In my recent mega-post discussing the V/H/S movie franchise, I mentioned that found footage horror wasn’t usually my go-to subgenre, though of course I listed many examples of it that I did actually really enjoy. Interestingly, right around the same time as I was planning the V/H/S video, a friend of mine in New York City showed me this cool-looking new horror anthology book that had just been published in early October of 2022 called Found: An Anthology of Found Footage Horror Stories, edited by Andrew Cull and Gabino Iglesias. Aside from the absolutely stellar cover design which looked like a beat-up videotape (I can very easily be swayed by some awesome graphics and commitment to theming), it sounded like a really neat concept, although I’ll admit at first that I wasn’t entirely sure what the stories would be like. Would found footage in written form simply manifest itself as, say, an epistolary novel like Dracula, or would there be other variations? Happily, I was able to find out, because my friend, DJ Maniak, bought the ebook for me (thank you!!!), and I finally got to read it over this past weekend.
And I have to say, this is one of the most consistently great anthologies I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Every single story was great to excellent, and though obviously some of them tickled my fancy more than others, there wasn’t one in there that I didn’t think was outstanding in one way or another. I should also note that my initial idea of all the stories being essentially told through emails, for example, was way too limited; yes, some of the stories were told like that, but this was an impressively varied collection of mixed-media tales.
Some of them were comprised of a series of texts, police reports, handwritten messages, and so forth; some were told as journal entries; some were told as court depositions or video transcripts; and some were told in a traditional narrative style, but had a story that focused on some kind of found media. I was actually really pleased at the diversity of formats, and the fact that they all still comfortably fit within a found footage framework, despite the variations on the theme. The whole collection, perhaps not surprisingly, gave me a very strong ARG or creepypasta sort of vibe, which was one of my favorite things about it.
The first story, “Two Months Too Long” by Holly Rae Garcia, unspools as a series of increasingly alarming text messages from a clearly unhinged ex-girlfriend, later interspersed with work emails, handwritten notes, personal emails, police incident reports, photos, and so forth, as the aforementioned girlfriend, Shonda, starts to escalate her campaign of terror against the guy she’d been dating, whose name is Alex. This one was a great start to the book, as it immersed you right into this chillingly realistic scenario and went to some pretty dark and gross places toward the end.
The next tale, Josh Rountree’s “Face Down Death Volume VIII,” was laid out as a regular story, but centered around a young boy who was obsessed with a series of those “real death” compilation videos that were all the rage back in the 80s and early 90s (Faces of Death being the most popular). I loved this one as well, because it brought back memories of watching messed up stuff on those grotty VHS tapes back in the day, though I also really liked the bizarre, somewhat supernatural direction this one goes in toward the end, as the reasons for the boy’s fascination with the videos are revealed.
Another more traditional story concerning found video tapes was “Junk Pickup,” by Fred Fischer, IV, and I loved this one as well. It’s about a kid named Peter who always accompanies his dad on junk-picking expeditions; on one particular outing, Peter finds a footlocker full of old videotapes. He and his father always enjoy watching whatever is on these found treasures, and this box is no exception; even though most of them contain old music videos or movies they’ve seen before that were taped off cable years ago, one of the tapes has a very eerie clip of a boy videotaping himself sleeping. I won’t spoil what else is on the video, but suffice it to say that it’s creepy as hell, and the protagonist tries to delve into the mystery of the boy on the tape with terrifying results. Another fantastic story.
Next up is Nick Kolakowski’s “Disappearances at Coal Hill,” which starts out as a series of email exchanges between a writer named Rick and his editor, Katherine. Rick is pitching a story he wants to investigate about a series of unexplained vanishings in some dense woods in Virginia. The tale then pivots to a newspaper story, then a string of posts on a subreddit called r/MysteriousMysteries, where people are discussing the missing people and speculating about what might be going on. One of the posters lives in the area and agrees to take the editor, Katherine, out to the woods, and terror ensues. I really liked the buildup of this one, and the way it kept the story mostly grounded until the end, when it went in a more ambiguous direction. In fact, I think the best thing about this one was the way it left a lot of things to be filled in by the reader, which is exactly how stories like this would unfold in real life, as different people with different bits of information would all be trying to put together the pieces to a puzzle that no one really knows the full answer to.
Angela Sylvaine’s “The Veiled Lady” was told as the diary entries of a woman who just woke up from a fourteen-month coma, and is writing about her experiences in order to try to trigger her memories from before the coma to return. This story was very clever and compelling, as the narrator may or may not be reliable because of her injuries, and you think the story is going one way, but then it goes in a direction you might not be expecting. This one was like a really good thriller, and would probably make a cool movie; actually, a lot of these stories would make excellent movies, now that I think of it.
The next story, “The Spew of News” by Clay McLeod Chapman, was the most grimly funny of the bunch, and will probably be pretty relatable to a great number of people. Basically, it’s about a guy whose elderly parents begin to change drastically after continually watching a news channel called Fax News (heh), which promises “Just the Fax,” but broadcasts nothing but fearmongering and outrage fodder. The narrator has tried to reason with his parents, but they’re slipping further and further into their angry little conspiracy-laden world. He finally gets really worried about them when they don’t answer his calls for several days, and he’s compelled to go check on them, which doesn’t end all that well. This one was very topical and would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so painfully sad and a little too real.
Joe Butler’s “Ghost Town Adventures” is very much like a classic sort of creepypasta tale, told as a series of descriptions of unsettling videos that were posted on an exploring-abandoned-places-type YouTube channel. Whoever is writing the descriptions is speculating about the final video posted on the channel, only titled, “Hellp,” in which the purported ghost town the cameraman is exploring sometimes changes in ways that I won’t spoil. Another solid tale that leaves the reader to fill in the blanks, to pleasingly spooky effect.
The shortest story in the collection, “Regular Saint” by Donna Lynch, is formatted almost as a poem, or as a chain of terse messages exchanged between several girls—who are all named Mary—at a religious school. They’re talking about a classmate named Jeanie, who uploaded a mysterious video having something to do with praying to Saint Dymphna. This one was almost inscrutable, and left much to the imagination, but it really encouraged you to investigate the specifics about the saint to figure out what happened in the story.
“Walls and Floors and Bricks and Stone” by Georgia Cook unfolded first as email exchanges and autopsy transcripts between two pathologists who were looking into a bizarre case where an entire family died in a newly-built house, and all the bodies had some weird, unexplained thing going on with them, like having bricks in the stomach despite there being no possible way of the bricks getting there. This one was a lot of fun too, being something like a mashup between the 2016 movie The Autopsy of Jane Doe and the Brian Asman novel Man, Fuck This House. A great concept that pulled you right into its mystery.
Ally Wilkes’s “Summons” is told as a sort of deposition at a fitness-to-practice panel. A social worker named Miss Arnold has been brought before this committee to answer charges about a girl under her care named Emily Rook, whose parents have some…interesting religious practices, let’s call it that. I like this one because while it’s quite clear to the reader from Miss Arnold’s descriptions what was going on, Miss Arnold herself is so naïve and clueless that she’s oblivious to what’s happening before her eyes, thereby generating suspense.
One of my favorites in the book (though it’s hard to pick, really, because they were all so good) was Tim McGregor’s “Green Magnetic Tape.” In this tale, structured like a traditional story, the narrator is decluttering the garage when he comes across a set of old videotapes of Jenny, his girlfriend of five years. He’s always known Jenny as a straight-arrow young woman who doesn’t drink, only eats organic food, and is stringently tidy and organized. The Jenny he sees on these tapes, however, is another type of person entirely…and he becomes obsessed with the drastic difference between her past and present selves. This was a terrific psychological horror story about the breakdown of trust in a relationship and the idea that you can never really know another person as well as you think.
“Accidents, of a Sort” by Kurt Fawver is also fun and bizarre, going in a sort of metaphysical direction toward the end. It’s basically the story of two guys—one older and one younger—who work at an insurance agency, studying the aftermath of car accidents to determine fault. While the older guy, Vane, has seen it all, the younger narrator is still a newbie, and the gruesomeness and meaninglessness of the accidents he analyzes still affect him. After he asks Vane out of curiosity if there isn’t anything he’s ever seen on the job that keeps him up at night, Vane reluctantly shows him a very fucked-up video of a seemingly impossible occurrence, which the narrator can’t get out of his mind. An excellent premise and a profoundly abstruse, thought-provoking resolution.
Bev Vincent’s “A Grave Issue” deals with one of my favorite horror tropes, cursed media, in this case a supposedly “lost” book by a famous and deceased writer named Ramsey Edwinson. The story, told as a string of posts on an author fan forum, tells of one poster finding a brand-new copy of a previously unknown Edwinson book at a yard sale and trying to determine its authenticity. It soon becomes clear, though, that the book is possibly cursed. Like many of the other stories, the fun of this one lies in what isn’t revealed, and what connections the reader has to make herself, which I think is the appeal of these type of so-called found footage stories, which in real life almost never have clear-cut resolutions.
“The Novak Roadhouse Massacre” by Alan Baxter is formatted as police incident reports and transcripts of dashcam footage concerning the supposed rampage of a vicious serial killer, suspected to be a man named Carlton Davies. As the story goes on, though, the reader comes to realize that maybe the killer isn’t human after all, and that there might be some kind of…creature roaming the wilds of Australia.
Another one of the best stories in the book, in my opinion, was Robert Levy’s “This Video is Unavailable,” laid out as an “oral history” type magazine story about “one of the darkest episodes born of the internet age.” In snippets of interviews with people involved in this incident, we learn about a well-known beauty YouTuber named Daniel Travers, who garnered a passionate fan following with his genuine personality and his fearlessness in being himself. His fans, though, start to notice a change in Daniel as his videos progress, and they begin to fear that something bad is happening to him. After attempting to get help for him in more traditional ways, they decide to take matters into their own hands, quite literally, as it turns out. A grim, tragic tale about obsessive fandom and good intentions gone horribly wrong, that, while exaggerated, could actually happen, making it far more chilling.
“Dear Penny” by Jeremy Hepler was another classic “you don’t know your loved ones as well as you think you do” story, as it concerns a strict, uptight, and fairly deluded mother named Sheryl discovering the hidden diary of her daughter Maura, concealed in the innards of a huge stuffed panda bear named Penny. While Sheryl was always under the impression that her daughter was a perfect angel, the diary demonstrates that everything she thought she knew about Maura was a carefully calculated façade. This is another one that I think would make a really gripping movie, to be honest, though as I said, most of these absolutely would.
Aristo Couvaras’s “The Pall” went in something of a cosmic horror direction, positing an Annihilation-style anomaly hovering in the skies above the Indian Ocean that may or may not have something to do with the real (and very weird) interstellar object Oumuamua, which in the universe of this story was possibly sent by intelligent beings, though not for the reasons we might be suspecting. A creepy, Lovecraftian type story about forces much greater than humans can comprehend.
Yet another one of my favorites in the collection was the last one, Ali Seay’s “A Small Hand-Built House,” which was structured like a regular story but was very well-told and effective. The narrator is a recent widow named Hazel; her husband of fifty-two years, Parker, has died. Many years before, Parker had built a little man-cave type situation in the garden, a place he could go to be alone. Hazel never minded it, and was never all that curious as to what he was doing in there. But one day, while she’s in the little house looking for something, she discovers a videotape that Parker left for her that sends her on a horrifying scavenger hunt with a definite time limit. This one was, again, a very classic story about how you can be married to someone for half a century and not know jack about them, but the way it unfolded was just so entertaining, and the characterization of Hazel so appealing, that I was immediately sucked into the story.
If you’re into found footage movies, ARGs, or creepypasta-style stories, I would recommend this anthology without hesitation; every story is worth reading, and while they all adhere to a found footage or mixed media theme, there’s a great deal of variety within those parameters, so there will definitely be something for everyone. It’s rare to come across an anthology as consistently excellent as this one, so major props to the editors and all the authors involved (and a special mention to the cover designer, who sold me on the concept within seconds), who all conspired to give me a spooky good time which I will absolutely want to revisit in the future.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.