The Blair Witch Project
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A filmmaking crew hikes into Maryland's Black Hills Forest seeking clues about a legendary witch.
The Blair Witch Project
Anyone who has even the slightest trouble with insomnia after seeing a horror movie should stay away from The Blair Witch Project--this film will creep under your skin and stay there for days. Credit for the effectiveness of this mock documentary goes to filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, who armed three actors (Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Josh Leonard) with video equipment, camping supplies, and rough plot outlines. They then let the trio loose into the Maryland woods to improvise and shoot the entire film themselves as the filmmakers attempted to scare the crap out of them. Gimmicky, yes, but it worked--to the wildly successful tune of $130 million at the box office upon its initial release (the budget was a mere $40,000).
For those of you who were under a rock when it first hit the theaters, The Blair Witch Project tracks the doomed quest of three film students shooting a documentary on the Burkittsville, Maryland, legend of the Blair Witch. After filming some local yokels (and providing only scant background on the witch herself), the three, led by Heather (something of a witch herself), head into the woods for some on-location shooting. They're never seen again. What we see is a reconstruction of their "found" footage, edited to make a barely coherent narrative. After losing their way in the forest, whining soon gives way to real terror as the three find themselves stalked by unknown forces that leave piles of rocks outside their campsite and stick-figure art projects in the woods. (As Michael succinctly puts it, "No redneck is this clever!") The masterstroke of the film is that you never actually see what's menacing them; everything is implied, and there's no terror worse than that of the unknown. If you can wade through the tedious arguing--and the shaky, motion-sickness-inducing camerawork--you'll be rewarded with an oppressively sinister atmosphere and one of the most frightening denouements in horror-film history. Even after you take away the monstrous hype, The Blair Witch Project remains a genuine, effective original. --Mark Englehart
Curse of the Blair Witch
Are you wondering just exactly who the Blair Witch was? What the Burkittsville, Maryland, legend was all about? Or what exactly fascinated student filmmaker Heather and what possibly took her, Mike, and Josh from this earth? Get all your background questions answered by Curse of the Blair Witch, a one-stop-shopping "documentary" originally produced for the Sci-Fi Channel as a tie-in marketing tool. Entirely fictionalized, Curse of the Blair Witch focuses both on the past and the present, with copious info on the Blair Witch myth as well as on the disappearance of Heather, Josh, and Mike. As it turns out, the original witch was one Elly Kedward, who was accused in 1785 of taking blood from several children; she was subsequently banished to the harsh winter woods and left for dead. Her grisly and bloody legacy involves missing children, polluted water, disemboweled men, and a serial killer of children who claims to have been haunted by "an old woman ghost." Aside from some ineffective "newsreel" footage of the serial killer, all this intriguing information is presented convincingly and chillingly. Curse may in fact freak you out more than the movie, and it evokes the great, pulpy In Search Of series of the '70s, one of the prime inspirations for filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. News clips of the search for Heather, Josh, and Mike lend a vérité atmosphere to the proceedings, but shed little light on their mysterious disappearance or their characters. Basically, it's a tease to go see the movie. Still, The Blair Witch Project provided only ever-so-slight information on the legend that haunted the forest, so you'll want this cleverly constructed mock documentary to supplement your knowledge of the film. --Mark Englehart
- Includes both the theatrical film, The Blair Witch Project, (87 min.) and the TV documentary, Curse of the Blair Witch (approx. 44 min.)
- "Newly discovered" footage
- Animated interactive menus
- DVD ROM features, exclusive web site access...to the map, excerpts from the dossier, excerpts from the comic book
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As others have noted, there's not much middle ground on this movie: you either like it or you hate it. And I'll be honest, there are good arguments to be made both ways.
One of the most common complaints is that there's a lot of arguing; and make no mistake, that's absolutely true. Almost as soon as the trio sets foot in the woods, in fact, they're already bickering at each other, and it only gets worse as the movie progresses. Others complain that the Blair Witch--only the namesake of the bloody movie, after all--never actually appears on screen, and it's left up to the viewer to decide what really happens at the end. The mythology is fairly inscrutable, as well; it's never really explained in the film what those mysterious "stick-men" are supposed to represent, and the contents of the bundle of sticks that Heather discovers near the end are so blurred that they could be almost anything. (For the record, according to the feature-length commentary, they're human teeth. Because Heather's holding the camera so close to them, they appear larger than they really are, which has led to some fairly colorful speculations among fans.)
But really, all of that adds to the beauty of the whole project. Any psychologist can tell you that fear, especially mortal fear, can manifest itself in countless ways, one of which is to lash out at the people around you; who among us can say that we'd behave any differently? I'll grant that it's stretching credibility that Mike would so callously throw away their only map and then admit to it as gleefully as he does, but otherwise, the trio's behavior is surprisingly accurate. And yes, the ending is ambiguous; but then again, so is the ending of "2001," which is widely hailed as one of the finest films, science fiction or otherwise, ever made. Sometimes the best endings are the ones that aren't spoon-fed to us.
But to truly appreciate what a work of genius this film is, it helps to remember the context in which it was released. This film was one of the first serious attempts by a filmmaker (or team of them, in this movie's case) to create a universe outside of the movie proper, a practice that's common today in the form of the alternate reality game. The Web site, although fairly sparse nowadays, was at the time instrumental in providing much of the film's backstory, particularly the history of the Blair Witch legend itself (it's worth mentioning, incidentally, that it's a testament to this movie's impact that the web site still exists at all); and the accompanying documentary, "Curse of the Blair Witch"--which is included on the DVD--used professional actors in its cast, but was filmed in an extemporanous manner that made it utterly indistinguishable from a legitimate documentary. So successful were the filmmakers, in fact, that the legend of the Blair Witch is still occasionally taken as fact even today, eight years after the movie was first released. And they did it all on a budget of only $40,000; in Hollywood, that kind of money is treated like bus fare. I will concede that, since the movie relies so heavily on supplementary materials like the web site and documentary, it remains to be seen if it still has the same impact in twenty years that it did eight years ago. A truly great movie should be timeless, or as close to it as possible, which may well prove to be this movie's fatal flaw.
As for the argument that we never see the witch, all I can say is that sometimes it's what your subconscious percieves that makes something scary, not what your eyes tell you. After all, your subconscious knows exactly what keeps you awake at night. If you've got an open mind and some time to kill, watch "The Blair Witch Project." Just don't do what I did and watch it right before bed.
(The DVD itself is full of extras, as many early DVDs were; there's the aforementioned feature-length commentary, plus the "Curse of the Blair Witch" documentary, along with the obligatory collection of trailers. This was quite stunning for those of us who grew up on VHS and hadn't been exposed to the sorts of features that Laserdisc users had been enjoying for years!)
The quality of the film is quite good for an "amateur" film. The transfer to DVD is excellent.
The sound effects are actually quite realistic. Despite the means to achieve them, it sounds like Maryland hikes. I have hiked a lot of woods and some Maryland woods actually sound different, especially in the fall/winter, from many other woods. Don't believe me? Try it. When you have hiked in 15 different states, then see if your opinion changes.
The scenery is realistic -- just what you see on hikes. It's not the glamorous shots many expect to see. However, I have yet to see any camera / format that can do any woods or mountains justice. IMAX comes closest when viewed on a large 40+ foot screen.