Black October 23: The Blair Witch Project

October 23, 2009

Ten years after this low-budget art film shook the horror community, the buzz is back, for the new film Paranormal Activity. The Blair Witch Project pioneered the viral marketing of terror before the phrase “viral marketing” had been coined, and set the standard. Lately, that’s what you might hear about this movie. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

The Blair Witch Project was not successful because of a tricky website and a sneaky TV special and a mysterious marketing campaign. That got people in the door on the first weekend. It was the power of the film that made it the hit that it was. I saw it about a week after it opened, and as a newspaper arts writer, I knew full well that the promotion was a tongue-in-cheek hoax. And I went, and it was a long time before I went camping again.

  • Plot: Three student filmmakers head into the Maryland forests to make a documentary about a local myth. They vanish. A year later, their footage is discovered and cut into the film. The Blair Witch Project was made using unique guerrilla filmmaking; the actors had a limited script. They camped for real and shot the film themselves. The filmmakers dropped off notes each morning, and the actors didn’t know one anothers’ stories. When things happened, at least one of the cast didn’t see it coming.

The terror is, to a degree, real. Well, a different kind of real than a typical film.

I’ve always thought that The Blair Witch Project affects people with imagination. I know a lot of people who either hated it or didn’t get it, and they tend to be straightforward thinkers, salt of the earth types. Creative dreamers (like me) felt the story under the film, and didn’t need for it to be spelled out.

I went years without seeing it, until a while back when I found the two-pack VHS of the film and Curse of the Blair Witch for a buck. And it affected me all over again. Once this current talk about how the film was made and marketed dies down, it will, I hope, be remembered as a horror gamechanger and a classic film.

  • Note: It turns out I have about twice as many horror DVDs as there are days in October, so this means I can do this all again next year. You can go ahead and thank me now.

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