped the ball so spectacularly. This is how NBC always does things. (And I still haven't forgiven them for their cancellation of Siberia, possibly the best show ever shown on their network, after only half a season. If you want to check that one out, it is available on Amazon and Tubi.)
In short, the ill fate of The Good Place accelerated the decline of my television religious fervor. As an act of protest, and defying everyone's expectations, I started to read more. Over the next couple of years I read Ulysses, War and Peace, Moby Dick, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, just to name a few. Sierra seemed impressed when she saw me reading instead of watching television. I was on my way to becoming an intellectual and even considered starting a book blog. But then in February of 2020 we all remember what happened: the lockdowns that occurred on a major scale. My life was turned upside down along with everybody else's. Majik Market, the convenience store where I still work as assistant manager, was forced to close for a month and Rajnish and I were constantly worried about whether we would be able to stay in business. During this time I was unable to concentrate on reading any of my books and that's when I first waded into the phenomenon of streaming.
I had been a huge fan of the Paranormal Activity movie franchise to the point where I had watched the first six movies multiple times. Desperate for more, I started to look for Paranormal Activity fan groups on Facebook and discovered that movies like PA and The Blair Witch Project had inspired a larger phenomenon known as the found footage movie genre. I joined a fan group devoted to found footage movies and discovered there were hundreds of movies in the genre that I hadn't seen. This development, along with the lockdowns, pushed me over the edge into the streaming rabbit hole, an entirely new world of television that I had only heard secondhand whispers about up until that moment. In other words, I purchased a smart TV from my local Best Buy. It was small, but big enough for my purposes, which was to distract myself from the terrors of the Covid-19 situation and attain a nirvana-like state of slothfulness.
You probably think the next thing I did was sign up for Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, right? In that case, you must not know me very well. I'm nothing if not the human embodiment of frugality, and devoted to FREE television in all it's forms. I admit, I joined YouTube Premium for $13 a month to escape the ads, which seemed like a good investment since I spend half my life watching YouTube. But that was the only streaming service I paid for at first. Thanks to Tubi, I was able to binge-watch most of the found footage movies I had been reading about in my Facebook group. There were also a few low budget / no budget movies of varying quality on YouTube. Most of the found footage movies I watched during that time were not masterpieces, but there were enough real gems scattered among them to make me a devoted fan of the genre.
Here are some brief reviews of my favorites (not including the The Blair Witch Project or the Paranormal Activity movies, which are known to most people and obviously among the greats):
Area 51 - The alien subgenre of found footage doesn't appeal to me much but this one is very well made and has some interesting twists. It was also produced by Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity fame.
As Above, So Below - This one is surprisingly well thought out and scripted, sort of a dark twist on an Indiana Jones adventure, which starts out in the Catacombs of Paris and proceeds downward into less friendly settings.
Bad Ben - A semi-humorous documentation of a newly purchased house that turns out to be infested with poltergeist activity. The movie has turned into a (so far) nine movie franchise, and I'm looking forward to watching the rest of them.
Char Man - Achieving that rare combination of humor and genuine scariness, this one deals with two men attempting to make a fake documentary about an urban legend in a small California town.
Cloverfield - J.J. Abrams wins the prize for producing this, the mother of all sci-fi found footage movies. Dismissed by some fans for its massive budget (25 million, compared with The Blair Witch Project's half million or Paranormal Activity's measly $250,000) and shaky camera work, but I would easily put it near the top of my top 10 anyway.
Ctrl+Alt+Trick/Treat - A short gem about a Halloween Zoom party gone wrong (similar to another film called Host). As of this writing it's available on YouTube, but I'm not sure if it's on any other streaming service. The British accents are a little hard to understand but it has some great scary moments.
Digging Up the Marrow - A spooky and humorous tale about a man who believes monsters are real and live underground (played by Ray Wise of Twin Peaks fame). Adam Green, who is making a documentary about monster-themed artwork, decides to investigate the man's claims.
Europa Report - A dark tale about a space mission to find life on one of Jupiter's moons. Watch it if you're too happy and want to feel more depressed and claustrophobic.
Hell House LLC - The story of a commercial haunted house attraction that gets too scary even for the house's operators. Almost universally acknowledged by found footage fans as one of all-time greats.
Incident at Loch Ness - This mockumentary-style movie takes a humorous approach to the famous Scottish crypto-creature. Co-written by acclaimed director Werner Herzog, who stars as himself.
JeruZalem - An imaginative depiction of the End of Days, as seen through the eyes of a girl who's apparently only visiting Israel to have a good time. As you guessed, she gets more than she bargained for. The second half of this movie is plagued by lots of hysterical screaming, a common feature of many found footage movies which I don't enjoy, but this movie succeeds in spite of that.
Leaving DC - A interesting, low key movie about a reclusive man who makes videos about life in his new house out in the country. I enjoy this more psychological approach that doesn't rely on in-your-face jump scares.
Marble Hornets - This series of short YouTube videos deals with the Slender Man internet legend (or "creepypasta," as they say), and was later compiled into three seasons. The first two seasons are about movie length. The third (which I still haven't seen yet) is somewhere around eight hours long. The series gets progressively more interesting as it goes along, and really captures the spirit of the found footage genre.
Quarantine - An American remake of a Spanish zombie-themed movie called Rec. I haven't seen the original yet, but this one is smartly written and highly suspenseful, and a great example of what found footage can be when it's done right.
Slender - This lesson-known exploration of the Slender Man mythos is a contender for my all-time favorite found footage movie. It leaves you with that lingering creepy feeling in spite of the villain never appearing on-camera.
The Blackwell Ghost - This is the first in a series of short haunted house documentaries that are beloved by found footage fans, and is convincing enough to make you wonder if it's real or not.
The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan - A spooky slow-burner about a journalism student who investigates a 30-year-old murder mystery in her hometown.
The Stream - An atmospheric tale about a young woman dealing with the death of her boyfriend. It is not purely found footage, but worth watching for some surreal, low-key creepiness.
The Taking of Deborah Logan - A video account of an elderly woman who begins to act strangely. Is it Alzheimer's setting in or something more sinister? This one will scare the bejesus out of you.
The Tunnel - Fear of the dark meets claustrophobia in this investigation of abandoned train tunnels underneath Sydney, Australia by an unfortunate news crew.
Trollhunter - An imaginative adventure about a group of college students in Norway who discover that mythical trolls really exist. This one is so entertaining you won't mind the Norwegian dialog with English subtitles.
After resisting for a year and a half, I finally gave in and joined Paramount+ just so I could watch the newest Paranormal Activity movie, Next of Kin. Was it worth it? Well, the movie wasn't the best of the franchise (that honor goes to the fifth movie, PA: The Marked Ones), but it wasn't the worst (which would be PA: The Ghost Dimension). An unexpected benefit of my membership was that I gained access to the Star Trek universe, including every Trek series ever made, in addition to the new original offerings, Picard and Strange New Worlds, which I haven't watched yet but look forward to sampling at some point. Lately I have started on Deep Space Nine at the urging of my friend Somebody Else (also a fellow writer here at Somebody's Webpage). When I joined, Paramount+ also had all the old Star Trek movies (with TOS and TNG casts), but they have been removed recently for some unexplained reason. Kind of disappointing, I hope they didn't sell them to Disney.
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