August 14, 2011

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

"Three film students travel to Maryland to make a student film about a local urban legend... The Blair Witch. The three went into the woods on a two day hike to find the Blair Witch, and never came back. One year later, the students film and video was found in the woods. The footage was compiled and made into a movie."

I've put off reviewing "The Blair Witch Project" for quite some time now due to it being the epitome of everything which I've come to hate about the horror genre. I usually try to find something good in every film I watch whether it be an actor's performance or the story itself, but I honestly can't find anything of merit here.

Made for $35,000 by two young filmmakers from Florida, this was an ingenious creation which made effective use of its lack of budget and cast of unknowns but is even more famous for the internet marketing which drove people into movie theatres thinking that they were going to see real found footage from a true story.

I admit that I was fooled at the time. I looked up everything to do with the Blair Witch and swallowed it all hook, line and sinker. I wanted this story to be real and had no idea that it was all completely fake until I saw the film itself.

I didn't actually watch "The Blair Witch Project" when it was first released but a few months later in a "dollar cinema" in Boston just before Hallowe'en. I had a choice of that or "Inspector Gadget" which I had no interest in whatsoever. In case you are wondering, since I've only been living in America for just over three years, I came to America to visit Salem for their Hallowe'en festivities in 1999 and I've been backwards and forwards a lot before moving here. Back then it was quite a novelty to see films and TV series which took at least another six months to arrive in Britain but now there doesn't seem to be any delay at all.

Of course, you are probably wondering even more about why I hated "The Blair Witch Project" so much apart from the hype which caused me to waste my time and a dollar to see it. Basically, it was a badly made piece of handycam crap without any scares or even a decent ending.

The cinema verité style has been done to death now, of course, but, back in 1999, hardly anybody other than film students were using it. "The Blair Witch Project" reeked of experimental film school production values and really, although I've already admitted that this was an ingenious use of that style, it wasn't a good enough film to ever be shown in cinemas nor was it initially even intended to be.

I remember a lot of people complaining that watching "The Blair Witch Project" on the big screen gave them motion sickness but I was more aware of the huge backlash against being fooled into watching such absolute crap in the first place. If I had paid more than a dollar to see a bunch of non-actors running about in the woods, pretending to be scared of sticks tied together, in a film about a witch that didn't even have a witch in it, I would have asked for my money back.

Horror movies have, unfortunately, always been pretty low-budget and, whether you like it or not, they've nearly all been made by independent filmmakers. The key word here is "nearly" as all the big studios have made most of the horror movies that we all love today or, at the very least, invested in independent filmmakers to distribute their wares and get them seen. "The Blair Witch Project" was no different as Artisan acquired the film for just over $1,000,000 and then spend another $25,000,000 to market it. In spite of the initial production costs, does $26,000,000 seem like a low-budget to you?

Of course, this lucky break inspired a whole generation of talentless hacks and amateurs to try and repeat the formula with their own even lower-budget creations hoping that somebody would pick them up and do the same thing. What they didn't realise was that you can only ever get away with fooling the public like this once.

All the shakycam/handycam nasties possible then flooded the market on often self-distributed DVDs and it totally destroyed the credibility of the video rental outlets whose customers didn't want this rubbish. I remember making a podcast about five years ago where I suggested that Blockbuster and Hollywood Video should create a section specifically for movies of this kind and only charge 50¢ or less to rent them. In many cases these "independent horror movies" didn't look as if they were made for much more than that to begin with.

With hindsight, it's obvious that the competition from streaming media on the internet, pay-per-view cable services, and the economy in general, caused the video rental companies to invest in this cheap crap to try and make a bigger profit but, as we all know, people just stopped renting it completely. I'm hoping that Netflix are eventually going to learn a valuable lesson from the now bankrupt giants especially as they are perpetuating this slew of shit.

Yes, this is the main reason why I hate "The Blair Witch Project". It may have been the most financially successful independent horror film of all time but that doesn't make it the best. "The Blair Witch Project" was a major turning point in the history of horror movies which, as we can see from the lack of good horror movies being released today, may have ultimately been their demise.

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