Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Blair Witch Project Revisited

Brian Solomon (of the deservedly acclaimed blog The Vault of Horror) recently posted his Top 10 Most OVERRATED Horror Movies, with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT in the #1 spot.

If anything, it should be #1 on the Top 10 Most ACCUSED Horror Movies list.

It's been accused of not having an ending.

Nearly all of the footage was shot by the actors, except for the interview segments with this character.

Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez specifically shot these segments in order to explain the film's ending.
"He (Rustin Parr) took the kids down into the basement by twos. He made one face in the corner, and then he would kill the other one. When he was done with that, he'd grab the one out of the corner and kill that one too."
To everyone who complains about how modern films are "dumbed down" and/or lack subtlety, blame people who make accusations about films they can't be bothered paying attention to, not filmmakers who've learned Myrick and Sanchez's mistake of over-estimating audiences.

It's been accused of "ripping off" CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and THE LAST BROADCAST.

(In an interesting bit of synchronicity, it's recently been announced that Eli Roth is producing a "Faux Documentary" horror film called THE LAST EXORCISM.)


  • THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is the story of three people who disappear after going into the woods to make a documentary, and is told through the use of pseudo-"found footage".
  • THE LAST BROADCAST is the story of three people who disappear after going into the woods to make a "live" public access broadcast, and is told through the use of pseudo-"found footage".
  • CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is the story of a film crew who disappear after going into the jungle to make a documentary, and is told through the use of pseudo-"found footage".


THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is told exclusively through it's "found footage" (and some title cards) - much like later films CLOVERFIELD and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - and unlike CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and THE LAST BROADCAST. With that, I've never seen anyone accuse THE LAST BROADCAST of "ripping off" CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, presumably because it's more fashionable to throw rocks at successes than failures.

It's been accused of being inferior to THE LAST BROADCAST.

One of THE LAST BROADCAST's major flaws is that it's presented as a pseudo-documentary that stops being a pseudo-documentary 10 minutes before the film ends. Even if THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT had no ending, it would still be better than THE LAST BROADCAST's finale (which makes the ending of HIGH TENSION seem Hitchcockian in comparison).

Given it's lack of script (the actors ad-libbed their parts based upon general directions left at their campsite each day by Myrick and Sanchez), THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is a surprisingly structured film, which I suppose is a testament to the filmmakers' editing skills.

During THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT's 81 minute running time...

  • In the first 8 minutes, the main characters AND the film's backstory are established. At this point, the interviews are completed and the crew are on the road towards the woods (Turning point #1).
  • Around the 20 minute mark, we see the first fight over the map / being lost in the woods (Turning point #2).
  • Around the 40 minute mark, Mike admits to kicking the map into the creek (Turning point #3).
  • Around the 61 minute mark, Josh disappears (Turning point #4).
  • Around the 72 minute mark, we see what is arguably the film's most iconic scene.

This is followed by Mike and Heather running towards what appears to be Josh's screams in the distance (Turning point #5).

While the film admittedly has no "Aftermath", I don't see how tacking one on would have "fixed" what wasn't broken to begin with.

Contrast this with THE LAST BROADCAST, which has no characters and no suspense - just stereotypes going through the motions in order to broadcast the filmmakers' message (pun intended) - and then explain to me how THE LAST BROADCAST is the superior film.

Put another way, is Black Christmas (1974) better than Halloween (1978) solely because it was a prior "holiday slasher"? Is Reazione A Catena (a.k.a. Bay of Blood / Twitch of the Death Nerve, 1971) better than both films solely because it was a prior "first-person slasher"? Other than some people's apparent need for a film to have a "message", I have no other explanation why some people feel that THE LAST BROADCAST is a superior film.

If Myrick and Sanchez took anything from THE LAST BROADCAST, it's how NOT to make a low-budget "found footage" film.

It's been accused of being a film not worth seeing once you know it's not a "real" found footage film.

On one hand, I'd argue that it's a "semi"-found footage film, since the footage wasn't scripted like in THE LAST BROADCAST, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CLOVERFIELD and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. While Myrick and Sanchez gave their actors general directions, they had no guarantee there'd be a movie to be "found" once they edited the footage shot by the actors.

On the other hand, when you watch a film like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, you're implicitly making a deal with the filmmaker to buy into the reality of the film - at which point it's up to the filmmaker not to break that deal (like in the final 10 minutes of THE LAST BROADCAST).

If you go into THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT accepting the "pseudo-reality" of the film, it holds up to multiple viewings as well as any other film.

It's been accused of making people nauseous through it's use of "shaky-cam".

Similarly, some kids suffered from seizures while watching Pokemon, while a lot of people didn't. If it's any consolation, in the DVD commentary track it's stated that the original cut of the film was two-and-a-half hours long, and they cut out a lot of the "shaky-cam" due to this test audience's response.

In exchange for showing movie theaters that America was ready for real horror films - as opposed to post-modern teen-horror flicks like SCREAM and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER - I find it hard to believe that anyone would consider THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT "overrated".


Keelee von Cupcake said...

Thank you for this post. :3 I followed your link from the list in question and it made me feel much better to see such a favorable analysis of one of my most beloved films.

It was also very informative - I'm slowly working on seeing every film in the whole "found footage"-y style, and The Last Broadcast is pretty much next on the list. (Cannibal Holocaust is much lower because I'm wary of its, uh, other charms.)