One of the things I like to do every year for Halloween is re-watch “The Blair Witch Project.” 15 Years after it stormed Sundance, made crazy worldwide money and changed online movie marketing, the fact is, it’s still simply one of the most agonizingly scary movies ever made. Horror was never the same again. The film’s final image is an ultimate movie moment you never forget. And, in a feat of extraordinary method acting, Heather Donahue’s infamous panic-stricken, on-camera snot-drippage rivals even Viola Davis, patron saint of nasal drippage.
The folks over at The Dissolve seem to think so too, as they’ve given Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s fake-umentary extra attention this week. It landed high on their list of the 30 Best American Indie Horror Movies, and film writer Mike D’Angelo an essay about the hype and hate for this cult horror classic about three film students who, while chasing a legend, go collectively insane over the course of one terrifying weekend in the Maryland woods.
From The Dissolve:
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“The Blair Witch Project” is one of the goriest movies ever made: It’s 81 minutes of nerves being slowly shredded before your eyes. The real horror lies in watching Heather (Heather Donahue), Josh (Joshua Leonard), and Mike (Michael C. Williams) gradually turn on each other as their circumstances grow bleaker, until there’s arguably no longer any need for a witch or other bogeyman to torment them. By night, the film is an unconventional horror flick… By day, on the other hand, it’s a harrowing collegiate gloss on Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit,” in which three dead souls discover that their eternal punishment consists of being locked in a room with each other. The woods here are just a big, empty room, and the screaming, bickering, and blame-tossing isn’t a grating distraction from the main story. It is the main story.
D’Angelo also digs into the trauma the actors experienced while shooting the film, where the directors were basically torturing them from afar, dropping a red herring here and there, in order to essentially plunge the three actors head-on into the pseudo myth they’d so expertly crafted. It’s well-worth the read, as is Nathan Rabin and Scott Foundas’ ping-ponging analysis of the film:
“The Blair Witch Project” is no longer a ubiquitous, divisive pop-culture phenomenon. It can be appreciated for what it is: a singularly tense film whose effectiveness is inextricably linked to its apparent artlessness, to the sense that we’re not watching a smoothly crafted fictional horror film, rooted in genre conventions, but rather something much more raw and powerful. There’s a sense of verisimilitude to the film that makes it feel like we’re watching real people freaking out in authentically sloppy, visceral ways.
But my favorite re-read of the week on “Blair Witch” (which, by the way, is streaming on Netflix) is Richard Corliss’ 1999 TIME Magazine cover story “Blair Witch Craft,” whose references to “the Internet” as this nebulous force behind the film’s word-of-mouth virality are hilariously dated. But Corliss’ piece is also a reminder of how plugged into the “Blair Witch” mythos the culture was at the time:
In its first week of wide release, on 1,101 screens, it earned $50 million–more than the Julia Roberts comedy hit Runaway Bride, which played in nearly three times as many venues. It is likely to have the highest percentage of profit in film history. Its astounding success has made indie-film heroes of its directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. And the marketers at Artisan Entertainment, who built fervid want-see for the film through cunning use of the Internet, have been credited with revolutionizing the way films are sold. Money and marketing are just part of the lure. This minimalist horror film, which appears to be a self-filmed documentary of three filmmakers who get lost in the Maryland woods while tracking down a local witch legend, has become the Elvis, the E.T., the Pet Rock of 1999–the hottest item in a hot summer. Shagadelic–what’s that? Jar Jar Binks–remind me. Ricky Martin–isn’t he Dino’s kid? For this moment (and treasure it, because it may vanish as fast as it materialized), Blair Witch is the must-attend social event for plugged-in America.
Here are some clips of “Blair Witch” to jog/scar your memory, plus an Academy Originals snippet that dives into the film’s Sundance premiere.