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‘Funhouse’ and Charting the Low-Key Horrors of Reality TV

A precursory Google search for Howard’s Mill leads to related searches from those asking whether Shannon Houchins and Kaiser Whitmire’s feature is real or a true story. The documentary-style thriller blurs the lines between horror and true crime, spinning a mystery that begins with a missing person. Framed as a documentary looking into the mysterious case of missing amateur treasure hunter Emily Nixon, who disappeared while searching for treasure with her husband Dwight, Howard’s Mill slowly unfurls a sordid history filled with missing persons tied to a rural Tennessee farmland. As they investigate four decades worth of unsolved cases, horror slowly seeps its way into their documentary.

The mockumentary presents fiction as fact, lending an unsettling sense of realism to the genre. Mockumentaries offer a more immersive experience and often use reality to obscure fabricated tales. Or, as in the case of Howard’s Mill, use true crime as a way to catch viewers off guard once supernatural elements enter the picture.

Howard’s Mill is currently available on VOD, Digital, Tubi, and Vudu. If you’re in the mood for a spooky double feature, pair it with any of these eight documentary-style horror movies for maximum chills.


Man Bites Dog

Though technically a dark crime comedy, the humor is pitch black with razor-sharp teeth. This Belgian film plays out mockumentary style, shot in black and white, as a film crew follows a rising serial killer in his daily routine. Ben (Benoit Poelvoorde) waxes poetic on philosophy, giving an air of sophistication before ruthlessly dispatching various kids, bystanders, and older people in shocking acts of violence. The film crew remains complacent until Ben’s murderous ways begin to affect them personally. It’s grim, nihilistic, and brutal. Overlooked, this twisted satire is a precursor to films like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.


Creep 2

Mark Duplass returns as the chilling serial killer luring videographers to their doom. This time, under the name Aaron, he changes his tactic with his newest target. Aaron confesses to Sara (Desiree Akhavan), an internet series creator, that he’s a serial killer straightaway. He vows to let her live if she remains for the next 24-hours to chronicle a day in his life. The twisted game of cat and mouse gets upended the more calm Sara remains against Aaron’s increasing eccentricities. But she might realize she made a mistake when it’s far too late. The sequel unsettles but also introduces an engaging relationship between the killer and the intended victim.


The Bay

This news report turned found footage movie sees a seaside down under siege from an unknown virulent threat. First comes a gnarly rash, then vomiting, then a violent, disturbing death. Eventually, researchers discover it’s a parasitic ocean isopod that’s mutated to an abnormally large size thanks to a nearby chicken farm’s chemicals getting dumped into the ocean. This isopod is most commonly known as the tongue-eating louse as it enters a fish through its gills, attaches itself to the tongue while cutting off circulation until the tongue falls off, then acts as the new tongue. It then steals all the nutrients until the fish dies. In The Bay, this isopod is now large cockroach-sized and can affect humans by eating its way out of them. All of it unfolds through a rookie reporter covering the events.


Lake Mungo

Using a faux-documentary setup, Lake Mungo follows a family still reeling over the unexpected drowning of the eldest daughter. Soon after, strange things start happening around the home that prompts the surviving family members to investigate the details that led to her death. The scares come subtle, often lurking in the background for only the most observant to notice. Before her passing, who Alice Palmer was makes for a fascinating aspect of this unique horror movie, a slow-burn mystery full of twists and one seriously unnerving jump scare for the ages.


The Tunnel

Framed as a documentary, this found-footage nightmare sees a journalist enlist a small camera crew to investigate a government coverup that leads them into a network of abandoned train tunnels deep beneath the heart of Sydney. The Tunnel sets up a government conspiracy after water recycling plans go silent, followed by missing homeless people who dwell within the tunnels. The documentary aspect of this narrative serves as a chilling misdirect for something much worse. It does borrow from more well-known films like The Blair Witch Project, but its new setting and supernatural mythology make it a worthy and spooky watch nonetheless.


Savageland

Playing out like a modern-day Roanoke, this pseudo-documentary tries to solve the fictional mystery of a small border town’s population completely wiped out overnight. The lone survivor becomes the default suspect for the massacre, but the man took photographic proof of otherwise. The more the filmmakers delve into the truth, the creepier it gets. There’s social commentary nestled in the unsettling imagery, but the filmmakers never bother to hand-hold. In other words, Savageland won’t offer tidy explanations for what’s transpired. That’s part of what makes it work.


Noroi: The Curse

Noroi often gets touted as one of the must-see scariest films in found-footage horror, in large part due to its faux-documentary style. It follows paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki), who went missing shortly after completing the documentary. The subject of Kobayashi’s work takes a while to present itself, initially appearing as a series of unrelated paranormal topics by way of various interviews, fieldwork, and TV clips. Eventually, Kobayashi discovers a connection between these random clips; death seems to follow eccentric recluse Junko Ishii (Tomono Kuga) and her young son everywhere they go. Pulling on that thread, Kobayashi starts unraveling the core mystery of a demonic entity named Kagutaba. It’s the mythology that keeps viewers in Noroi’s grip, right up until its exceptional finish.


S&Man

Before J.T. Petty scared gamers with the nyctophobia inducing Outlast video games, he wrote and directed a pseudo-documentary that blurs the lines between reality and fiction like no other. S&Man is an actual documentary about voyeurism as it pertains to the subculture of underground horror movies. It uses interviews with real filmmakers and notable academic Carol J. Clover. But Petty ingeniously drives his point home with a fictional subplot in which Petty begins to suspect one of his subjects is a snuff filmmaker. Things get disturbing quickly.


Look for Howard’s Mill on VOD, Digital, Tubi, and Vudu.