In the beginning
This year, found footage horror is going galactic. The release of new movie Apollo 18 represents one small step for mankind, but one giant leap for found footage horror.
Now a bona fide genre of its own, movies that use so-called ‘found footage’ to tell their stories have become en vogue . But then, they always have been.
From The Blair Witch Project in 1999 - which seized on a newborn internet for a massively successful viral campaign that had everybody believing in that wood-dwelling hag – to 2007’s Paranormal Activity and 2008’s Cloverfield , the low-budget, high profit mould has well and truly been set.
It was Paranormal Activity that gave found footage horror a shot of adrenaline. Made for peanuts (just $15,000), the film’s $193m gross revenue meant that found footage horror was here to stay.
But what’s the story behind Apollo 18 , the newest in this most nail-biting breed of terror? To find out, we’ll need to go back in time…
15 July, 1975
After 17 space missions, NASA’s final Apollo undertaking took place on 15 July, 1975. Officially called the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), but unofficially referred to as ‘Apollo 18’, ASTP was the first US/Soviet space flight and the last official US-manned space endeavour until 1981.
Ending the space race competition, the ASTP mission wasn’t otherwise massively unusual. The mission consisted of two spacecrafts - one US and the other Soviet – being docked together. When in space, they separated and carried out their own tests.
According to official NASA logs, a further three Apollo missions – 18, 19 and 20 – were all cancelled before blast off. That number 18 presumably indicates that an official Apollo 18 that didn’t involve the Soviets had at one time been planned. But according to one man, those missions did actually happen…
16 August, 1976
William Rutledge is the ‘deep throat’ of Apollo 20. A purported former astronaut, he says that the Apollo 20 took place in 1976, following failed 18 and 19 attempts. According to him, Rutledge and his fellow astronauts discovered the debris of an alien craft - containing ET life forms - on the moon.
“We went inside the big spaceship, also into a triangular one,” he said during an interview in 2007. “The major parts of the exploration was; it was a mother ship, very old, who crossed the universe at least milliard of years ago (1.5 estimated).
“There were many signs of biology inside, old remains of a vegetation in a ‘motor’ section, special triangular rocks who emitted ‘tears’ of a yellow liquid which has some special medical properties, and of course signs of extra solar creatures.
“We found remains of little bodies (10cm) living in a network of glass tubes all along the ship, but the major discovery was two bodies, one intact.” Think he’s a crackpot? Let's go deeper…
In 2007, Rutledge got himself online and used YouTube to upload videos of what he claimed consisted of footage from the Apollo 20 mission. The footage showed off the ‘city’ that he claims he discovered on the dark side of the moon.
Sadly for UFO buffs, the videos were swiftly discredited. It became obvious that the images that Rutledge claimed were from the Apollo 20 mission, were actually snippets of footage from the Apollo 15 mission, albeit re-cut for a new purpose.
That’s not to ignore the fact that certain photos taken during the Apollo 15 mission were intriguing – debates still rage over a bizarre cigar-shaped ‘object’ seen nestled in a crevice on the moon’s surface. Trick of the light? Or alien craft? Hard to tell.
One thing was sure: Rutledge was a fake. Still, there’s no denying that his story caught people’s imagination…
6 November, 2010
In an interesting twist of fate, it was a Russian who would spearhead the idea of a movie revolving around creepy, astronaut-captured footage from the moon.
Having helmed horror with Night Watch and action with Wanted , director Timur Bekmambetov decided to jump on the found footage bandwagon with Apollo 18 .
Though the filmmaker is keeping wisely schtum about the movie (it’s the not knowing that’s a key factor in these found movies), one can only assume that the inspiration was the controversy surrounding the Apollo 20 hoax.
In November 2010, the Weinstein Company won an over-night, heated bidding war for the production rights to Apollo 18 . With Bekmambetov part of the package as producer, the film was lined up for release on 4 March, 2011.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein agreed to finance the film. Pre-production had been up and running (under the radar) for months, but what they needed was a director…
18 November, 2010
First pick for the Apollo 18 director’s chair was Trevor Cawood. An effects worker with years of experience on various SFX-laden projects, he seemed the perfect fit for the film.
Not only would he direct, but his effects company would be responsible for Apollo 18 ’s numerous special effects. However, mere weeks after Apollo 18 found a studio, it lost Cawood as director. The film’s swift production schedule was blamed.
Instead, Bekmambetov brought in Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego. A Spanish director with experience working in TV and films, Apollo 18 would be Lopez-Gallego’s first English-speaking film. And completely different from his last – 2007’s King Of The Kill , a straight-forward, tense thriller.
Meanwhile, the rise of Apollo 18 saw other similar found space horrors fall by the wayside, with Roland Emmerich’s The Zone and the WB's Dark Moon both abandoned…
23 November, 2010
Capitalising on the surge in sudden activity on Apollo 18 , the Weinstein Co released their first official poster for the movie. An eerie, sparse effort, it merely shows an astronaut’s boot print, and offered us the film’s tantalising tagline - 'There's a reason we've never gone back to the moon.'
“This is how we tell stories nowadays, how we document events,” Cloverfield director Matt Reeves offered on the topic of found footage during that film’s release.
“In Cloverfield , we have different characters documenting the events with their handicams. That creates a lot of suspense, because you get different camera angles, and the narrative appears in many different forms.
“It also creates a lot of suspense in terms of how we see the monster. Because the characters in the film are running from this monster the footage is often very static and jittery. Sometimes the camera will go black and you just hear the sound. It creates a lot of tension.” Apollo 18 will surely attempt to replicate that feeling…
18 February, 2011
Just three months after Apollo 18 was announced, the film’s first trailer landed online. Which is an incredibly fast turnaround for any movie, let alone one set in space and with a complicated found footage look to get right.
Making sure that everybody knows this is a ‘found’ movie, the trailer sports crackly, blurry imagery, realistic black and white shots of the moon and an overall pervading sense of dread...
25 February, 2011
“People intrinsically know there are secrets being held from us,” says Dimension boss Bob Weinstein. “Look at WikiLeaks: There are secrets that are really true to the world. It’s not bogus.”
He’s the first person to have spoken publicly about Apollo 18 at all since we first learned about it back in November. And he’s not without a sense of humour regarding the project: “We didn’t shoot anything,” he says. “We found it. Found baby!”
Now with a new release date of 22 April, just a month later than the film’s original date, Apollo 18 is nearly upon us. But its viral campaign is only just getting off the ground.
“We’re about to take this up a notch and really have fun with this audience,” says marketing executive Bladimiar Norman. “This is just the beginning, but I’m not giving you any more secrets!”
Norman did, however, reveal to Entertainment Weekly a top secret website where fans can find bonus material. Head over here to take a look.
So will Apollo 18 be the new Paranormal Activity ? Or even the new Blair Witch ? We’ll soon find out.