VIDEO: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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In this episode, the Fear Fan takes on the first film of the current found footage craze: The Blair Witch Project. Does it deserve its reputation, or was it just a flash in the pan?

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  • Hitchmeister

    The Blair Witch Project worked for audiences 15 years ago for people who either got caught up in the promotional hype and thought it was non-fiction, or were willing to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it in a “what if this were real?’ frame of mind. If you could watch it as if you’re actually seeing the final days of untalented, not very clever people, the implications of what the ambiguous final scenes might have been were quite effectively unsettling. It’s really hard to go back and capture that feeling after all of this time and full knowledge that the footage is faked and having been desensitized by all of the intervening imitators. So, it was decent at the time (the time being the first couple weeks of release) and doesn’t hold up very well any more.

    The only way to really appreciate it now, is to find someone who doesn’t know anything about it and has not seen any of the movies inspired by it, and getting them to watch it cold with the mind set that it is actual documentary footage.

    • fearfanforever

      Yeah, this one didn’t age well.
      My first time seeing it was when I was babysitting a 12 year old a year after it came out. He said it was the scariest thing he’d ever seen, so I decided to pop it in for curiosity’s sake.
      While I don’t doubt it WAS the scariest thing he’d ever seen, it also reminded me of an important fact- 12 year old’s don’t have much life experience.
      Oddly enough, I think this would have worked better as a short- perhaps something in one of the V/H/S movies.

      • Mike

        Fan I’m with you on that one! I think the “where and when” has a heck of alot to do with people actively liking the movie or despising it. My wife watched it after much prodding from me, at NOON, in the house, on a sunny day. And declared it boring and not scary. Fair point. I watched it one night, in the middle of the Kansas woods during a military training exercise (I was a wrecker driver stuck there for three days and hardwired a tv/vcr into the battery). Scared the teetotal crap out of me!

  • Zorha

    Glad I’m not the only one who was bored out of my skull … At least it’s not the same level of Non-Happening as Paranormal Activity I.

    I still enjoy the genre despite this, and found Europa Report, Devil’s Pass, and Chronicle worth multiple viewings.

    • fearfanforever

      Same here, especially Chronicle. Closest we’ll ever get to a good live-action Akira. :-)
      Looking forward to As Above So Below too.

  • Arakasi_99

    I have to admit that this movie was the source of the most fun I’ve ever had with a film I’ve never actually seen. Back when it was in the theater, I showed up early for another movie. I had about half an hour to kill before I could go in for my movie, so I scavenged some sticks from the edge of the parking garage and made about a dozen of the little stick figures. I placed them on the windshields, where the driver couldn’t miss it when he/she sat down.

    Yeah, I was a bit of a dick back then

    • fearfanforever

      That’s a pretty damn good practical joke!
      It was either that or go with the rocks, and people tend to get a little shitty about cracked windshields. :-)

      • Arakasi_99

        Well, yeah. I figured that if I could just get one person to crap their pants, then my work there was done

  • MichaelANovelli

    As an Iraq War veteran, a pile of rocks appearing where it wasn’t before IS a legitimate cause for concern…

    • I feel guilty laughing at that line.

      • fearfanforever

        Don’t, or the terrorists win. (serious face)

    • DeanD

      Not as funny as the joke in this review but still more compelling than this film.

    • fearfanforever

      I’ve heard plenty of theories about the Blair Witch, but ‘Former Republican Guard/Jihadist’ never really came up before…

      • MichaelANovelli

        You can identify her by her bright red boots!

  • Alexa

    Admittedly this movie scared me senseless, because it was something I had never seen before. And not seeing what the monster is, is more effective in many cases than seeing what is actually happening. Of course it was the first found footage film I had seen, and I genuinely believed what happened in the film happened, but then again I was 11 when I watched it and gullible as hell. Nowadays found footage bores me to tears because it all looks so staged and just well uninteresting. Plus this kind of genre really relies on jump scares, and just no…Please no…

    • fearfanforever

      Fair enough, and you’re sadly right about most found footage movies these days. Still, if you’re looking for a suggestion, I’d suggest Grave Encounters on Netflix, or Chronicle. Both are pretty awesome found footage movies, and I think you might enjoy them. :-)

      • MichaelANovelli

        Apollo 18, too!

        • John Wilson

          You like “Apollo 18” too :)

      • Alexa

        Yeah I hear those are good and very creative takes on the genre, especially Chronicle which does look good. Generally it will probably never be my cup of tea because a good majority looks like they only used the found footage angle in order to save money. Even the pretty creative V/H/S film scratches my head, because why would you put a skype conversation on a VHS tape?

        • Michelle Kirkwood

          Well, of course—that’s why most of these found footage films tend to be low-budget indies—it’s a cost-saving thing. But the thing about the found footage angle is that you can be real creative with it—if you have the time to do it while shooting a film. Also forgot another film which uses the found footage angle really well and to great effect—-Chernobyl Diaries—typical horror film, but it’s actually pretty good and even genuinely scary in some parts. Saw one of the Paranormal Activity films (the second or third one, I think) and what I liked about it (except for the ending,which used a well-worn out horror film trope) was that it’s basically, in some ways, a throwback to old-school horror films in the sense that it showed less of the horror and implied it more, which made it even more creepier in some scenes than just the typical full-on in your face horror one usually sees.

          The really good horror drama Sinister, using found footage, but it’s not an actual found footage film. In the film itself, actual old-school 16 mm film, run through an actual film projector ( yep,actual ancient old-school film technology) is used as a major plot point, which made it fun to watch. Same thing happens in Sinister 2, the recent sequel.

      • Michelle Kirkwood

        Two recent found footage horror films worth checking out are The Den and Unfriended. Both aren’t really found footage films in the traditional sense, but the plot and action is shown primarily through a laptop screen in real time in both films. The Den is the better-made and scarier one of the two, but Unfriended is worth seeing mainly because it’s more of an experiment on how to hold a viewer’s interest when the entire film takes place online. It does have it’s scary moments,too—I’ll give it that. And, yeah, Chronicle is good, even though it was too PG for me and could have been much stronger and tougher. Grave Encounters, from what I read about it, does sound interesting and scary enough to check out.

        Almost forgot—here’s another good recent found footage horror film which also takes place in real time—As Above,So Below—that’s also worth seeing, especially if you like cave exploration films, and it has its share of scares and jumps,too. The Last Exorcism is another underrated good footage in real time film,too.

        About the Blair Witch film—I’d already read up on the film at the time and knew the story was fake, but it had been so hyped up, I went to check it out anyway, and because I love me some horror films. It wasn’t all it was hyped up to be, but I have to admit the last few minutes were genuinely creepy, I’ll give it that.

    • Hitchmeister

      When the movie came out the Sci Fi channel (Before they were SyFy and overrun with “reality” junk that no one can take seriously) aired what appeared to be a completely straight documentary about the history of the Blair Witch legend as a promotional piece for the movie. That created uncertainty and confusion for a lot of the audience about whether the movie was real or not. For at least a month surrounding the theatrical release, a high percentage of people didn’t know it was fiction. The actors only made a couple, easily missed, promotional appearances.

      • Alexa

        Yeah I remember those and that’s what got me thinking that what happened in the film was real. Plus the actors did a pretty good job in my opinion, sure its them just walking around and seemingly doing nothing, but they still give convincing performances.

      • spiff2268

        Glad I read the comments first because I was gonna post about the same thing. I also gotta say that I found that mockumentary way more entertaining than the movie.

  • DeanD

    This movie was so boring and underwhelming I remember leaving the theater and demanding to get drunk so I could black out and forget it. And I was neither a drinker or of age at the time, it was that bad. The ending was effective but too little consolation for the investment of time, let alone the deafening hype surrounding it. What I remember most about this movie isn’t the movie at all but Chris Rock’s joke at that year’s Mtv Movie Awards, and I’m paraphrasing, “The movie cost $60,000, well someone is walking around with $59,000 in their pocket.” As always a great review!

    • fearfanforever

      Lol! That IS a good one!
      Yeah, I’m not sure how people wind up spending THAT MUCH on something like this. It was basically a student film, although they DID hire actual actors. Odds are that’s where 99.9% of the budget went.

      • mamba

        When I saw it in the theater, at the last scene there was a pause, then a slow clap started in appreciation of the “awe” of this movie.

        I looked at my wife and we both just shrugged and asked each other out loud, “Why does THIS deserve this? It was ok, but not THAT great!” Then I found out…as people were leaving, there was a lot of talk about whether they actually found the bodies and the like and I realized…”Damn, a lot of people here actually thought this was REAL!” and just shook my head.

        So I see this movie’s success as an exercise in pure trickery…it’s INCREDIBLE the profit margin they made, but it was all due to an orchestrated hoax. They LIED their way to success, and that’s why they couldn’t capture this lightning again…”fool me once” and all that jazz.

  • Barbllm

    I think you were going for the Anthony Perkins “Psycho” look towards the beginning of the review, but yuo looked…adorable.

    • fearfanforever

      Well, damn.
      Was worth a shot though. ;-)

  • John Wilson

    I remeber there was a theory that said this was a elaborate joke played by the two guys. They had a couple friends off screen doing crazy things. They then took the footage and made a movie out of it. I would be very impress if that was true.

    • fearfanforever

      Yeah, but when you’ve got credits for everyone involved in making the movie, down to the caterer, it kinda puts the lie to that theory.

  • danbreunig

    Blair Witch doesn’t mean much more to me than a fluke that worked. If made today it would get the label of a found footage film, whereas at the time it felt more to me like a glorified student film. If I give credit to its makers for anything, it’s for their ingenuity for internet hype before it was too common a thing. I couldn’t get much out of it when I saw it fresh on home video in 1999 because by then I knew already what the whole deal was about it, so any credibility to its supposed realistic impact was lost on me.

    Something to prove this movie’s transience: as recent as maybe 2009/10 I was in a second-hand shop which dealt primarily in home media and there was one rack in the whole shop meant for desperately selling off VHS, ten tapes for a dollar. One entire shelf was a full solid 40-50 still near-mint VHS copies of nothing but The Blair Witch Project. This meant that at some point all those copies were bought fresh within the first release year when the movie was still relevant and over-analyzed/discussed/received/parodied to death, watched maybe twice at most, forgotten about, cleaned out, and then dumped off at a used shop. The whole thing just screamed to me: WASTE–not just for being tapes, but for tapes of a movie whose hype burned it too fast and bright for it to last.

  • rpdavies

    I remember one of my co-workers who was a film buff got really excited about it when it was first out, & made one of those stick figures & kept it on his desk. He was also really into the Maxtrix as well.

    I waited until BWP was on TV, I knew the background by then, but it was still enjoyable to see.

  • Cristiona

    Seeing it in the theater? Terrifying. Seeing it sitting comfy in my living room? Boring.

    I think where and when you saw it has a lot to do with it.

  • Troodon

    This movie is very effective if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it. When I found it the first time, I was bored for most of it, but the stick figures, and the ending, I felt genuinely scared, more than I ever really have watching any other movie before or since. I rarely find horror films genuinely frightening because I just can’t muster up enough suspension of disbelief to feel that the characters are actually in danger, and quite often the characters are too bland and/or unlikeable for me to really care anyway; a great internet reviewer put it best as “if you’re rooting for the characters to get killed, you’re not watching a horror movie; you’re watching a comedy.” While the characters in this movie were certainly annoying, the realistic way the movie plays out made me feel like this characters were actually in danger (yes, I did know the movie was not real even before I saw it, but the realistic way the movie played out allowed me to at least temporarily suspend my disbelief). Not knowing how any of this was going to play out, I did feel genuinely scared. But only the first time I saw it. When I saw it a second time on video, the parts that scared me before just felt boring, and knowing that it was a huge build-up with no real payoff ruined the experience that I only got the first time I saw it. The movie works, but only once. The only way anyone can get the full effect of it now is if they’ve never heard of the movie and never saw any movies inspired by it (as Hitchmeister said).

  • Troodon

    P.S. I also found the mockumentary made as a promotion for this movie to be more interesting than the movie itself.

  • Michael Howe

    One memory I have about this film, is that I started working at a theater that Summer. Almost every single showing, the shaky cam would always make at least one person throw up (some just sat in their seats, and vomited!).

    Eventually, one of the ushers just refused to do vomit detail after awhile. Now, 15 years later, I do wonder what her reaction is.

    One thing that some have noted, is the house they come across should not actually be there, and when we see BOS has a shot where the foundation was, one has to wonder WTF, considering there’s that giant tree growing up through the basement floor.

    That led to an interesting theory that the three in the first film were somehow sent back in time, which could explain the standing house, how they couldn’t find the road, and also how their footage and tapes was found in the house’s foundation.