Does it always feel like somebody’s watching you?
The idea of CCTV and hidden cameras, where someone can watch live or recorded footage of you (or whether you record footage of yourself to watch later on a monitor), is a creepy one. It’s also an idea explored in many a horror film. But which films have the best usage of CCTV?
Here are the top 10 uses of CCTV footage in horror.
10. Creepshow (1982)
Creepshow definitely takes its influence from EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt. George A. Romero, who we all know as the Godfather of Zombies, took the helm for this movie based on a screenplay by Stephen King. Creepshow includes five stories: “Father’s Day”, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”, “Something to Tide You Over”, “The Crate”, and “They’re Creeping Up On You.” Two of the tales, “Something to Tide You Over” and “They’re Creeping Up On You”, use CCTV. The former story has Richard Vickers, a wealthy but cruel man who discovers his wife, Becky, is cheating on him with Harry Wentworth. Richard lures the pair out to his beachfront house and buries them up to their necks in the sand near high tide. He watches the pair die from the comfort of his home on CCTV.
“They’re Creeping Up On You” has a rich businessman, Upson Pratt, use CCTV to carefully screen whoever may be outside his door. But while he’s worried about who is outside…he never expected what was inside.
The uses of CCTV in Creepshow are straightforward. CCTV, in these stories, is meant to view people and events unfolding. The charm of this 80s horror movie, coupled with the fact the events that unfold from without–or within–are quite sadistic, makes for a macabre use of CCTV.
9. Paranormal Activity (2007)
A couple, Katie and Micah, is haunted by an evil supernatural force in their home. They don’t know what’s going on, so they decide to set up a camera to document what happens while they sleep. The footage captures doors slamming, grunts, noises, and loud, clomping footsteps. The noises end up being caused by a demon. The nightly tortures escalate. By then, it is too late to get help, and the footage recorded helped no one…except for the police.
The usage of CCTV as recorded footage to view later is simple and effective at capturing an evil entity that deprives a couple of sleep, puts a rift in their relationship, and makes them lose their sanity. The footage captured served as fodder to scare them during their waking hours. The things that happen when you are unaware are the things that can scare you the most. And the camera’s eye doesn’t lie.
8. Devil (2010)
Okay, okay, I have a soft spot for Devil. While this was not one of M. Night Shyamalan’s most well-received films (he didn’t direct this film, but he produced it), I like it nonetheless. The devil takes human form, picks some people who have “sinned”, and kills them off one by one. The main part of the story takes place in an elevator, and in this elevator is a CCTV and a radio. Those security guards watching the elevator people on the other end of the CCTV are helpless to do anything as the elevator people die. And die. And die some more.
The idea of being trapped and isolated plays on my biggest fear, and this isolation goes in both directions. The people in the elevator know there is someone else on the other side of the CCTV, but no one can come for help. The security guards know the people in the elevator are in trouble, but can’t do anything to help. The idea of having CCTV in a place where it really does no good heightens the isolation to extreme degrees.
7. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
In The Cabin in the Woods, an unnamed company chooses five teenagers to sacrifice to those who are below. These five teenagers embody cliche horror movie stereotypes: The Whore, The Athlete, The Scholar, The Fool, and The Virgin (who lives, or dies, as fate decides). The entire time, this unnamed company is not only watching the progress of the five teenagers who star in the movie, but also the progress of how other sacrifices are going around the world.
Horror movie scenarios show on monitors: a dead monstrous gorilla reminiscent of King Kong. A Japanese ghost named Kiko whose spirit is banished into a frog. And zombie redneck hillbillies known as the Buckners killing the five teenagers, one by one. The CCTV surveillance is bizarre and reminiscent of watching several horror movies all at once. But for some reason–and I don’t really know why–it works.
6. 13 Cameras (2015)
When you rent a home, you don’t expect the person you’re renting from to install cameras in the house. But that is exactly what Gerald, played by Neville Archambault, does. The skeevy and creepy landlord rents a house to a young couple looking for a home to raise a family in. Gerald decides to install cameras all over the house, and then from the comfort of his apartment, has 24/7 access to the couple’s lives. He can watch their every move unfold, live, on his monitors.
The fear of hidden surveillance and someone watching you is a fear for some people. 13 Cameras takes this fear and amps it up to an eleven on the fear scale. Archambault helps with this fear factor, as he brings a gross and disgusting air to the landlord who violates the couple’s privacy. The use of CCTV in this movie will make you a little on edge, and maybe have you looking in your own home for possible hidden cameras.
5. Terrified (2017)
Known as Aterrados in Argentina, Terrified is a movie that did exactly that…terrify me. A creature is terrorizing select houses in a neighborhood. Some very gruesome deaths and scary sequences happen. The sequence where CCTV is used is when Walter wants to know what is going on in his home at night. So he sets up a camera…and when he views the footage the next day, he is shocked to find a tall, lanky, lumbering man-creature. Not quite human, yet otherworldly and terrifying.
Terrified is one of those movies where if you give too much away, you ruin the experience. The simple use of setting a camera to record and viewing what happens when you sleep, like in Paranormal Activity, is scary. What makes Terrified a little farther down on this list is the use of the CCTV coupled with the gruesome events in the film. I would not want to see a lumbering man creature on any kind of film I recorded. It would be enough to make me move out of my house.
4. Alone with Her (2006)
I won’t lie, I didn’t expect to see Colin Hanks in any kind of horror/suspense film. But here he is. Hanks plays Doug, a stalker who finds his prey in Amy. Like Gerald did in 13 Cameras, Doug snuck hidden cameras into Amy’s apartment in an attempt to spy on her, and to gain information about her life that he could later use to seduce her.
Again, surveillance is a very real fear for most people. Alone With Her is farther down the list than 13 Cameras because someone spying on my life to try and find out things about me, and then, in turn, use those things to try and manipulate my life…yeah, that usage of CCTV would not sit well with me at all.
3. My Little Eye (2002)
Would you stay in an isolated mansion for six months, with the promise of one million dollars at the end of your stay? Now, would you agree to be filmed, at all times, a la Big Brother? This is the premise of My Little Eye. Five contestants: Matt, Emma, Charlie, Danny, and Rex, take part in a reality webcast, with a catch…if someone leaves, no one wins the prize money. The test is how far these five will go. Will they commit murder and kill the other contestants to be the one to win the million dollars?
This sick and twisted version of having all eyes on you reminds me of the red rooms made popular by Dark Web myths and legends. The people on the other side of the monitors watching this depravity is just as disgusting as those committing the depravity of murder. Sick and twisted CCTV makes this film a tough watch, but a good one.
2. SAW (2004)
Jigsaw liked to play all kinds of games. No, not board games. Sick little games, such as “crawl through the barbed wire enclosure before time runs out or you will be stuck in this room forever and ever”. He even greeted his victims with a videotape of the world’s creepiest puppet. On the videotape, the puppet uttered the now infamous line: “I want to play a game.”
When it comes to Jigsaw’s games, it is mentioned in the movie by a crime scene investigator that he liked to book himself a front row seat to his victim’s torture shows. It is shown later, in detail, that Adam and Dr. Gordon are being watched with a camera and monitors by Zep. Even though Zep is a red herring, it is clever the way Jigsaw reveals how he is watching and surveying this particular torture show at the end.
1. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, was something to tide us over while we waited for the newest season of Black Mirror. And you may think, “This is in no way any kind of CCTV horror film.” But hear me out.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is reminiscent of the creepy Choose Your Own Adventure Stories, except updated for modern times. Instead of flipping pages, we use our remote control. With the remote control in our hands, we are able to choose what kind of cereal the main character, Stefan, has for breakfast. We are also able, at one point in the game, able to “talk” directly to Stefan to let him know we are watching him and controlling his actions. We are the ones surveying him through our monitors. And this is quite a fascinating concept.
There are my picks for the ten best uses of CCTV in horror. What other CCTV movies should have been on this list? Let us know on Twitter, Instagram and over at the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!