On October 30th, 1938 actor Orson Welles was doing a reading of the HG Well's novel War of the Worlds but diverted from the story by setting the events in modern day 1938. The program continued to play dance music but would be interrupted by reports of a strange object that landed in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. Welles then reports that Martians were attacking the town and other cities with the military being helpless to stop. The program then took a break and returned with a more conventional continuation of the story. The reaction from some of the audience was panic as people did not know the program was fictional and in the aftermath, Mr. Welles had to face the scrutiny of critics as well as the FCC for the deceptive nature of the presentation. Despite this Orson Welles event would help boost his fame and would be remembered as one of the most famous events in radio broadcasting.
Special Bulletin (1983)
A made for television movie started as a conventional news broadcast that would be interrupted for a breaking story about a terrorist attack in Charleston, North Carolina. The program then showed a hostage crisis with the leader of the group claiming he had a nuclear bomb that he was threatening to use if the Governments of the world refused to destroy all nuclear weapons. Regular commercial breaks were aired, and a notice that the program was fictional was posted, but many did not see these warning and presumed that events were happening in real time. Special Bulletin was shot on videotape instead of film and gave the broadcast a look and feel of a genuine new report and made use of technical glitches and natural mistakes to show the genuine reactions by the news crew in response to the events. Although warnings were posted, some audience members were alarmed by the program in North Carolina especially near Charleston. Special Bulletin would win 4 Emmys including one for Outstanding Drama Special and a Directors Guild and Writers Guild of American Award.
The Day After (1983)
In the midst of the Cold War, the threat of a nuclear attack was on the mind of people with tensions on the rise after the election of Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. ABC produced this fictional account of a nuclear attack and its aftermath centered around small towns in Kansas and Missouri. The Day After is presented as a conventional drama with well-known actors and directed by Nicholas Meyer fresh off of his work on Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn. The events of the movie play out through the lives of people who live and work in the town of Lawrence, Kansas and how their lives are drastically changed as a result of the attack and the struggle to survive. Considerable effort was made to make the film as realistic as possible, and the effects of the attack are quite graphic for a television program. The Day After was initially scheduled to be shown over two days as a four-hour film but was trimmed to two hours for a one night broadcast. Nearly 100 million viewers watched The Day After making it one of the most watched TV programs in history; the movie was also released in foreign markets with extra footage that was removed for the US broadcast. The reaction from audiences was intense with many people calling for disarmament as well as many politicians supporting renewed talks with the Soviet Union. President Reagan watched the movie and was said to be troubled by the broadcast, and after glasnost, the film was even shown in Russia a few years later.
Countdown to Looking Glass (1984)
Unlike the previous years made for television movie Special Bulletin, Countdown to Looking Glass is presented in a more conventional dramatization. The events of the movie are shown from the perspective of news anchors and correspondents on a fictional news program similar to CNN. A banking crisis and the assassination of a US ambassador in Saudi Arabia set up a showdown between the US and the Soviet Union after a Soviet-backed coup in Oman threatens the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. The movie includes some interviews with notable Canadian news reporters as well as American politicians to give the film the look of a real event that is being played out despite the jumps in time. Countdown to Looking Glass was shown on cable channels in the US, so its effect was not quite as impactful as the previous years dramas A Day After and Special Bulletin but the presentation of events does still give the viewer a troubling look at a potential world disaster that could occur given the heightened tensions of the Cold War.
One of the best and most controversial of television faux news movies Ghostwatch was a BBC Halloween special that was aired in 1992 and immediately came under fire for the genuine look and feel of a live broadcast and its use of notable BBC news personalities. Ghostwatch follows a news crew that does a story about a ghost incident in a London household that turns into a much scarier event as the program plays out. Hosted by famous English broadcaster Michael Parkinson, Ghostwatch also featured news reporters Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles who is best known for his role on the English sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf. The fallout from the broadcast was felt immediately as nervous viewers called in thinking the events were real and that the television hosts were in genuine peril. Many people reported incidents of the supernatural that they blamed on the show and there were also reports of people who were traumatized by what they thought were the real events occurring live. In recent years Ghostwatch has received accolades from fans and critics for the genuine fear that the movie provides. With the film being released on streaming platforms like Shudder fans of the original broadcast can share the thrill with new fans who are discovering what has to be one of the most significant television hoax broadcasts of all time.
Without Warning (1994)
A CBS Television movie that starts as a murder mystery featuring actress Loni Anderson that is interrupted by a fictional new bulletin covering three worldwide events that appear to be related to one another. The rest of the movie features veteran news anchors covering the events of what turns out to be a possible first contact event. Without Warning uses accelerated time to present the events of the fake news broadcast in a manner that would fit the two-hour time frame of the movie. The casting of Sandie Vanocur and Bree Turner as the news anchors gave the movie a more genuine news report feel as both were well-known Television news personalities. Despite warnings that the presentation was fictional, the movie featured an interview with Arthur C Clarke that may have confused viewers. Shown almost 56 years after the infamous Orson Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds, Without Warning faced similar reports of panic in some smaller areas of the country as well as complaints that the warnings were consistent with different markets.
In the style of Orson Well's famous War of the Worlds broadcast, Alternative 3 was a UK television program produced in the late 70s that featured a story involving the disappearance of some notable scientists. The television report would reveal the discovery of a secret project that included setting up colonies on the moon as a way to avoid extinction in the face of climate change. The program was an elaborate April Fools prank that did not adequately warn its audience that the programs surprising revelations were nothing but a staged production. This type of fictional reporting would be used in the next decade with pseudo broadcasts involving Cold War fears with the American TV movies Special Bulletin and Countdown to Looking Glass getting the same response from the audience who did not know they were watching a fictional broadcast. The most famous of all fictional shows would be in the 1990s with the brilliant BBC Ghostwatch that is covered in this blog post as well.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Cannibal Holocaust is considered by many to be the most graphically intense and brutal film ever made even when compared to its grotesque cannibal contemporaries. The film begins with an award-winning documentary expedition, who travel to the Amazon to film cannibal tribes. Months pass and not a word is heard from them. A rescue/search party is put together and led by a Professor Harold Monroe, along with his guides he travels to the Amazon and hopes to discover the fate of the expedition and possibly get their lost film. Director Ruggero Deodato created the movie as a commentary on sleaze journalism and how they often exploit death for ratings, yet he became a target of criticism due to the animal deaths that occurred. As a sign of the human condition, this film gets bloodier, darker and unsettling with each scene in hypocritical contrast to the Directors supposed intent to criticize the very violence this movie seems to excel in. Cannibal Holocaust was not only the most notorious of the many cannibal films of its era it is also the first found footage movie predating The Blair Witch Project by almost 20 years.
Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985)
The Guinea Pig films are a series of controversial Japanese horror films that were released in the 1980s and 90s that gained a reputation for their extreme graphic imagery and use of torture giving many who viewed the movie the impression that these were genuine snuff films. The second film of the series Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood features a man dressed a samurai who kidnaps a woman and proceeds to dissect her for his morbid collection. Rumors abound about the reaction that this movie had with a favorite story concerning Charlie Sheen contacting the FBI. The Director Hideshi Hino has to demonstrate how the special effects were accomplished in a film titled The Making of Guinea Pig as well as show that the actress involved in very much alive and well.
84C MoPic (1989)
A small budget indie war movie that follows a group of American soldiers on a Long Range Recon Patrol (LRRP) during the Vietnam War. The video is shown from the perspective of a cameraman who accompanies the team and films the events of what is supposed to be a routine mission that turns into a firefight when they encounter hostile forces. This film is an early example of the style of filming that would be known as Found Footage as well as reflecting the pseudo-documentary style that helps to make the movie seem more authentic. The video has received accolades for its honest and genuine look into what a real-life combat situation would have looked like from the eyes of a cameraman. 84C MoPic is the rare Found Footage movie that is neither a horror movie nor a paranormal-themed film.
UFO Abduction (1989)
Director Sean Alioto put together this no-budget short film that he wrote, directed, produced and appears in as the camera operator. The video shows the Van Heese family celebrating a party when they are surprised by the arrival of aliens. The amateur look and unknown actors add significantly to the film that despite flaws in the video make it seem more genuine especially with the gaps in the action of events. Director Alioto would remake the movie titled Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County in 1998 with some changes to the film but keeping the plot of a family gathering being interrupted by aliens.
Man Bites Dog (1992)
A documentary crew decides to follow the life of a criminal in his daily routine and in doing so go far beyond then they had expected. Man Bites Dog is a pseudo-documentary that follows the killing sprees of the murderous Benoit (Benoit Poelvoorde). With cameras rolling, he calmly explains his theories about killing people and weighing down the bodies so they won't float to the surface of whatever river or lake he dumps the evidence. He then proceeds to slaughter person after person, respecting neither age, sex or race, and murdering in a wide variety of ways from strangulation to a bullet to the head. All the while, the film crew trails him, heedless of the danger they put themselves in, and uncaring as they are drawn deeper and deeper into the insane, criminal world of their subject. Every moment of this film is shot documentary-style in grainy black-and-white. This pseudo-realism, complete with choppy editing and shaky, hand-held camera shots, gives an eerie air of legitimacy to Man Bites Dog.
A British mockumentary that made quite an impact when it was shown live in 1992 on Halloween. BBC reporters perform a live interview where they plan on investigating a London home that is reporting ghostly activity. During the interview, the news crew and family encounter seemingly harmless events that get worse as the show progresses. After a seance is performed things get worse as all hell breaks loose in the home and outside in the city including the studio that Michael Parkinson is broadcasting from. The pseudo-documentary feel of Ghostwatch confused viewers who thought this was a genuine event and proof that the supernatural exists. The BBC faced an onslaught of calls from viewers who were scared or angry that they showed this and made it seem so real despite being presented under the Drama banner. Having actual news broadcasters and reporters added the realistic look of the show, and their fate did scare many people who thought they genuinely were hurt in the events. In the years since it released Ghostwatch has emerged as a favorite among fans of pseudo-documentaries and horror movie fans who enjoy it a seemingly realistic portrayal of events.
Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction (1995)
Fox Television aired this pseudo-documentary that claimed to be footage of an actual alien autopsy performed in 1947 with a grey alien that was recovered from the Roswell Crash. The program included interviews with an award-winning special effects expert, a medical professional and film experts who were brought to debate the authenticity of the footage. The program was shown multiple times and had high ratings with people seeking more answers about the supposed event. It was later revealed that the film was a hoax yet the filmmaker insisted that the footage was partially genuine despite confessions by those who worked on the film. Despite this Alien Autopsy did make headlines, spawned some copycats and was even mentioned in some shows such as The X Files and Seinfeld.
The Last Broadcast (1998)
The Last Broadcast features the hosts of a paranormal show going into the New Jersey Pine Barrons only to be found murdered with a series of confusing and mysterious clues left to a documentary filmmaker named David Leigh to piece together. Released a year before The Blair Witch Project, The Last Broadcast was one of the first films to be produced using consumer-level digital cameras and editing technology. The film predated Blair Witch but did not have anywhere the success of the Blair Witch. The movie is amateurish with the public access level editing and production. This element does add to the unique feel of the film given its found footage style as well as the movie within a movie setup.
A man travels to a remote island community to look for his sister who he suspects has been kidnapped by a cult. What he finds there will be far more shocking and next to impossible to escape. This period thriller mixes elements of The Wicker Man with a much more grisly outcome.
Dir- Daniel Goldhaber
The life of an online camera girl is turned upside down when her identity is stolen by a mysterious doppelganger that mimics her behavior but goes much farther than she been willing to before. Cam was written by Goldhaber and Isa Mazzei who used her former career as a Cam girl as inspiration.
Dir- David Gordon Green
Forty years after she survived a deadly encounter with a masked assailant, Laurie Strode has prepared for a confrontation with Michael Myers after he escapes captivity during a transfer. Halloween was one of the biggest horror movie events and appealed to most fans of the famous slasher franchise.
Dir- Alex Garland
A biologist is called in to investigate a region that has been quarantined with a mysterious force called The Shimmer. Once inside the team sent in to find the laws of physics don't seem to apply. Annihilation is a sci-fi horror thriller that critics complimented for its ambiguity and style that owes significantly to HP Lovecraft.
Dir- Panos Cosmatos
A tale of one man's revenge that plays out in music and drug-fueled visual spectacles that seems hypnotic and surreal. Truly the most epic of all of Nicolas Cage's films.
Dir- Julius Avery
A team of paratroopers sent in to disable a vital communications link on D-Day is shocked to find a Nazi laboratory playing host to all sorts of unspeakable experiments and atrocities. Overlord features excellent special effects as well as creature effects that will amaze and terrify you.
Dir- Luca Guadagnino
The dark secrets of an elite dance academy are revealed through the actions of the school's director, a new arrival and a psychotherapist. What happens next will depend on their willingness to wake up or fall prey to the madness.
Dir- Leigh Whannell
"Upgrade" is an intense action thriller that shows the perils that technology can offer despite the promises of making our lives better. In many respects, the movie reminded me of the original Robocop movie of the '80s with all the action, violence and some of the dark humor thrown in to lighten the mood.
Dir- Ari Aster
Hereditary is a slow burn kind of film that presents an uncomfortable situation for the family and throws in some shocking scenes and unsettling moments of terror. The young daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) stands out with her odd habits such as her tongue clicking as well as the creative but strange toys she makes.
A Quiet Place
Dir- John Krasinski
A year after an unknown event has left the world mostly empty of people a family somehow survives by keeping as quiet as possible. Despite all efforts to maintain as normal a life as the circumstance allows the threat of death looms closer as the family prepares for its future. How one can survive and fight back is portrayed quite effectively in this thriller from first time Director John Krasinski