Culture

Tobe Hooper's Midnight Movie and 13 Horror Films Somewhere Between Fact and Fiction

Director Tobe Hooper first made his bloody mark on popular culture with his legendary horror film "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." The cinematic equivalent of a Black Sabbath song, "Massacre" was a massive slap in the face to both the last vestiges of the feel-good Sixties and mainstream horror filmmaking. A raw, terrifying film, "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" splashed technicolor blood and gore on screen in a way that had never been done before, horrifying audiences too scared to leave their seat as Hooper’s gruesome vision unfolded. Critics didn’t know what to do with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre": Some wanted it censored out of existence, while others lauded the film for its authenticity.

Hooper hasn’t mellowed at all in the nearly forty years since that film’s release, proving himself a force to be reckoned with in the world of horror cinema. This year Hooper will bring his uniquely terrifying vision to a new realm with the publication of his first novel, Midnight Movie.

Midnight Movie casts Hooper -- yes, the author himself -- as a central character, and mixes fact and horrific fiction in a way that suggests it could be documenting a real event rather than just telling a terrifying story, a technique no doubt familiar to those who know "Massacre," which opened with a sequence that claimed the film was based on a true event.

In celebration of the release of Midnight Movie, we’ve compiled a list of thirteen horror films that dance on the edge of reality and make-believe. Watch them, if you dare.

Thirteen Found Footage and Mockumentary Horror Films

1. "The Legend of Boggy Creek" (1972)
Premise: A documentary crew comes to Fouke, Arkansas, to interview local residents who claim to have encountered the Foukes Monster, a Bigfoot-like beast who creeps around local trailers at night. The film mixed these "interviews" with occasional re-enactments, some of which are genuinely kind of creepy -- especially now that the film has aged and acquired a scratchy, blurry patina.
Believability Rating: 50%
People really do say that there’s a Fouke Monster, but it took Texarkana salesman and entrepreneur Charles B. Pierce to realize that there was a profit to be made off of frightened (or merely mischievous) locals. Pierce hit town with a borrowed camera, $100,000, and a dream that he’d create a drive-in classic. Know what? He did. The film, now available on DVD -- and yes, I own it -- has gone on to earn $20 million in profit. Pierce went on to film another cult classic based on real events -- "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" -- and a sequel to his original film called Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues.

2. "Cannibal Holocaust" (1980)
Premise: A documentary film crew disappears in the Amazon. A search party uncovers their abandoned film canisters, which reveal their gruesome fate. What was it? Spoiler alert: Refer to the title of the film.
Believability Rating: 50%
While there are a handful of well-documented accounts of early European explorers being killed and eaten by tribes in the South Pacific and elsewhere, incidences like these were exceedingly rare and you should take them with a grain of salt (terrible pun totally intended). Accusations of cannibalism flew fast and quick in those days as a way to justify the wholesale slaughter of indigenous people unfortunate enough to be in the way of European colonization. It’s practically unheard of today. If anything, Western cultures “cannibalize” indigenous people by consuming their resources and culture. I’m giving "Cannibal Holocaust" a Believability Rating of fifty percent solely because the horror depicted in the film could happen. But then again, I could wake up tomorrow with a winning lottery ticket clenched between my teeth ...

3. "The Blair Witch Project" (1999)
Premise: A bunch of goofy college kids wander off into the woods to investigate the legend of a supernatural entity known as the Blair Witch. They get lost in the woods, frightened by little stick dollies and eventually disappear, leaving a tape that seems to record their final moments in a spooky old cabin. Was I the only person glad to see these kids killed?
Believability Rating: 5%
I live in Mississippi, and we have tons of stories about local ghosts and witches, including the famous Witch of Yazoo. Know what we do? Save them to tell to the tourists who pay top dollar to tour supposedly “haunted” Antebellum homes.

4. "Series 7: The Contenders" (2001)
Premise: A sleazy reality show pits randomly selected real people against each other in a cross-town battle to the death. The last person standing wins ... a chance to go against the next group of Contenders.
Believability Rating: 60%
A fantastic performance from an unknown group of actors catapults this vicious indictment of reality television into true believability. You’ll never think that any of this is actually happening, but the sinking feeling in your stomach will convince you that it could.

5. "The Last Horror Movie" (2003)
Premise: A frightfully charming serial killer overdubs a run-of-the-mill horror movie with a recording that documents his spree of torture and murder, all the while chastising the audience for watching the film at all.
Believability Rating: 80%
It’s a cunning premise, although nowhere near as gruesome as the next film, "Amateur Porn Star Killer."

6. "Amateur Porn Star Killer" (2006)
Premise: A handsome drifter, played by director Shane Ryan, picks up an unsuspecting girl and takes her back to his hotel room. He brutally murders her after an evening of sex, recording the entire event on his handheld camera. A really, really nasty film in every sense of the word: gory, brutal, unflinching and disturbing. Many people thought it was a real snuff film upon its release. Don’t worry, it’s not ... but that doesn’t mean you should watch it. Followed by several more explicit sequels, which I suspect appeal to a particularly disturbing segment of the “adult” market.
Believability Rating: 100%
Sadly, people can and do meet this kind of fate. A completely believable performance that had me Googling the film to convince myself that it wasn’t real.

(Trailer available on YouTube)

7. "The Zombie Diaries" (2006)
Premise: A camera passes hands in the midst of a zombie invasion, recording a series of events that eventually come together to form a cohesive narrative of human brutality and desperation. A great film that had the misfortune to come out around the same time as zombie auteur George A. Romero’s similarly premised, but inferior, "Diary of the Dead."
Believability Rating: 50%
A zombie apocalypse is about as likely as my cats forming a smooth jazz duo, but for what it’s worth, director Kevin Gates created a great film that feels "real." Zombie enthusiasts should seek this one out.

8. "Zombies Anonymous" (2006) AKA "Last Rites of the Dead"
Premise: An outbreak of people returning from the dead polarizes American society, with reactions ranging from acceptance of the newly revived dead to militant anti-zombie groups that seek to destroy them all. The zombies themselves act human enough, with the exception that they remember nothing of their former lives and fight a constant (secret) craving for human flesh. Like their living counterparts, some of them try to reintegrate into society while others practice a form of militant zombie pride. A documentary crew sets their sights on filming all sides of the zombie/human debate, and soon finds themselves over their heads.
Believability Rating: 50%
Dead people aren’t likely to return any time soon, but an admirable effort to maintain the premise and a skilled group of actors make this film disturbing and endearing at turns.

9. "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon" (2007)
Premise: In a universe where Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees are real, a disturbed young man trains to be the next big mass-murdering slasher. Three young filmmakers document his preparation, from his mentorship under a retired killer -- now happily settled down -- to working on his costume and physical fitness. A clever and at times humorous film that takes a sharp left turn into horror.
Believability Rating: 80%
If you accept the film’s premise, then this is a very, very disturbing movie. Once Leslie decides to begin his murder spree, he’s completely unstoppable and totally deaf to the pleas of people who were once his friends. A well-done effort from director Scott Glosserman.

10. "Diary of the Dead" (2007)
Premise: A student film crew working on a horror film has the unfortunate -- or fortunate -- fate of finding themselves in the middle of a real zombie apocalypse. While entertaining enough at times, a less-than-believable performance from the majority of the actors and a loose enough plot stretched too thin ruined what could have been an interesting premise.
Believability Rating: 10%
Bearing the marks of professional editing and direction doesn’t do this found footage film any favors. I don’t recall any found films that come with their own scores ... unless there are zombies playing keyboards just out of frame. Yeah, I know the narrator said that they edited the film before releasing it on the net, but who would be stupid or callous enough to dub in dramatic music to accompany graphic footage of friends and family being eaten alive?

11. "[REC]" (2007)
Premise: A television crew follows a team of firefighters as they respond to an emergency call from an apartment resident. Once inside, they discover that a virus is turning those infected into contagious homicidal maniacs. Their escape routes blocked by civil authorities, both firefighters and reporters alike are claimed by the rabid, zombie-like creatures.
Believability Rating: 60%
The disease here resembles rabies, which does indeed cause delirium and hostile behavior, so that’s kind of believable. The quality of the direction also helps inch up the Believability Rating a bit. "[REC]" was followed by a sequel, "REC 2," and an American adaptation, "Quarantine," in 2008.

12. "Cloverfield" (2008)
Premise: A giant sea monster ravages New York City. A bunch of hipster types document the destruction via video camera.
Believability Rating: 40%
An awfully fun movie, but not at all convincing. Far too slick to be found footage, and having a handful of known actors turn up here and there doesn't help much. Still a great horror/sci-fi effort from director J.J. Abrams. Worth a watch.

13. "Paranormal Activity" (2009)
Premise: A young couple begin to leave a video camera on at night in an attempt to document a pattern of increasingly bizarre nocturnal events in their home.
Believability Rating: 70%
Although I felt that it showed too much of its hand from time to time, even a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic and scoffer at all things paranormal jumped a few times watching this highly convincing film. The theatrical ending is a bit hokey, though. Followed by a prequel in 2010, "Paranormal Activity 2."