Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

While eating lunch with some of my geekier co-workers this afternoon I asked if any of them were psyched for the upcoming giant monster flick CLOVERFIELD and they all expressed interest, particularly one who was into it because of its handheld camera POV, something that reminded him of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. He then expounded on how BLAIR WITCH was the scariest film he'd ever seen, a sentiment echoed by the guy sitting across from them. I listened to them go off on it for a few minutes before I made a statement I've iterated many times since the summer of 1999: "Okay, I sat through THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and I must have missed something. That film wasn't scary in the least. In fact, I have to say I think it's one of the worst movies I ever saw."

The lads looked at me, completely gobsmacked. They then launched into all of the standard defenses brought into play when anyone has the temerity to deride BLAIR WITCH, including my obvious inability to appreciate a low-budget film (bullshit), its innovative camerawork (???), its "totally original" concept (also bullshit; records of an ill-fated expedition and the recounting of what went wrong is a convention of horror fiction dating back at least to the days of the pulps), and my alleged inability to enjoy a horror film that doesn't contain graphic gore and violence or titties (again, bullshit; my all-time favorite horror movies include ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) and ISLAND OR LOST SOULS (1933), both notably lacking any of the aforementioned holy trinity). And as my brain began to boil at their ill-informed comments regarding me as a film fan — hoo-BOY, if only they knew — they unleashed the expected final volley in their film's defenses, namely its months of brilliant internet promotion, an aspect that they claim was an integral part of the film's "artistic triumph."

Needless to say, I called bullshit on that.

I didn't bother to lay down my credentials as a majorly-learned movie goon and instead countered with the observation that if the film depended on one having seen the internet stuff, what about those who hadn't seen the promos and tie-ins? If your film, an entertainment piece that people are going to pay money to see, relies on material not found in the core work to bolster it in terms of both content and creep factor, then the damned thing's a failure from the get-go. That stopped the defenders in their tracks, their mouths literally hanging open and croaking feeble attempts at rebuttal, but Yer Bunche soldiered on fearlessly and laid down the law on that bit of amateur hour horseshit that would have been rejected as a script for that weak-assed TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE, and would barely have passed muster in even the most pretentious of film schools. Yeah, this misbegotten "film" gets me going like few others (and I've seen MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966), but at least that film manages to be entertaining precisely because of how appallingly terrible it is).

For those of you fortunate enough not to have had the time it takes to sit through this crap irretrievably stolen from your too-brief life, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is faked footage from a video found after three filmmakers set off into the woods of some ass-end part of Maryland in search of answers regarding local legends of Elly Kedward, a woman put to death in 1785 in the Blair township, and the subsequent supernatural phenomena and murders locally attributed to her malevolent ghost. The three filmmakers display a staggering level of outright stupidity — to say nothing of their ability to be utterly unlikable and annoying — and in no time I found myself rooting for their immediate deaths, hopefully from being torn apart by PCP-crazed badgers. Sadly they didn't meet their demise at the teeth and claws of hopped-up mustelids, but they do eventually snuff it, one of them memorably facing into the corner of an abandoned house and looking like he's in the middle of taking a wicked leak.

I wanted all three of these fucks dead less than ten minutes into the movie's running time.

The "scary" things that happen include them kicking their map into a nearby river, getting lost in the forest where there may or may not be a ghost, the sound of branches snapping at night, their fear and paranoia over being lost wearing their nerves thin and rendering them that much more irritating, strange scarecrow-like constructs (that are barely of interest, much less terrifying in any way), and shitloads of leaves and twigs as far as the eye can see. There's absolutely zero suspense, and the filmgoer ends up with bubkes when the movie ends.

During the summer when THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT came out people stood on long lines to see "the scariest film in years," braving the unforgiving NYC heat and humidity for hours, but a bunch of my pals and I were fortunate enough to get our hands on a legitimate reviewer's VHS tape of the flick — one of the perks of having connections in the media — so we prepared to enjoy it in the air-conditioned comfort of my pal John's apartment over in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill (Swill) area. We cracked some beers and watched as the story unfolded, remaining silent throughout, and when the final image faded and the credits began to roll there was a brief pause before my friend Cat irately exclaimed, "THAT'S IT???" She then launched into a tirade the like of which I've seldom seen, and I wish I could have gotten it on tape; when Cat gets her Irish up all bets are off, and her well-reasoned lambasting of the flick was both profane and hilarious, as though she had channeled the spirit of some long-dead film critic, its spectral anger roused by the affront to entertainment that we had just endured. And in order to make up for the travesty we had just witnessed a number of us went to the local multiplex and saw DEEP BLUE SEA, the movie about super-smart sharks who go on a bloody rampage at a marine research facility, and it was immeasurably more entertaining than THE BULLSHIT PROJECT.

And don't ask me how, but THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, which cost $22,000 to make, went on to a worldwide gross of a reported $248,000,000, over 11,000 times what was spent to unleash it upon an unsuspecting planet. And even now, nearly some nine years after its release (or should I say "escape?") it's considered a landmark in horror cinema and a work of unrelenting terror. Proof of this head-scratching state of affairs can be found on the Internet Movie Database's user comments section on the film , a forum that contains over 3211 (!!!) viewers' two cents worth, the overwhelming majority of which is glowing favorable. Did those people see the same film I did? I've done a lot of camping in my time and I just don't find anything in this movie scary. I swear I don't.

Well, at least we got a couple of porn versions out of the deal, the best of which was 2000's THE BARE BITCH PROJECT.

Hardcore fucking, wall-to-wall nekkid chicks, shaved pussies... Now, THAT'S entertainment! TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

22 comments:

Jared said...

Once again I'll point out that you missed the point of the BWP. It was fun as an underground phenomenon with people passing around grainy VHS copies of it and watching it alone late at night while trying to figure out what the hell it was. Watching it in broad daylight in John's apartment with half a dozen jaded horror fans on the tail end of the height of the hype was not the way to go. By the time it became a big Hollywood phenomenon it was overhyped and obvious. Even then it was an okay film. Far from the worst ever and far from the best ever. But it was a unique film event. I'll also point out to your readers an accusation that we, the friends of Bunche, have hurled at you before. Bunche likes to be the discoverer of things. If too many people already know about something he tends to dislike it. That's not hard and fast just a trend. I've always accused Bunche of hating BWP because he came to the party late. The hype made him hate the movie. It's not that bad.

Anonymous said...

I COULD NOT AGREE MORE!!!!!! I just don't get it.

Annoying, boring and illogical. You're lost in the woods. There's a river. Follow the river, dummies.
It'll always lead you to civilisation.... or the seaside, at the very least.

The cast actually made me hate Americans. Sorry.

C.

Anonymous said...

The movie sucked so bad. I totally agree with you -The three douche bags were just that - annoying unlikable douche bags - I could not wait for the movie to end so I could get out of the theater and hit the bar!

Chez said...

Blair Witch was relatively interesting (and that's the most complimentary adjective I feel like attaching to it) simply as a gimmick -- one which, as you pointed out, has in reality been done to death.

Was it scary? Not in the least. Was it worth seeing? Sure -- why not.

What's obviously going to separate Cloverfield from something like BWP is the sheer scale of the story being told. I don't mean to wax too esoteric here, but 9/11 taught us a hell of a lot about horror which you're now seeing turn up on film; the idea of a massive, monumental human tragedy cut into a tiny sliver -- filtered through the eyes of just one or two people to really drive the nightmare home. I have no doubt that in that respect, Cloverfield will be absolutely terrifying.

Plus if they ever decide to do a porn rip-off of it, Ron Jeremy's a fucking shoe-in to play the creature.

Anonymous said...

"I wanted all three of these fucks dead less than ten minutes into the movie's running time."

HA! I can't agree more. While I did think the movie was pretty scary at some points, I REALLY hated all three of them and had no sympathy for them at all. STOP WHINING! MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE LOST YOUR MAP YOU IDIOTS!!!

-Jennie G.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that The Blair Witch Project was overhyped, I still found it to be utterly creepy and a refreshing departure from all the Kevin Whats-His-Face's "I Saw Your Scream Destination Last Summer III"s turds that were the be-all-end-all of late-90s American horror. (Yeah, I liked the first Scream; the trend, though, should have ended there.)

You really didn't see Blair Witch in the right environment, Bunche. Like many films, it requires the proper, dark atmosphere to be truly effective. And yeah, the cast was utterly irritating. For me, that made 'em more real. I used to make movies with my friends in college, and the screechie bitch in the film was a female dead ringer for one of 'em. Yes - he totally WAS that stupid! I'd seen him do things that dumb and worse all the time.

In an age of cheesy artifice, Blair Witch felt real. That's why it's still considered a classic.

Scraps said...

It's one of those things that either works for you or it doesn't. That was evident when I was in the theater, from the assholes hooting at it and the discussion among people leaving.

The response to it is so polarized -- with almost everyone I know coming down on either "great and terrifying" or "stupid bullshit" -- that I think it could be used to challenge a lot of assumptions about whether a movie can be said to be good or not. It is what it is, and the viewer can either give themself up to it or not. I suspect that the more hardened and cynical a moviegoer is, the less likely they are to buy into it, especially after all the hype.

I haven't seen it since the first time, so I don't have much specific to say about it; a lot of it has faded from memory. But I know I don't want to see it again, because I found it viscerally agonizing, and I could not stand to hear that girl sob in terror again. It was too believable, striking me deep down. Whether or not I was scared, I believed she was scared -- as I almost never do with actors in horror movies -- and I wanted to turn away, as though from parents on the news hearing of the death of their daughter.

I think this is why people who hate the movie tend to be so virulent about the characters, too. After all, the victims in most horror movies behave stupidly and are annoying, and while people may make fun of that, they still will praise he movie. In this case, I think the characters are too believable, and the setting is too realistic. You are forced into either empathizing with the characters and suffering with them, or removing yourself emotionally, and the most forceful way to do that is to attack the characters. I don't think they were whinier or stupider than ordinary people would be in the same situation. They were just people who stumbled across something they couldn't handle.

In retrospect, there's also something satisfying to me about a movie that rejected the convention that One Strong Rational Person will triumph, the monster diminished (to return, of course). The threat in Blair Witch is implacable, and it wins, and there's something there that's truer than the standard supernatural horror movie.

But at the time, I wasn't thinking of that; it gripped me, dragged me to the edge of a cliff, and threw me off.

CrystaljDesign said...

Wow I cannot believe the timing of your post. Just last week a friend and I suffered through "Da Hip Hop Witch" (2000). It's basically a bunch of rappers being candidly interviewed about their "experiences" with an evil creature called Da Hip Hop witch. It's 1 3/4 hours of Eminem screaming about a 6-foot-long Witch's finger up his ass and 5 minutes worth of "story" involving a disparate group of young adults who travel from a town near Salem, Mass to NYC. All recorded in the same handheld "barf-cam" style as The Blair Witch Project. Absolutely horrible and not even fun to sit through as a laugh unless you fast forward through it liberally.

As for the film in question, The Blair Witch Project, it came out when I was in high school. I remember the internet hype being HUGE and the first time that I recall guerilla marketing being done so successfully.

We take guerilla marketing for granted now with the campaigns done by Microsoft for Halo, Adult Swim's Aqua Teen fiasco (light-up signs thought to be bombs?!) and more recently Cloverfield. But at the time of BWP, it was fresh and new. I was young and naive at the time and for a week or two I actually thought the story was for real.

I was never a huge horror fan, so I did not see it in the theater. But the next year, I took a Cinema as Literature class in high school and they showed the movie!!! I honestly didn't like it at all and thought it was a tremendous cop-out. A theatrical-release movie that looks like it was shot by a parkinson's patient over a weekend in a local nature preserve!?

The true genious of the movie is its marketing and if watched out of context it may not carry any weight.

I think this movie deserves a place in the list of top marketing campaigns, not top movies.

Shitty BWP tie-ins besides the sequel that I remember: 1) a Sci-Fi channel special (hour long commercial) where people are interviewed about the missing kids. 2) A series of adventure games for PC where you find out about the history of the setting for the movie. 3) An action figure by McFarlane which is a 2 pack showing different visions of the witch.

Jim Browski said...

BWP is a pile of steaming, malodorous llama shit cleverly disguised as a movie.
To say that the movie is a classic because of the inventive marketing campaign is like saying a Big Mac is the best hamburger because it comes in a really nice looking box.
This film was not scary. This film was not even unnerving. The only thing I felt watching this over-hyped trash was boredom.
Sure, the movie was a big box office hit, and lots of people liked it. But then, this is a society where more people voted for American Idol than for President.
"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public"

Tars Tarkas said...

I enjoy bare bitches and projects, so I will probably enjoy the last film you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Alright, my turn.
I lived in potsdam new york that summer, and this and phantom menace were the two hugely craved for bits of cinematographic diversion people were waiting to see. They both were larger, and more fetid piles of feces than the golgothan shit demon from dogma.
I left blair witch project actually truly pissed off that I had paid some wiseass film school dropout art fag 8 of my hard earned dollars (I was making 6 bucks an hour at clarksons mailroom for the summer, and that represented 2 hours post taxes of hideous boredom and heavy lifting) to look at a black screen of underexposed handicam stock and screaming. If I ever meet the director, actors, agents, or anyone that had anything at all to do gainfully with making this flick, and actually admits to it, I plan to act impressed long enough to get close enough that I can kick them in the genitals, break my beer bottle over their head, and then steal their wallet, so they too can share in what at least 50% of the movie going public experienced. They stole my cash. I'm taking theirs. In fact if any of them are reading this, FUCK YOU, I hope you and your family die in a fire. Secondly, waaaaahhhh it was great marketing wahhhhh. Wow, that dinty more commercial was the best thing I've ever seen but their beef stew is still horseshit. At least I can return my unused portion for a refund. Since when has the art (stress art)of cinema had anything to do with marketing. That's apologist mental pollution, "well the crowd says it was good and I did pay 8 bucks to see it, so it must have some worth... It had great marketing".
Alright rant over. And bunche, I want to go to cloverfield with you. Don't ditch a brother, you got my number and we both work next to grand central. We can punch blair witch apologists in the nads together while we wait in line for tickets.
-big mike

Mzilla said...

BWP is like the first batman movie to me. i liked it when i first saw it amidst the hype, only to realize it doesn't hold up over time. it played well on the fear of being lost in the woods, but if that doesn't scare you it falls kind of flat. throwing away the map pissed me off.

Kevie said...

You're right, "Blair Witch" doesn't really exist as a classic film without an awareness of the audacious viral happening that was created around it. It was like the "Tingler" of the 1990's.

But it had its moments. It had an admirable feeling of verite. The fact that anybody made it through the film and still came out thinking that it was a recovered home movie really says something. They created a movie that existed 90% in the viewer's head. You either bought in to it or you didn't. Personally I admire the fact that they filmed darkness and a few stick-dolls and created greater psychological effects than a busload of million-dollar CGI monsters would have.

But my admiration for the film is intellectual, not emotional. It didn't scare me. I wish I had seen it before I knew what was going on behind the scenes. I saw it with my dad, who bless his heart, didn't know it was a faux-doc. He had an intense experience. I felt bad letting him know the truth, it was like telling someone that Santa Claus isn't real. Maybe I was just getting him back on some level!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a lot of the people who think it was great are of much younger crowd, and do not have the benefit of the sheer amount of cinevideographic viewing experience that we have.

George Romero is reinventing himself for a younger crowd with the upcoming Diaries Of The Dead, where he borrows heavily from Blair Witch. I saw the trailer on MySpace.

JG

Scraps said...

I'm not young, and I don't give a damn about hype or marketing, one way or the other -- that is, I'm not gonna automatically hate a movie because of hype, either. It worked for me, for the reasons I said.

For some reason, hating Blair Witch makes a lot of people particularly inclined to break out in assholes all over their bodies (hey, Big Mike: this is Soren). It's apparently inconceivable that there could be any good reason to like he movie, to the point where most people who hate it just fucking rant, and don't appear to want to listen to why anyone else liked it. They already know: hype, suckers, etc.

demonrock said...

As usual a huge chunk of haters. Ridiculous.
Jared hit it on the head: I was one of the few that saw it prerelease, on VHS late at night, unsober, and enjoyed it.
I actually believed the actors were genuinely scared.

I then actually ruined it for a friend by talking too much about it, while I handed the tape to him. The less you knew about this movie (especially as a jaded horror fan) the better it was...

That said, it doesn't hold up so well on repeat viewings. And would have liked some better pay off to the ending. But I won't hate on it.

KingHorse said...

It scared the crap out of me. It didn't work for other people. So what? I'm not gonna lecture them about artistic integrity or marketing genius; I never fell for or had any interest in checking out the BWP viral campaign, and I have about the same reaction to Cloverfield's much-talked-about sneak peeks-- yeah, nice camera work, clever editing, at the end of the day it's just another interesting trailer, maybe it'll be an interesting movie.

Film is a subjective experience, no way around it, and the horror genre's probably one of the most subjective of all.

I do have a very fond memory attached to BWP--I saw it in the theatre under the Times Square Virgin store, and as my friend & I entered, we walked right into what looked like a low-key publicity event for a preview screening of something in another theatre, complete with a little gaggle of excited, nervous actors scurrying in to get their seats. It was for The Sopranos and that adorable little gaggle was the cast, none of whom I recognized at the time, though I remember thinking James Gandolfini was just about the biggest dude I'd ever seen.

Jim Browski said...

I wanted to like BWP.
I want desperately to go to a horror movie and actually feel some tension.
If some folks liked it, I'm glad...but as I type this and I look at the outbreak of "assholes" all over my body, I remember how cheated I felt after I saw it.
No, I never thought it was a true story, I just bought in to all the talk about how unrelentingly terrifying an experience it was.
Without the remarkably effective publicity campaign, that movie wouldve died an obscure Direct to Video death.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie once when it came out and never saw it again. It had creepy moments, you know, that feeling of being lost. But it did not have enough suspense to blow the air out of my skirt.
-Cristina

Anonymous said...

Your colleagues are full of shit. The movie was
a marketing phenomenon (not that that's all bad, but it could never live up to the hype at that point). Not long ago, I was thinking, why haven't we heard from any of these actors again? The director? And
did you see the fucking sequel? The larger question is why it's impossible to make a decent horror film at all any more, which I'll have to skip for now (for time & my own confusion).

I saw the movie on release with some college friends, a married couple. We were disappointed. However, another college-based married
couple complained that they should have just walked out of the woods or something, which is being a jerk and ignoring the plot (where
presumably they were being controlled by an evil disorienting force, etc.), so the rest of us were gentle in our disapproval. The film ("film") is supposed to work on empathy, as-if-real (identifying directly with the situation as it would happen, not as an audience -- much as what happened to the actors, I hear, told nothing in advance and spooked all night by whatever the producers sent into the woods). They built this ridiculous amount of buzz by drawing the secondary world into the real world using this new invention called The Internet, but that don't make a better movie than HALLOWEEN.

So: it relied on the kind of schoolyard "imagine if..." stuff we seem to be beyond, historically. You might be able to whip a mass audience into a "whoa, something's happening" frenzy -- Wm. Castle would have had someone run through the theater(s) and it would've killed -- but home video renders the phenomenon (what there was of it) null*.
Beyond that, the format itself means boring images and no "cinema tools" can be used to freak people out, like in KWAIDAN or whatever (just to go to the other extreme as an example). It's like the
textbook example of the difference btw. film and books, now I think of it -- you can't get into the characters' inner lives. You can only shoot images of the outside, and that looks like nothing.

p.s. CLOVERFIELD does the semi-right thing by actually being a big budget movie merely *disguised* as handheld home movies, so a few
things worth seeing might be seen. I can't get excited about it but on paper I can see why they made it that way. I expect a lot of people to say "it's just another monster movie," and the pointyheads to call it a poignant meditation on the scars of 9/11 or some such shit.

Some David Mamet articles (in the book I read while doing laundry) state that monster/disaster movies are an expression of the society's urge (recognition of the need) to be punished, and but also
infantilized by being unaware of the ultimate force that saves us from the other unstoppable force at the last minute, without our effort. That's both deep guilt and innocence at once. Ya like?

-Mk.

Anonymous said...

hey Soren,
sorry i'm so late to reply, i've been busy wiping the assholes that broke out all over my body after thinking about this horrible movie again. Everytime someone brings up this movie I ruin like, 3 sets of clothing. I'm not trying to denigrate your opinion of the movie, i'm just expressing my own opinion. I sorta see what you're saying about her sobbing into the camera, but, it's approx. 12 seconds of empathy in somewhere over an hour's worth of black screen and stick figure scultpture. I felt defrauded and it's not like i could go get my loot back from the manager. nope, i had to eat it. I've got a lot more commentary but i'll leave it for later, i just sneezed, and ...ugh, it's every where... i gotta go.
-big mike (and his rag tag band of sphincters)

Anonymous said...

I too own the Awesomeness that is the porn flick 'Bare Bitch Project'. Have to say, it's among the top in the collection.

Nothing to add about the horror movie though...lol...