This weekend, Blair Witch — a sequel to the ‘90s found-footage classic The Blair Witch Project — opened in theaters. The horror story picks up with the brother of missing student filmmaker Heather Donahue searching for his sister in the dark Maryland woods.
The original film used what is considered a prototype of viral marketing. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez created a website with fake police reports and newsreels to spread word about the film, which they also promoted as based on real events during in-person appearances. The realistic marketing tactics had audiences convinced, and they entered the theater believing the terrifying events they were watching on the big screen really happened.
The 1999 movie isn’t alone, however. Several other horror films had audiences believing they were watching something brutally real. Here are just a few extremely convincing horror movies that fooled people.
Ruggero Deodato’s disturbing 1980 film depicts the “lost footage” of a documentary crew in the Amazon rainforest who fall victim to cannibal tribes. Deodato was arrested and charged with obscenity after the movie’s Italian premiere. Due to the film’s graphic violence and controversial real animal deaths, most audiences were convinced it was a bonafide snuff film. Once the rumors died down, and Deodato provided evidence proving Cannibal Holocaust was a carefully crafted horror movie, all charges were dropped. But the film remains banned in several countries.
Hideshi Hino’s brutal 1985 film fooled actor Charlie Sheen. In 1991, the actor called the FBI to report Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh & Blood as a real-life snuff movie. An investigation was opened, but no charges were brought once the director demonstrated the special effects he used to depict the torture and murder of a young woman at the hands of a man dressed as a maniacal samurai.
Husband-wife filmmaking team Michael and Roberta Findlay created the 1976 splatter film Snuff. Rumors quickly spread that the movie featured a real-life murder, and producer Allan Shackleton didn’t help matters by stirring the controversy behind the scenes. He hired fake protestors to picket the film once it hit theaters, which led to real protests by various groups. IMDb goes into further detail:
After years of investigation, there is still no proof that a real snuff movie exists. With this mind, opportunistic producer Alan Shackleton saw the chance to make a quick buck. He took a low budget slasher movie called The Slaughter, changed its name to Snuff and then added a 10 minute epilogue that showed the supposed director of The Slaughter completing his film and then attacking one of his assistants, killing and disemboweling her, all the while being surreptitiously filmed by his cameraman. This footage was then passed off as real even though the atrocious acting and sub-par special effects clearly showed that it was fake. Nevertheless, ever the entrepreneur, Shackleton secured a public showing in Times Square, tipped off the police about what was about to be shown and assembled a small group of ‘protesters.’ The stunt worked. Snuff made over $300,000 in the space of three weeks.
A mondo movie is a pseudo documentary that depicts sensational topics as real, often combining genuine documentary footage with staged scenes. Faces of Death is perhaps the most famous (American) example of a mondo movie, and the film is a right of passage for many horror-loving teenagers. Faces of Death is exactly what it sounds like — a collection of death scenes from around the world. Debates have raged on for years about what parts are fake and what aren’t. From label Gorgon Video, who released a Blu-ray version of the film:
What do we know as the truth? We’re certain of John Allan Schwartz’s involvement, which included writing the film under a different pseudonym and appearing as a cannibalistic cult leader in one of the movie’s staged segments. We know that actor Michael Carr portrayed the film’s ghoulish narrator, Francis B. Gröss, who would go on to appear in a number of the film’s sequels. And we also know that various scenes, such as the monkey brains and jailhouse execution, were staged – but no one knows who the actors in these segments were. Shortly after the film’s release in 1978, whistleblowers came forward to claim that several of the staged scenes were actually real, and that the reason actors and actresses were not noted was because we’d just witnessed their deaths on film! As the film picked up steam on the midnight movie circuit, differing opinions over the authenticity of certain scenes became more passionate – and intense.
From IMDb about Lucio Fulci’s hypnotic horror tale, about a woman who becomes trapped in a series of psychedelic nightmares that seem to come true when she wakes:
The scene in which Carol encounters the disemboweled dogs in the clinic became quite controversial because of the startlingly realistic (and graphic) appearance of the fake prop dogs. Director Lucio Fulci was nearly sent to prison because it was believed that the dogs were real and Fulci had allowed animal cruelty on the film. However crew members were able to testify in court that the ‘dogs’ were indeed fake and no animals had ever been harmed. Special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi even presented the dog props in court to convince the jury. This was the first time that an effects artist had to testify in court that their work was fake.