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Jon Kitley: I admit, when the Blair
Witch hype all started, I bought into it. I think it was a brilliant
example of promotion, the likes that we hadn’t seen since the days of William
Castle. The way they had some of the public thinking that this was
actually a real documentary shows how well it worked. Also, the way the film
itself was made, with little notes from the directors to the cast on what they
needed to do on that day of shooting, and leaving little surprises for them to
find, I thought was very original and worked really well. Granted, I think it
had more ‘tweaks’ then they let on.
Kirst: I remember hearing about the hype around Blair Witch and even had
some acquaintances that were on the ride from the beginning when people were
convinced it was a true story. But I wasn’t even close to an internet baby, back
then, and when I saw it late in its run (in the cheap theaters, even!) I knew it
was just this marketing phenomenon that many felt was truly scary. I was already
a pretty hardened horror vet at that point and the atmosphere of the project –
that whole crinkling, black woodsy essence – really creeped me out – which I
remember thinking was quite a phenomenon, at that point in time. I didn’t get
that crawly skin feeling with many horror flicks and it made kind of go “Yes!
They got me!!” inside.
Dave Kosanke: I wasn't wrapped up too much in any of the hype when I viewed the
film, so I took it for what it was. I'm glad, because had I went in with a
different mindset, then maybe I would have found myself simply detesting the
Aaron Christensen: I first saw this one when it came out back in the summer of
1999. Not being a big cyber guy, I missed out completely on the whole internet
hype, so while I applaud the effort, that aspect barely enters into my
admiration for the film. It is, to my mind, one of the finest examples of a
"simple scary story well-told."
BK: What struck me this time around is how important the viewing environment is
to its creepy appeal. The first two times I saw Blair Witch were with
rapt audiences in ancient, pitch black theaters with cobwebbed histories of
their own. Some of the film’s effectiveness is definitely lost at 8:30 in the
morning in a studio apartment with all the lights on and the presence of the 9
to 5 world beaming around the corner.
Seeing it in the theater during the original release made me nauseous. Not sure
if it was because of seeing it on the big screen or not, but the shaky-cam was
just too much. Didn’t bother me as much this time out. Granted, I still don’t
care for that style of filmmaking, but I didn’t find it as nauseating. Plus, it
was on my TV, so that could have a made a big difference.
AC: The shaky-cam never really bothered me. Fit the format.
JK: I also had a problem with the whole thing about them still filming when they
realize they are in trouble. I can understand how you want to keep filming when
you’re working on the documentary. But once it is apparent that you are in
serious trouble that would have stopped.
AC: Well, she is a documentarian. This is what she does (or wants to do), plus
she wants to record the experience in order to control it. She even says, when
Josh screams at her, "It's all I have." For me, this is more than enough
justification as opposed to things like Cloverfield (which I still liked,
by the way), where there is no point to them continuing to shoot. The other
thing to consider is that at night, the lights from the camera were used to
illuminate their surroundings. Turn on the light, turn on the camera. Made
sense to me.
DK: The shaky cam didn't bother me either, and as AC points out, they give more
than enough information as to why the camera should remain on, so I buy that.
I agree using the camera for the light would be a smart thing to do. But you
can see more with your eyes than through a camera lens. So stop filming and get
your ass out of the woods!
AC: I felt it was justified by Josh's line about "looking through this
viewfinder, things don't seem real." As long as Heather could keep filming, it
gave her the sense that there was still purpose in what she was doing, and she
didn't have to face the reality that they were really just lost in the woods.
DK: My biggest issue is with all of the inferior (with a few exceptions) stuff
that came afterwards – that’s where I started to become annoyed with the shaky
cam (The Last Exorcism comes to mind). I'm pretty much tired of seeing
films utilize that type of style. It's been over 10 years since Blair Witch
came out, let's try something else for a change, o.k.?!?!?
AC: Even Uncle George [Romero] got in on the act with Diary of the Dead.
DK: For the record, in my opinion, the best out of the bunch was Rec.
I also HATED Heather. She obviously had no idea where they were or what was
going on. Yes, I know that was her character. But the problem is that I really
didn’t give a shit about her and really wanted to see her get hurt. So any
empathy, to get the viewer to care for her, is complete gone inside the first 20
minutes! Yes, I did care for Josh and Mike, and felt something for them. But
the hatred for Heather was just too much to really get into the film.
DK: All the characters bicker way too much for my taste. I understand the
situation does call for it, since Heather does mess stuff up (a lot!) but when
you are presenting a film for an audience to enjoy, I think a little editing
would have helped, but then again you'd end up with a 60-minute movie. I agree,
Heather is annoying as hell, and that's my main gripe with it...the characters
aren't the nicest bunch. If they were presented without all the bitching and
moaning it would be easier to stomach.
BK: Is Heather a pain? Yes, but I can sympathize with her. She’s a smart woman
who has bitten off more than she can chew, and I see her arrogance and first
time mistakes in so many of the artists I’ve worked with (or in things I’ve done
myself.) In time, like the rest of us, she would have done a bang-up job and
counted this first project as one riddled with glorious mistakes, but a true
learning experience, as well. Unfortunately, she never gets that chance.
In defense of Heather, as someone who has taken several hiking trips, it's not
always possible to accurately guess how long a hike will take, especially when
there is no distinctly marked trail. And while she might have been "bitchy,"
look at the two guys that she was traveling with. She took her project very
seriously and she wanted them to take it seriously as well. But serious was not
what these guys were about, and so I'm sure it got very annoying for her as
well. Did I want to date Heather? No, but I totally got where she was coming
from. Plus, you have to remember that these characters don't know each other,
and so they have no reason to trust one another - which is why when things start
falling apart, it's even more stressful.
DK: I think that the characters act accordingly to the situation presented
them, but that still doesn't mean it bodes well for a moviegoing audience to
listen to them constantly bicker amongst themselves.
AC: If they had worked together and been more civil, would it have been a
better movie? It would have been an easier movie to watch, perhaps, but would
we have lost their growing sense of despair? We've seen movies where a group of
disparate people unite to combat a common enemy. I liked the fact that they
were only tenuously bound, more out of circumstance than anything else.
BK: Some of the endless ‘getting lost and arguing about it’ scenarios are a bit
wearing, but having felt that fevered panic when being lost in the outdoors, it
truly made me relate to all of them a bit more as characters and since I knew
both the aggressively artistic and the more laid back creative types, as well,
which these characters exemplified, it made me sympathize with them all the
I didn't really relate to any of the characters. All of them had their moments,
good and bad, but they just didn't win me over that much to the point where I
really cared for them.
JK: I do think that if the characters were more sympathetic and more likeable,
it would have made the tragedy of what happened to them more powerful and
lasting. If they were actually trying to work together and still came up lost,
then maybe you would start to think of some outside influences were at work.
But in either case, I think making the characters more likeable definitely
would have made more of an impact on the viewers when they did reach their fate.
BK: Blair Witch Project, more than anything, proves to me how personal
horror is to everyone. Having grown up in deep country with forests surrounding
the entirety of my town, I know instinctively that the wooded dark can offer up
surprises. Snapping twigs, whistling wind and footsteps on damp ground at 2 a.m.
can terrify and I think these simple frights are truly captured in Sanchez and
Myrick’s work. Any violent act in a small town also seems to take on a special
mythology – something that is honestly captured with the locals’ whisperings on
the Blair Witch.
AC: The legend of the Blair Witch and of Rustin Parr was brilliant. We got
just enough information to keep us thinking, and the strange touches of the
hanging twig figures and the rock piles was so ordinary, and yet completely
freaky. The interviews that kick off the story are also great. Again, just
enough info, and they felt like real interviews for the most part.
The night-time scenes are tremendous, where all you hear are those creepy
sounds. I swear it is the easiest thing to do to get a great scare, but how
many modern filmmakers actually bother to try that anymore? You never see a
damn thing, but those are hands-down the scariest movie moments for me since the
JK: I actually do think it affected society in what they would think about when
they were camping in the woods. Especially when hearing that first snapping
twig sound in the dark of the night.
AC: I agree, the sound design is wonderful. All the natural cracking and
rustling that the woods provide, but then the added aural moments of children
laughing and Josh screaming just take it to another level. Another interesting
fact I got from the commentary was that the directors slowly pulled most of the
ambient sound out of the film as it progresses, so that there is more of a dead,
isolated feel by the end.
BK: I thought it truly captured the creepiness of out-in-the-boondocks living –
which, I’m assuming, was a fairly far-off place for the filmmakers to get to –
which makes me both appreciate the [filmmaking] effort and truly enjoy
the end product at the same time. For me, the turning point of the film and the
part I tend to look forward to when viewing is the betrayal sequence when Mike
loses his shit and reveals he destroyed the map. It’s dramatic and the rash
anger of the act makes sense because of the frustration and hopelessness of the
Mike's revelation of kicking the map into the water is a high point for me as
well. Such a betrayal, and you have to wonder whether he did it of his own
accord or whether he was under the influence of some malevolent force.
DK: I don't think Mike was under the spell of some force for ditching the map.
That just reeked of plain stupidity, and one of the reasons the characters don't
appeal to me that much because if they do dumb stuff like that then I feel they
deserve their fate.
AC: Maybe, but them continuing to stay lost is a brilliant little clue that
there’s something else going on. The scene where they follow the stream all day
only to end up in the same place is INSANE. Such a feeling of powerlessness.
The compasses don't work, nature is against you, you're hungry, tired,
scared... I really felt I could put myself in that situation.
DK: I agree the scene where they seemingly go in circles was great, but is the
movie implying this was Heather's fault, or something else?
AC: They followed the river all day and ended up in the same place. How do we
explain that if not outside, i.e. supernatural forces?
DK: If the supernatural element was to blame, then that could have been a
better way to set things in motion rather than blame it all on human error. Who
knows, if they were more civil towards each other after realizing they weren't
to blame for their troubles, but that an outside force was responsible, then
maybe we'd have a better set of characters? I don't know but that's one way the
script could have been altered somewhat.
See, I think it’s pretty explicit – they follow the river, which wouldn’t run in
a circle, and they find the same rock as before. Now, I suppose that it might
NOT have been the same rock, but I’d like to think that it is, because that’s
much scarier than them just not knowing how to stay on the same side of a river.
JK: I never really felt the movie had any supernatural influence or link to it.
AC: Wait, what? No supernatural influence? Um, what about Josh disappearing?
The piles of rocks? The children’s voices? I mean, come on…
JK: I always considered it more about the legends, like Brian mentioned, and
those bizarre characters living out in the woods. But never supernatural.
Maybe if they would have played up that element a little more, I might have
found it a little more effective. But on that same point, I think that would
have taken away from the reality of the situation, meaning it would have put it
more in the realm of fantasy, like Jason Voorhees. But the fact that they were
lost was just because of that. No forces of nature were conspiring to making
them go in circles….they were just lost. Plain and simple.
Interesting. I think I would like the film less if that were the case. In
fact, maybe the reason I like it more than you is that I do see the supernatural
at work throughout.
DK: Maybe if they figured they were trapped in the woods, and not because of
anything they did to screw up, then maybe the bitching would've been tempered
AC: On another note, I think the premise of the found footage is wonderful (I'm
sure we'll get into the whole "they stole that from Cannibal Holocaust"
at some point during this discussion) and it all plays out beautifully, starting
off light and playful and slowly, inexorably descending into a nightmare. What
did you guys think?
DK: Cannibal Holocaust is without a doubt the main influence on Blair
Witch as far as I'm concerned, but the two films are so far apart however
that I don't even care about which one used the found film footage first, or who
ripped off who. Cannibal Holocaust wasn't really that well known in
mainstream circles that much in the ’90s, aside from the diehard fans who piled
up bootlegs of it on VHS.
AC: I didn’t see CH until 2005.
Also I believe it only screened theatrically in New York once it arrived on our
shores, so it's not like everybody got to see it right away. You won't hear me
gripe about how much Blair Witch stinks because it ripped off Cannibal
Holocaust. That type of argument won't work with me!
AC: The filmmakers have always said that it’s more an homage to the old In
Search of…television show.
DK: However, in contrast to Cannibal Holocaust, the format of Blair
Witch pretty much dispenses with how the footage was “found” in the first
place, since all we see is what was recorded, and not necessarily who found it.
The technique works well for Blair Witch, since I doubt many folks even
cared about who came up with the material in the first place (maybe if they
believed the entire thing to be true they’d want to know more, but for most of
us we knew it was all fake and just wanted to be entertained).
BK: Because it is non-filtered, the found footage angle really works – it gets
at the fear, exhaustion, anger and weariness the characters are feeling.
JK: The only problem I have with the “found footage” theme (in any movie, for
that matter) is that we know right from the beginning that these people do not
make it out alive. So it becomes a matter of not who will survive, but when
they will die. And in the case of Heather…it couldn’t come soon enough.
I think they left the camera on a little too long at times, and only shut it off
when the film was starting to grow a little too long in the tooth, but obviously
they had to deliver something that could play in theaters, otherwise we’d be
looking at something 60 minutes or less. Still, the film does work well
considering you see nothing at all (shades of Val Lewton perhaps?)
BK: There is a part of me that feels like more could have been shown – that a
little bit more of who or what was attacking these three kids could have been
hinted at. BUT – that probably would have destroyed some of the effectiveness
of the piece as well. It’s always what you imagine that scares you the most.
AC: Question: Did you guys think this movie did for being lost in the woods
what Jaws did for swimming? Did it replace Jason as the terror of the
DK: Without actually seeing the Blair Witch, I don’t know how it could
ever top Mr. Voorhees as the true sultan of slaughter! Actually nobody could
wrestle that title from him, but hey that’s another discussion! In the long
run, most folks will probably remember Blair Witch more as a phenomenon
rather than a singular movie, since it is more the technique of how it was made
– and promoted – that will be discussed in the history books (or e-readers,
tablets, and whatever electronic device folks use for reading material) for
Nope, Blair Witch didn’t replace Jason as the king of the woods
terror. It’s too complex and real and the public at large (and I’m not counting
myself out of this equation either) wants a bit more popcorn style splatter for
their main viewing diet. And I agree, the fact that we never really see the
Blair Witch puts her at a disadvantage here as well. I also, truly believe that
at this point in time we still are existing in a formidably patriarchal society
and to have a female horror villain ‘top’ the Jasons, Michaels and Freddys in
our cultural consciousness is going to be a long time coming, I’m afraid. That
zeitgeist just isn’t here, yet.
JK: Honestly, if you were out camping
and you heard that first snapping twig sound, I’m sure the first thought in your
mind would not be about Jason Voorhees or some ghost or witch, but because of
some backwoods yahoo out screwing around.
AC: Good ol’ Deliverance horror! For me, the film's biggest strength is
its relatability. We recognize ourselves in each of these characters, and there
is no answer as to what we would do differently. They're lost (we've all been
lost before) and they don't know how to help themselves. Whatever they try
fails. And they can't even count on each other. And then one of them
JK: I will admit that there are a few parts of the movie that I do find
genuinely scary or creepy. The little things that they find outside their tent.
The tree twig designs that were hanging from the trees. It does give one the
feeling that maybe trudging off into the woods might not be the smartest thing
to do, unless you know exactly what you are doing.
How about the teeth wrapped in Josh's shirt wrapped in the twig bundle? Wow.
That flipped me out and continues to do so. There are these lovely subtle clues
dropped: Josh is the one who kicks the stone piles, Josh is the one whose stuff
is thrown around, Josh disappears... And I, for one, love to imagine what the
abduction of Josh looked like: did he sleepwalk out of the tent? Did he go out
for a leak? Was he screaming and the others had a spell on them so that they
couldn't wake up? Love it. And the final sequence in the house with the
handprints on the walls and them running up and downstairs was utterly
terrifying. Plus, the indelible final image of Mike standing in the corner
chilled me to the bone.
JK: Bottom line, I appreciate the film much more than liking it. Mainly
because I think the film is effective in bringing that creepiness to the
viewers, since that situation is very easy for anyone to put themselves into.
But on a grand scale of things, it is not one that I would see myself going
back to when wanting to watch a ‘scary movie’. I think you really have to be in
the right mood to watch this, or at least the right atmosphere. Like Brian
mentioned, watching it in the bright of the morning in a well lit apartment
would not have the desired effect. A film like Jaws, on the other hand,
I could watch at any point in the day, and it would always give me the same
Final thoughts...The Blair Witch project divides fans down the middle yet even
though you never actually see the Blair Witch, its shadow looms large over an
entire decade of the horror film, and probably will continue to do so as long as
conversations such as this keep the flames burning.
You know, now that I think about it, I guess I don't like this movie so much,
after all! (Kidding.) But, when all is said and done, like it or hate it, Blair
Witch was one of the few films, of any genre, to so capture the public's
imagination that it's lasting appeal, in a way, is almost indescribable. It just
had that special magic something that captured the public's imagination at the
right time-right place and it became a phenomenon that we're, obviously, still
talking about. It's strangely thrilling it contemplate, actually. And it may be
one of the last film's able to do something like that. This past fall, the film
"Catfish" tried to work the same buzz, and while moderately effective, I
actually had to google the films description to get the title because I couldn't
remember it. Now, even the most popular films are out of the theaters within
weeks and on DVD within a month or two, so it just seems highly unlikely that
any film could develop that slow boil to mainstream cultural eruption that Blair
Witch did. Yet, another reason to give it that special nook in cinematic
history, I suppose.
AC: Haters be damned, I think the
film is 100% brilliant and works like a charm. I can watch it in the middle of
the day with the sun shining and it still freaks me out. I love the use of
sound, the performances, the realistic-seeming "found footage," how so much goes
unanswered, the tension between the characters, the ending... What can I say, I
love this movie. The onscreen terror of the young filmmakers is so palpable it
seeps under the viewer's skin. As far as I can tell, there are only two (maybe
three) things that you need to be willing to accept: 1) Yes, the characters are
annoying at times (but I find their behavior completely realistic); 2) That they
would continue to keep filming under the circumstances (which requires a bit of
suspension of disbelief, but I'm willing to go along with it); and 3) the motion
sickness camerawork (which seems utterly compatible with the given set of
circumstances. If it were any smoother, I wouldn't buy it).