MOCKUMENTARIES: THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE HONORABLES
(Posted: 31 October 2012)

Mockumentaries are extremely popular now, and have been for a few years. As a subgenre it's wide as hell, and can basically be part of any other genre: comedy, horror, drama, porn, experimental, etc. The style is mostly used in horror, though, and especially in the independent world. The style doesn't require a movie to be visually striking, but rather simple and neutral. If the movie can force you to believe it's from real life, then the mockumentary is most likely going to do better. It's understandable that low-budget filmmakers want to do it, and to no surprise Hollywood doesn't mind being part of it either (although they usually come out with shitty attempts) - after all, it's what people want. Or is it? People are slowly growing tired of the mockumentary/found footage flicks, and there's so much crap being made in this style. Filmmakers often forget that you need to use the style to help the movie. A ghost story will be more creepy, if done right, as a mockumentary. A torture movie is more likely to shock you if you think it's real. The good ones really understood this, but so many movies forget that a mockumentary should follow a variation of one of the following:

- Documentary. This one allows interviews, narration, music, and an overall freedom in editing as long as the FOOTAGE isn't edited like fiction (unless it's intended as "re-enactments").
- Found footage/home video. This works best if it's seemingly un-edited, although we're okay with the boring parts being cut out.
- Surveillance. This is the best way to show something in different angles, and it's a good, cheap option because it's easy to miss things like poor FX and acting if the camera is at a distance.
- Making of/In the midst. This is when we basically see what's in the camera as it happens - so it doesn't have to follow the same logic as the other categories, and is ultimately a bit less realstic. But this one can also be made as either of the above mentioned.
(No good mockumentary should change angles and such unless we know there is a different camera there to do it, but it can go under the "documentary" style if it jumps between the above mentioned styles. Obvious CGI is also strictly forbidden for a mockumentary that successfully tricks the audience)

With this list we want to highlight the Mockumentary subgenre as a whole. We want to include both the good and bad parts, and hopefully it will help people who agree that mockumentaries are great (but only when handled with care) to find new titles to watch and skip. We've tried to get 5 titles in each category, but in some cases we just couldn't think of more than 3-4. We feel that fact will speak for itself. What makes a mockumentary good or bad will depend on the movie. Some are good because they work the style perfectly, some are overall entertaining movies, and the same thing goes for the bad ones. At the end of the list we've included some honorable mentions that are either good, interesting, or worth watching for other reasons (such as being well-made, entertaining or important to the subgenre). The list is not in any particular order, and the honorable mentions is not a complete list. It was put together by both Ronny and Preston, and is a list that we feel rightfully represents Film Bizarro's collected opinion on the matter.

So let us present our Halloween gift to you, Mockumentaries: The Good, the Bad and the Honorables.


GHOSTWATCH (1992)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0200659/

Originally aired on TV in the UK in 1992; "Ghostwatch" brilliantly knew how to torment the viewer with the supernatural activity. The movie was so successful in being subtle, creepy and scary that it fooled an entire nation to the point that it was banned from ever being rebroadcast and the creators of the show had to go on TV and apologize for fooling the public.

LAKE MUNGO (2008)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0816556/

While part of the movie's story revolves around ghosts and supernatural occurrences, "Lake Mungo" is a bit more mature in terms of other horror based mockumentaries. Focusing on the aftermath of the death of a little girl, rather than current paranormal activities, "Lake Mungo" is more about the exploration of people instead of ghosts. It's a great and surprisingly creepy blend of family drama with supernatural horror.
THE TUNNEL (2011)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1735485/

This is a mockumentary that really works because of several reasons. The most important one is that it doesn't show us TOO much. The location is also perfectly creepy, and the cast is likable. It gets away with a lot being about a documentary crew that wants to get some juicy stuff, helping that little "Why are they still filming?" doubt you often get.
DET SPÖKAR (1999)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0274251/

Few things scared me as much as this TV show, which aired on Kanal 5 in Sweden back in 1999-2000 or so, when I was younger. It's made as a documentary with re-enactments of ghost stories in various places that are supposedly haunted in Sweden and Denmark (maybe somewhere else). And you know, it's actually quite effective with its scares.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185937/

A huge success that is still somewhat underrated. Yeah, the ending scene is fucking bad, but this is a good mockumentary where the focus is on the group rather than the witch. They actually did a lot of things right with this one, and the way they promoted made it quite a big deal at the time. I think more mockumentaries should spend time on creating a good promotion plan and a good lore.

 

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1703199/

This has the potential of being great, until they actually reached the house. I thought the part where they interviewed a janitor outside of the place was awesomely entertaining, but then it just got more and more boring from there. And what finally killed it wasn't the FUCKING BAD CGI effects, although they pulled it down hard, but the really poor ending that seemed thrown on there to make sure we understand this is serious and dangerous stuff!

HOME MOVIE (2008)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1267319/

I'm tempted to just write "failure" here, but I'm sure you want me to say something else. Well, it's a poorly made mockumentary. It doesn't work, we don't believe it at all. "Home Movie" is just a bad movie.
RED FILE 66-095: STRAWBERRY ESTATES (2001)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120225/

A movie so excruciatingly awful that it'll actually make you want to cry. A movie so bad that in an interview on the DVD, the director admits that he never planned on releasing because it was so bad but decided to cash-in on the success of "The Blair Witch Project". Not a single element of the movie works; everything from the ghosts to the acting will make you gasp from the shock of realizing that "Strawberry Estates" is real, that it was actually released and that you're watching it.
EPISODE 50 (2011)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1728976/

A thoughtlessly and carelessly thrown together Christian based horror movie that had absolutely no idea how to make a found-footage/mockumentary movie. Fragmented, "Episode 50" never makes up its mind on how it wants to execute the movie -- you can't tell if what you're watching is suppose to be a standard movie or the footage from a camera man. Constantly switching narrative structure, point-of-view, filling the movie with horribly rendered CGI ghosts and unlikable characters (matched with terrible acting). "Episode 50" is without a doubt one of the worst mockumentaries that you'll see.
THE AMITYVILLE HAUNTING (2011)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2042447/

You know you're in trouble when a movie you're watching is using a still photo of the infamous house then overlay's a CG light from a flashlight shining on the house, to try and make you believe they are at the actual location. "The Amityville Haunting" fails instantly because it does such a piss poor job of making the location they are actually using, seem like the Amityville house. Never mind that it's poorly acted and poorly executed in every other way.

 


LONG PIGS (2007)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0971204/

Are we ever going to stop showing our love for "Long Pigs"? No. Why? Because it was a damn good movie. It's the closet any mockumentary has come to capturing all the things that "Man Bites Dog" did right. The movie can be horrifying or disgusting at a moments notice but you'll love every minute of it because of the charming and charismatic killer, Anthony McAlistar. A great piece of low-budget black-comedy.

AUGUST UNDERGROUND (2001)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412467/

A lot of people give this one shit for being a boring movie, and I don't blame you. But this is one of few movies that can honestly hide behind the fact that "it's supposed to be like that" and get away with it, because this one so accurately shows what a serial killers home videos might look like. The boring everyday stuff in between the torture is what makes this so powerful. Let's not ignore that it's a very disturbing flick overall, too!
THE OTHER AMERICAN DREAM (2004)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0427616/

This short film doesn't do much, but because it keeps it simple it manages to creep you the fuck out. It's sleazy exploitation in the most oddly simple way, and I still can't get this film out of my mind. It's just a camera, in a car, while a man is driving around with a girl. It beats any gore out there.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG (2009)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1388427/

That this is a mockumentary might not be the selling point, because there are times when you're reminded that it's a movie, but this is just a powerful flick overall. The mockumentary style helps us become part of this gang of weirdos, and that's probably why it works as a mockumentary. It forces the guilt of their filthy acts upon us.
SUICIDE (2004)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0411396/

"Suicide" does a good job of separating itself from the herd by being about something real and something dramatic instead of horror, torture, death, monsters, ghosts, etc. It's a non-exploitive look at filmmakers following around folks who are planning to commit suicide for different reasons. Some of the segments didn't work as well as others, but the ones that did, made for a decent and some what compelling mockumentary. It was nice to see that the movie focused more on drama rather than shock.

 

NIKU DARUMA (1998)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0141459/

Perhaps "Niku daruma" succeeds with what it set out to do, but that doesn't mean that I like it. I think this is a rather stupid torture porn (don't confuse that with "Hostel" and similar - this is actually torture porn). Other than being extremely boring, I also find the censoring in this to be ridiculous - if this was real, I doubt they'd have to censor it because it would be pretty illegal to kill someone to begin with! It offers gore, but that's all. And that's where this fails and "August Underground" succeeds.

SLAUGHTER (2009)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1581640/

"Slaughter" is a bastardized-mongoloid attempt at trying to be in the vein of movies like "Man Bites Dog", "August Underground" and "Scrapbook". A poor backyard production that looks like it was made by teenagers (considering how young the cast looked, I'm pretty sure it actually was). It seems as though the movie wanted to be intelligent and shocking but everything was cheap and laughable. If ever there was a movie that deserved a round of pity applause, it's "Slaughter".

THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1010271/

Even though this still unreleased movie had some great moments in it, there were a lot of bad moments as well. At times it seemed like the tapes of the murders and victims could be disturbingly realistic and then, with the flip of a switch, the killer would do something that would make you wonder how he would remain uncaught (and being pointless too). High moments, low moments and a lot of dull filler in between.

SNUFF PERVERSION: BIZARRE CASES OF DEATH (1999)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0386046/

"Snuff Perversion" is intended to look like a police training video that is a compilation of snuff footage. It's easy to be forgiving towards the movie as it is clearly a no-budget product, but still, far too many segments were terrible. There were a few segments that were decent and didn't make the movie seem like a total loss -- most of which were directed by Marcus Koch. The rest were either so bad they resulted in laughter or they came off as more of a fetish/fantasy scenario.

 


TROLLJEGEREN (2010)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1740707/

Fine, the Norwegians did it. They managed to create a mockumentary, monster and comedy mix that actually works. This is everything it should have been, and it works on most levels. Entertainment from start to finish, and one of the best monster mockumentaries. The fact that it's so detailed in its use of Nordic trolls just makes it even better.

EVIDENCE (2011)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1640218/

In the beginning, "Evidence" seemed like standard found-footage fodder but the reason this one made the list is due to the creativity of the "threat", how they kept the footage going and the fact that the movie was not afraid of being over-the-top. Starts off a little Blair Witch-esque but by the end it almost looks like a video game. Some nice jump-scares and some nice gory splatter -- it's just a damn fun movie.

[REC] (2007)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1038988/

It's hard to dislike this one, even though I don't feel it worked so well on multiple viewings and the ending was a bit meh. I can't deny that this is a suspenseful and creepy little mockumentary, and definitely belongs on the good end of this list. I don't need to tell you that - everyone has already seen it!

 

THE DINOSAUR PROJECT (2012)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1907779/

Failure.

CLOVERFIELD (2008)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1060277/

Although this one did put some work on the promotional parts, I don't feel this delivers. It comes off as a stupid, shaking ride of snoring. The ooze of Hollywood is all over the place, and that's probably why it failed.

LEGEND OF THE CHUPACABRA (2000)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0293346/

It pains me to put this one with the bad titles, but it IS a bad movie. It's somewhat entertaining, sure, but that doesn't save it. It's a typical low-budget crapfest with an added mockumentary style seemingly "just because".

THE MCPHERSON TAPE (1989) &
ALIEN ABDUCTION: INCIDENT IN LAKE COUNTY (1998)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0169005/
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0142074/

The original and the remake are the same movie (shot-for-shot) so that is why they are both listed. The idea behind the movie is good -- an isolated family being terrorized by aliens seems perfect for found footage. Unfortunately, in both versions, it often came off as campy especially when you would see the actual aliens. It could have worked well if the movie would have been tweaked a little more and found a better, more subtle way of showing the aliens. As it is, they look like bad Halloween costumes.

APOLLO 18 (2011)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1772240/

One of the crappiest flicks of 2011. This had so much potential - space is a scary place. But what we're left with is nearly 90 minutes of piss. Pure fucking piss. I hate this movie, and it should probably have skipped the mockumentary aspect because it didn't matter anyway. If you want to watch a wreck of an alien movie, be my guest to watch this. But don't tell me I didn't warn the fuck out of you.

 


MAN BITES DOG (1992)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103905/

What's left to say about "Man Bites Dog" that hasn't already been said? Easily one of the most well know mockumentaries next to "Cannibal Holocaust" and "The Blair Witch Project". In one breath the movie manages to be both shocking and disgusting, while also being funny and extremely clever. Amazing how many movies gets the style wrong when "Man Bites Dog" did it perfectly and blended so many mixed emotional dynamics seamlessly.

DAVID HOLZMAN'S DIARY (1967)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062864/

One of the earliest (if not THE earliest - don't correct me. Thanks) mockumentaries still works to this day. It's an experimental take on the genre that would later become a horror norm, and even though not a lot happens most of the time it's a great example of the home video approach. If you consider the year for this it's really ground-breaking, and I get a kick out of the many different mockumentary aspects. An interesting and very important mockumentary about an artist's obsession and angst.

LOLLILOVE (2004)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0316187/

Jenna Fischer and James Gunn as themselves, trying to save the homeless by giving them lollipops? Yes please. This is so damn over-the-top ridiculously funny that you KNOW it's not for real, but still you question it. Because it was made by a real couple, with real friends, it's easy to accept it as reality. A damn funny take on the mockumentary genre, and a rather sweet and innocent movie overall.

ZERO DAY (2003)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365960/

An interesting movie that appeared to be an honest and sincere recreation of the Columbine High School Massacre. "Zero Day" doesn't try to exploit the subject matter but tries to be subjective about what it was like before, during and after the shooting. It doesn't take sides; it doesn't victimize the two shooters nor does it make them into martyrs. It's a well done, dramatic piece on a tragedy.

JIMMY & JUDY (2006)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425151/

Edward Furlong's acting is probably most appropriate within a mockumentary, and this is the proof. His off-beat style works in faux reality more than in straight fiction, and this crime mockumentary comes off as really unpleasant (in a good way). Highly overlooked, and underrated as far as mockumentaries go, this is one great feel-bad tale of young love.

 

DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (1999)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0157503/

Comedy is a fickle beast but the best way to go about making sure your comedy is more annoying than funny, is to make it about white trash and bitchy women. "Drop Dead Gorgeous" had a good setup to be a great black comedy but where it loses the audience is when it makes every single character utterly obnoxious. If the characters aren't being annoying then you end up getting slammed with some of the most basic jokes possible. Post-Jerry Springer but Pre-Honey Boo Boo. It's just not funny.

FACES OF DEATH (1978)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077533/

I get it, yes, this is the notorious "Faces of Death", which shocked so many back then. But truth is, the faked stuff in this are not very well made. A great movie should stand the test of time, but a shock-for-the-sake-of-shock faux shockumentary relies so much on things that quickly becomes outdated, and that's why this is a bad one. It's also very boring!

V/H/S (2012)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2105044/

The movie had a heck of a challenge ahead of itself: a found-footage anthology movie. Two of the tougher genres to take on and to make work and…it didn't succeed. The wrap around story and too few segments, like Ti West's "Second Honeymoon" were great while the rest were utter failures. Most notably, "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger". The bad segments either didn't fit the subject matter of the VHS theme (what was computer recorded Skype footage doing on a VHS tape?) or were just terrible in general. There just wasn't enough good to out weigh all the bad.

 

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
NOROI: THE CURSE (2005)
EXHIBIT A (2007)
ZUSJE (1995)
THE OFFICE (2001-2003)
TRAILER PARK BOYS (2001-2008)
BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (2006)
SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS (2001)
ELECTRIC APRICOT: QUEST FOR FESTEROO (2006)
THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)
FORGOTTEN SILVER (1995)
SEEKING WELLNESS (2008)

And there we go. Happy Halloween, everybody!




 

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