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The Biggest Jump Scares In Found Footage Movies

Found footage is a subgenre of horror with endless potential for innovation. It's also far from new: The idea of putting the audience into the action through a character's camcorder has been used since 1980's "Cannibal Holocaust". However, it was the likes of 1999's "The Blair Witch Project" and 1998's "The Last Broadcast" that made the subgenre explode.

From those classics to more modern fare like 2020's "Host," the found footage genre is home to some great material. It's also hugely diverse: Found footage films can be bleak and horrific, but also high concept and darkly hilarious. One thing they all share, however, is their use of jump scares — a.k.a. horror's favorite trope.

You might be a bit tired of jump scares, as a fan of scary movies. But just because something shows up a lot doesn't mean it can never be used effectively or in an impressive way. These films know exactly how and when to use their jumps for maximum effect. These are the biggest, most intense, most leap-out-of-your-seat jump scares in found footage movies.

The Blair Witch Project (1999): The final moments

The original found footage trendsetter, "The Blair Witch Project" caused quite the fuss leading up to its release. Its revolutionary viral marketing campaign had people totally immersed, to the point that some fans thought the film was real.

"Blair Witch" is a perfect example of how less is sometimes more when it comes to horror cinema. The film's fear factor comes mainly from its isolated environment, horrific sound design, and simple, yet haunting visuals. Heather, Mike, and Josh are college filmmakers who venture into the woods to make a Blair Witch documentary. The fabled Blair Witch is said to be responsible for several gruesome murders and ritualistic killings that have plagued rural Maryland for decades.

As the movie ends, Heather and Mike enter an abandoned house, in the hopes of finding Josh. Heather heads into the basement and sees Mike facing the corner. As she screams, an unseen force blindsides her. The camera falls, ending the film on the most startling and haunting note possible. What makes this moment work is its mystery: We aren't explicitly told if the threat is actually the witch. This moment doesn't just shock, it leaves the viewer in a state of unease and confusion.

Paranormal Activity (2007): Micah meets his end

You can't talk about things that go bump in the night without mentioning the original "Paranormal Activity." The film's premise is ridiculously simple: A couple is haunted by a demon, which they attempt to tackle by filming themselves as they sleep. It's incredibly effective as a home media release, allowing fans to watch it alone, in complete darkness. The film has several quality jump scares, ranging from sudden loud noises during the witching hour to far more large-scale frights, like the film's horrific finale. This eerie ending offers the biggest jump scare of all. 

Having been possessed by the demon, Katie attacks Micah. A moment of silence ensues, followed by Katie suddenly throwing Micah's body out of the darkness and into the camera, knocking it off its stand. It's one of the most visually active moments in the film, which is largely predicated on minimal action. For that reason, it resonates as utterly terrifying. No wonder this shocking finale started a tradition of visually innovative jump scares in the "Paranormal Activity" film series.

Rec (2007): The Z in apartment 23

"Rec" is not only a top-tier work of found footage, it's been given praise within the zombie genre as well. The film's strengths come from its extremely claustrophobic environment, which is used to masterful effect: These close confines entirely immerse the viewer in the action. "Rec" follows reporter Angela and cameraman Pablo as they head out to chronicle the night shift of their local fire department. This leads them to an apartment complex, which turns out to be the epicenter of a deadly viral outbreak. What's worse, the virus causes the afflicted to become cannibalistic monsters.

"Rec" culminates with Angela and Pablo entering the room that holds patient zero. She makes her presence known when she emerges to look for food ... and quickly makes a meal of Pablo, leaving Angela alone. Angela drops the camera in the ensuing chaos, and is last seen being dragged into the darkness. It's a visceral and disturbing moment, which closes out a masterfully directed film.

Lake Mungo (2008) - The lake scare

"Lake Mungo” is presented as a documentary concerning 16-year-old Alice Palmer, who drowns while on vacation with her family. We learn about Alice through her grieving relatives, and soon realize she might've been keeping secrets from them leading up to her dreadful demise. Eventually, what might just be the gaunt ghost of Alice appears in the background of captured footage. It soon becomes clear that Alice had seen premature visions of her own watery demise. 

This leads to the most horrific scene in the film, which also serves as its most memorable jump scare. On video taken from her old phone, we see Alice walk along the side of the lake. Suddenly, she encounters her own waterlogged corpse, who attacks her. With horrifically memorable moments like this, it's easy to understand why "Lake Mungo" has developed a cult following in the years since its release.

Cloverfield (2008): The tunnel creatures

If you saw "Transformers" back in 2007, you might recall a teaser trailer in which a party is interrupted by a sudden power outage. This leads to an explosion visible from the rooftop, and the Statue of Liberty's head being hurled into the streets. Once it was revealed this was for a film known as "Cloverfield," it had everyone talking.

"Cloverfield" dropped the following year, and its claustrophobic horror and wide-scale destruction did not disappoint. The film is likely best known for its scenes of giant monster attacks and New York City in a panic. These sequences are all well done, and result in some of the film's best moments. However, the scene that still gives us the willies just thinking about it would most definitely be the infamous tunnel sequence.

Looking to avoid the chaos aboveground, the central cast ducks into the city's subway tunnels. This is where they encounter a barrage of utterly horrific insect-like creatures, captured in ghoulish night vision. It's an expertly done sequence, elevated by spectacular sound design, which enhances the disturbing nature of the encounter. "Cloverfield" rocked cinemas well over 10 years ago, but even now, it succeeds at spooking audiences all around the world.

The Last Exorcism (2011): Nell attacks

Considering Hollywood's track record, we seriously doubt this is actually the last exorcism — but it's certainly a memorable one. "The Last Exorcism" purports to be a documentary following Reverend Cotton Marcus. Through filming him, documentarians Iris and Daniel are looking to expose exorcism as fake — an undertaking helped by the fact that Marcus has lost his faith. They follow Marcus as he attempts to "exorcise" a demon from a sweet farm girl named Nell Margaret Sweetzer.

They soon discover that Nell is actually possessed and in dire need of a legitimate exorcism. This becomes undeniably clear after they find Nell covered in blood on the porch, and she quickly, heart-stoppingly lunges at them. It's a jolting moment that makes it clear this is no longer something to be taken lightly. Nell proceeds to exhibit the standard hallmarks of possession, including sickening contortion and a distorted demonic voice.

Years after its release, "The Last Exorcism" is still hailed as a gem within the found footage and exorcism genre. It uses its jump scares sparingly, relying more on sharp dialogue and haunting visuals. This makes the jump scares it does use more effective, and the movie stronger as a whole.

Grave Encounters (2011): Meet Dr. Friedkin

Despite its meme-worthy CGI and limited budget "Grave Encounters" is a solid entry in the found footage genre. The film is presented as an unaired episode of an amateur paranormal investigation series. The film utilizes both handheld and security camera-style footage as it captures its wannabe sleuths' investigation of the decrepit Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. The group is led by the boastful Lance Preston, an obvious stand-in for Zak Bagans, the host of "Ghost Adventures."

"Grave Encounters" has become infamous for its ghosts' unique style. When we say "unique style," we mean "very obvious early 2010s CGI," which, despite the filmmakers' best efforts, does not hold up well. However the film compensates for this with effective tension, decently fleshed out characters, and some very effective scares. Moreover, the film does a great job of disorienting the viewer with its never-ending, ever-changing hospital setting.

In the film's final moments, Lance, now alone, finds himself in the office of Dr. Friedkin, who was the hospital's lead doctor. Suddenly, Lance is attacked by Friedkin and his nurses, who proceed to lobotomize him as he screams in terror. The film ends with a lobotomized Lance stating that he's "better," and can go home tomorrow. It's an epic jump scare, and a chilling final line.

V/H/S (2012): Lily's monstrous reveal

"V/H/S” is not only a found footage film, it's an anthology found footage film. It contains five vignettes, all made by different horror directors, brought together by an over-arching framing device. Each segment has its own unique story, tone, and visual flair, which range from low-key to totally spectacular. All in all, "V/H/S" is chock-full of refreshing variety in terms of its scares — and, more specifically, its jump scares.

The film's most effective jump scare arrives in the first vignette, "Amateur Night," which starts things off strong. A group of men, one of whom sports a hidden camera in his glasses, head into town. They eventually pick up a pair of girls, including the cute but off-putting Lily. She exhibits bizarre behavior, only uttering a single line: "I like you." 

This leads to some late-night hotel hanky-panky, which quickly goes sideways when one of the guys gets too handsy. Lily then reveals herself as some form of demonic monster, complete with sharp teeth and a deformed face. It's a shocking moment and a grand introduction for one of the more memorable female monsters in modern horror.

Afflicted (2013): The transformation completes

Praised heavily upon its release, "Afflicted" is a unique specimen among found footage films. It concerns Clif Prowse and Derek Lee, two best pals and travel vloggers out on a globe-trotting adventure. This trip is spurred on by Derek being diagnosed with a brain malformation which could kill him at any moment. Unfortunately, only a few stops into their trip, Derek is attacked and bitten by a mysterious woman.

Shortly afterward, Derek begins showing an intolerance towards sunlight and a craving for blood — basically, vampirism. This also results in incredible parkour sequences filmed via GoPro camera in which Derek ascends to once-unreachable heights. Midway through the film, Clif attempts to give some of his own blood to Derek in an attempt to help. Sadly, Derek ambushes Clif in a blood-crazed state, killing his own friend.

It's both a shocking jump scare and one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the entire film. "Afflicted" takes found footage and vampires, puts them together, adds a welcome dose of parkour, and ends up with something truly special.

Creep (2014): Double jump scare!

It's one thing to scare your viewers — it's another to leave them in a never-ending state of cringing discomfort. "Creep" pulls this off with expert skill, resulting in one of the most effectively uncomfortable films of the 2010s.

The film follows Aaron, a struggling freelance videographer, who has taken on a rather peculiar gig from a man named Josef. It starts off innocently enough, with Josef explaining that he is dying, and wants something to leave behind for his son. Aaron goes along with this, despite Josef's increasingly bizarre statements and quirks. Just as advertised, however, things soon turn creepy.

After an uncomfortable 70-plus minutes of unending tension and disturbance, "Creep" culminates with one of modern horror's most sickening kills. Aaron, foolishly taking Josef up on his offer to explain his creepy actions, heads to a local park to meet him. Josef uses this opportunity to sneak up from behind, and, with one swift chop of an axe, end Aaron's life. He then claims the camera Aaron had set up to capture footage, which he watches solemnly back at his house. This results in the Josef captured in the recorded footage jump scaring the actual Josef. It's darkly humorous, totally effective, and perfectly represents the film's brilliant mix of comedy and fear.

Unfriended (2014): Hi Laura!

Whether "Unfriended" features an inventive format or a cheap gimmick is definitely up for debate. Regardless, one cannot deny that it turned an impressive profit at the box office and definitely got people talking. The film unfolds from the perspective of high schooler Blaire's laptop screen during a multi friend Skype call. It soon becomes clear that Laura Barns, a former friend and classmate who killed herself, might just be haunting them. While it's not the first film to dabble with this format, it's certainly the one that made it mainstream.

"Unfriended" doesn't boast the most famous cast or the most Oscar-worthy acting, but it excels at innovation. In lieu of a soundtrack, the ghost uses the main character's Spotify account to play oddly appropriate songs at key moments. Additionally, the film is one of the first to portray computer and video chat glitches in a realistic way.

At the conclusion of the film, Blaire attempts to placate Laura, even trying to milk their former friendship for sympathy. It's revealed, however, that Blaire was responsible for the viral video that caused Laura to take her own life. For the first time in the film, the laptop closes, and Laura's ghost rushes at Blaire from out of the darkness. It's the perfect final moment, and a truly shocking one at that.

Hell House LLC (2015): Ghostly close-up

If you want ghosts, demonic entities, and killer clowns in the same movie, then "Hell House LLC" has all that you seek — and more. The film follows a group of haunted house proprietors, who set up shop for another Halloween season in the abandoned and allegedly haunted Abaddon Hotel. Naturally, things go wrong.

Throughout the film, we get increasingly intense scares from mysterious figures in the background, creepy mannequin clowns, and other spooky entities. However, the scare that proves the most effective is a rather simple one. One of the crew members has a late-night encounter with a rather corpse-like woman in his own room. As he hides under the covers, he peeks out once more ... only to be met by the ghost, who is mere inches from him. It's a low-key moment, but a brutally effective one guaranteed to catapult your heart into your throat.

Host (2020) - Attack of the Zoom filter ghost!

The Covid-19 pandemic brought with it a shut down of the film industry and a desperate need for new content. Luckily, during the summer of 2020, horror streaming service Shudder unleashed "Host" upon the world. Directed by Rob Savage, the film is actually set during the pandemic, and takes place completely on a Zoom call.

Clocking in at an unorthodox 56 minutes, "Host" shows us a group of friends engaging in a Zoom call séance. Very few take it seriously, but things quickly turn supernatural. What makes the film work so well is just how deftly it utilizes Zoom to convey its basic but enthralling narrative. Because the film has multiple screens visible, it's a gamble as to where and when the scare will happen. Moreover, the format allows for entirely new sorts of scares, from things popping out of the background to sinister uses of Zoom's trademark filters.

A prime example of this is the film's use of the floating mask filter: Zoom identifies an invisible entity by applying a cartoonish mask to its unseen face. It's a wonderfully simple and potently scary moment that perfectly encapsulates the genius of this unique movie.