Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Blair Witch Project 15 Years Later: Scary, or Scary Bad?

by Sara N.

Did you get your wits scared out of you 15 years ago this week? If you're a person of a certain age who generally enjoys reading this blog, chances are good that you did. For lo, it was July 30, 1999, that The Blair Witch Project went into wide release.

Think back on those days, friends. 1999 was a simpler time. More innocent. It was a time when a guerrilla marketing campaign waged on this new-fangled "world wide web" could convince hoards of people that the movie they were about to watch actually did take place, and that this footage had, in fact, been found abandoned in an old cabin in the woods. Those missing posters? Those were the real deal, man.

Where was our cynicism 15 years ago? Where was our hard-earned patina of nonchalance and world-weariness? Not yet finely honed by the slings and arrows of the Internet, apparently. We didn't know how much grammatically unsound homophobia and racism we'd be subjected to over the next decade and a half in comment sections and message boards.

Anyway, The Blair Witch Project was at the vanguard of a number of cinematic innovations (or it has a lot of answer for, depending on where you fall on the admiration scale): Found footage. Shaky cam. Improvised dialogue. Unknown actors of questionable talents.

You see DNA from Blair Witch in vomit-fest shaky-cam found-footage extravaganzas such as Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, The Devil Inside, and Chronicle. Motion sickness was an actual concern for audience members watching these movies. The improvisational nature of Blair Witch led to some disjointed storytelling and a little too much meandering in the forest. The limited range of the actors, none of whom went on to many additional acting jobs, didn't help. Oh, and it spawned countless into the woods, snot-spewing, up-the-nose parodies. (For the record, my favorite is Michael Scott's.)

Another damning fact: The Blair Witch Project gave rise to the worst sequel in the history of mankind, despite the presence of the otherwise capable Jeffrey Donovan. (OK, fine, it's tied with Highlander 2 as the worst sequel in the history of mankind.) Also, Blair Witch's Josh was Sophia before Sophia was Sophia — as in "lost in the woods with his friends bellowing his name over and over until everyone's bored."

But for all of its flaws, The Blair Witch Project was a runaway hit. It cost $60,000 to make and earned $141 million, the highest-ever gross for a found footage film. And although it doesn't hold up terribly well today, with its unpleasant characters and saggy pacing, its newness was audacious at the time, particularly the "hear more than you see" phenomenon after a few decades of bloody teen slasher flicks. I've always thought it would've made an excellent radio play, although then we would've missed out on the movie's final image. It still sends ice down my spine, 15 years later. 


Finally, no Stellar Four post about The Blair Witch Project is complete without Kathy's story about seeing the film back in 1999:

The hubs & I went to see The Blair Witch Project opening night. Stood in line and everything. A couple of rows ahead of us was a group of Marines from the local base. Slightly buzzed, but not obnoxiously drunk. Just having fun. 
So we're watching, I'm getting bored, when one of them starts yelling out survival tips to the characters. We died. It was the best thing anyone could have done. 
Characters running around in the dark? "Climb a tree!" or "You should have brought a dog!" or "Where's your gun?" 
Best movie-watching experience EVER.
Aren't you jealous? In contrast, I saw the movie with That Guy Who Was No Good For Me,who'd gotten stoned beforehand and fell asleep halfway through.

How about you, readers? Were you crazy about Blair Witch, or did you keep it in the corner where it belonged?

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