I have a degree in film theory from UC Berkeley and enjoy writing about movies and television.
The interesting dynamic about the shaky cam film is that it is a fairly new subgenre. Most of these movies were made within 5 years of each other and there’s a good reason for that. As handheld cameras, security system cameras and phone videos become more commonplace, it not only becomes less expensive to make a movie, but these films become more tangible to the targeted moviegoer (ie teenagers and twenty-somethings). It’s just not a person on the screen, it could be them.
This type of film also taps into the fear of what happens when we’re not watching. If you add that onto camera shots that move so fast it can make you sick, you end up with sensory overload and a triggered ‘fight or flight’ instinct. How do I know that? I’ve seen many of these movies in the theaters and when people weren’t screaming, they were either puking or running out of the theaters. Oh yeah…good times.
10. August Underground’s Mordum (2003)
Some would argue that this movie should be higher on the list. But, I’ve seen it and I’m actually surprised I added it in the first place. So, why is it here? There are some points of pure horror and others where you wonder if the actors actually attended one class to hone their skills. But, the horror has its moments of feeling ‘real’. And if you like gross and disgusting, then you may want to catch this one. The sum-up of this movie? Two buddies bring another guy into their world where they kill a bunch of random people. If you’re a horror movie hipster, check it out so you can talk about a gross movie that would probably be on the gore list if it hadn’t been for the cheap film costs. So, shaky cam it is.
9. The Last Broadcast (1998)
A television crew goes into the forest to document the Jersey Devil. Three go in and one comes out with enough footage to make him the prime suspect in their deaths. A documentarian gets an opportunity to examine the footage and comes to a different conclusion. It has some pretty good scares, but has a problem of thinking a little too much. It’s a nice bonus if a horror movie comments on society, but it can become an issue if it goes out of its way to do so. This one does, but fortunately, it takes a while to do so.
8. Cloverfield (2008)
This could have easily made it onto the Sci-fi list, but for the shakiest of shaky cams. An alien attacks New York (don’t they always?) and we follow the story through the handhelds of five locals who run around the city trying to stay alive. This movie is part horror, action and thriller. It really is a triple threat...in all the good ways. Director Matt Reeves does a very good job of blending narrative, character development, alien attacks and dead bodies. It makes for a fun, action-packed film with enough scares to keep you on the edge of your seat.
7. The Last Exorcism (2010)
This movie is about a retiring evangelical minister who decides to allow a documentary crew to follow him on his last exorcism. The idea is that he wants the world to see how evangelical ministers use exorcisms as a means of financial gain and that it has little to do with actual demons. You can assume since this movie is on the list that it doesn't exactly go the way the evangelical minister thought it would. In the end, it is a good movie, but be wary...the ending...well, watch it and get back to me on what you thought.
6. 8213: Gacy House (2010)
What do you get when you stick ghost hunters into the home of infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy? You get a movie that drags in places, yet has enough horrific kick to get you talking about it at the watercooler. There are some suspect narrative points, such as the fact that the house is not, in fact, the John Wayne Gacy house, but the end all but makes up for it. One thing is for sure, this film is committed to its reality: from the first shot of the movie to the very end. Trust me, if you know anything about the clown-faced serial killer, you’ll be spooked.
5. Quarantine (2008)
A TV reporter and her cameraman get trapped in an apartment building quarantined by the CDC where a virus turns people into killers. Let’s get this out of the way. This is a remake of the Spanish film REC. I saw REC first and still thought this was a good movie with enough action as well as slight differences in direction and acting to keep me interested. If you're interested in learning a little more, check out my in-depth look at the movie.
4. REC (2007)
A TV reporter and her cameraman get trapped in an apartment quarantined because a virus turns people into killers. See what I mean? It really is exactly like Quarantine, except in Spanish. Or, Quarantine is exactly like REC, because it did come first. If you’ve seen Quarantine, my suggestion would be to watch REC as well. Even though the remake might be good, like so many movies before it, the original always has something special about it.
3. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Three film students go into the Maryland woods to do a documentary on the legend of the Blair witch. Does this sound a little like The Last Broadcast? Indeed it does. But, let's face it, originality isn't what makes this sub-genre work and if it's not broke, don't fix it.
It isn't the hype that puts this movie so high on the list, it is the scares. While it spends time explaining the Blair witch, it spends as much time on character development, so when things go awry there is a sense of despair that goes along with the creepiness. There was a lot of backlash about the film after all the hype, but in the end, it tells a good story and delivers on the scare.
2. Paranormal Activity (2007)
A couple finds themselves haunted by a demon when they move into a regular, suburban neighborhood. This movie is equal parts scary, eerie and creepy. It will have you covering your eyes, holding onto her loved one and jumping in your seats...sometimes all at once, so it might be a tad awkward. So, kudos to writer/director Oren Peli. How’s that for hitting it out of the park the first time out? The movie is so good it spawned a series of follow-ups, Saw and Hostel style. None are as good as the original, but how many really are?
1. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The oldest on this list ends up being the best. The movie is about a group of documentarians (you've heard this line before, I know) who travel to the Amazon forest to film cannibals. When they don’t return, their professor goes to find them but instead locates the footage they've shot and takes it back to New York. This movie is so utterly demented and has the distinction of looking like real found footage. The part that is the scariest isn't the blood, the carnage or the removal of a guy’s penis (yes, I did just write that), it’s that, in the end, you will probably be rooting for the cannibals. Good times.
Cannibal Holocaust Trailer
Christine from 28540 on August 08, 2016:
Left out chronical, super eight, and I was told earth to echo
Vanessa Martinez (author) from Vancouver, WA on October 28, 2012:
You should definitely avoid these! My husband can't watch them either since he gets motion sickness pretty easily. I found it easier to watch them on the small screen, since when I did watch them on the big screen I also got motion sickness and that's not normal for me.
Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on October 28, 2012:
I haven't seen any of these films, but thank you for letting me know. With epilepsy things like strobe lights, shaky films can cause seizures. Now I know NOT to watch them.
Huge thumbs up!!