Title: The Blair Witch Project
Release Date: 1999
Nationality and Language:
Running time: about 83 Minutes
Distributor and Production Company: Artisan Entertainments
Director; Writer: Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick
Producer: Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick
Cast: Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard
Technical: Black-and White, 4:3 aspect
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Review: Movie Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Artisan Entertainment; Rating: R; Produced and Directed by Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick
Starring Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard; 83 Minutes; 8.5/10
Also, Blair Witch II: Book of Shadows
This is supposed to be
the penultimate "fact or fiction" docudrama, an exercise in
"method acting," produced for only about $60000. I've already
reviewed a limited release "
My reaction to this is quite mixed, even though the film is going to turn out to be important. I have to review this spoof a bit analytically.
The premise is simple. A bunch of young adults go into the woods to make a documentary about a rumored "Blair Witch" and disappear. Their footage is found, and becomes the movie.
And the setup is really too simple. The characters are redneck-ish (even the women) and one-dimensional. It was hard for me to care about them, compared to the protagonists in Wavelength's The Last Broadcast. In that film, docudrama was interleaved with interviews and perspectives to enrich the subject matter. Here, the account is literal and it gets bogged down for me. It really wasn't all that scary.
The grainy physical presentation really is
pretty effective. The shots are in 16-mm format, so that the screen size is
reduced to a 4:3 aspect ratio (which used to be standard in the days of Citizen
Kane; Francis Ford Coppola uses Technovision
for the same effect). The stereo, if present, is minimal. This was like going
to the movies in the 1950's, which my parents first let me go on my own.
(Funny, this film was "R" but there were a lot of unaccompanied 12
year olds in the audience; but there's nothing in the movie that couldn't
fall within PG-13 as far as I could tell). Without the use of matte paintings
and special effects of larger studios, the producers really did shoot
everything on location, and the settings in the
Blair is supposed to be
So really this turns out
to be a story how, in ordinary settings, ordinary people (again, the name of
a poignant 1980 movie!!) get lost and fall into despair and doom, so close to
"civilization." John Sayle's Limbo presents a similar problem near
The "explanation," to the extent that the movie offers one, is ambiguous. The warning signs are conceptually original enough: Stonehenge-style cairns are found around the campsites; then crude wooden crosses, and finally a dilapidated, condemned settler's house, whose sheetrock is falling out as if the house were in radiation sickness, where the crew meets its perhaps deserved end.
We can guess on what the "witch" really was? A Sasquatch?? An inappropriately hairy-bodied female that had lived before and had come back to cut out young men's hearts? A cult that practices human sacrifice? But then why wait in the woods for decades for some dumbasses to stumbled into their cove? There is some Freudian amusement, perhaps satisfying The Weekly Standard's writer David Skinner: in one scene, one of the redneck men, a fattish sort and not one of the hardbodies of Men's Fitness, strips off his shirt and reveals a chest that is not exactly Skinner-hairless, but (the next best thing) at best is decorated with occasional scraggle. One of the girls makes fun of his rather paltry external masculinity, and he doesn’t mind. These are the kinds of guys who are supposed to beget kids and sacrifice themselves for the rest of us in the military. They're supposed to fulfill "family values" for the rest of us. Well, this guy won't make it. He earns a deserved demise.
The sequel Blair Witch II: Book of Shadows (2000, Artisan, directed by Joe Berlinger) is corny and I rather enjoyed the black humor. Technically, it is filmed with standard 35mm equipment in standard (1.8/1) aspect ratio, and a little edge in the realism is lost in the gloss. I’m not sure whether the miniature Catoctin mountains south of Frederick, Md. really are called “the Black Hills” (like the well known mountains in western South Dakota, and these have their own vortex and mysteries) –they become the “Bull Run Mountains” in Virginia.
The “story” is rather peripatetic, told in flashbacks and in a long sequence in the chief character, Jeff’s (Jeff Donovan) speakeasy hideaway in the hills, complete with moat and draw bridge. It’s rather like a dream. Starting with “vancredible” tour guide, supposedly attracting curiosity seekers drawn to the earlier mystery the characters wind up in Jeff’s liar, where reality looses its focus and people need to undo the crimes they may have committed and then “forgotten.” Does Jeff really keep stolen property for fences? Is Jeff really mentally unstable? He seems too charismatic and well-organized to have been straight-jacketed and hosed bare-legged as a god-damn m.p. in some St. Elizabeth’s style sanatorium. Is the witch among them? Well, in one scene another male character suddenly looses his chest hair in a sex scene. And why is virile Jeff always wearing tight, Borg-Warner-plastic-looking long johns?
Halloween night 2001 I experienced a screening of Ted Dewberry’s film, Hallow,
Artisan also offers a 45-minute video Curse of the Blair Witch, a documentary purporting to give the rather supernatural history of the Burkistsville area since the 18th Century. Some of it is pretty gruesome.
Haunting (2006, LionsGate/Freestyle/AfterDark,
dir. Courtney Solomon, 91 min, PG-13, Canada/Quebec) is supposed to be based
on a true story in 19th Century pre-War Tennessee, at the edge of
the Cumberlands, when a family was taunted by the
“Bell Witch” over a property dispute, and at least one family member would
die (supposedly the only documented case of an actual death caused by a
ghost). Filmed in
(1999, Sony Pictures Classics/Bluemark/Borchardt,
dir. Chris Smith, 104 min) is a documentary about a super-low-budget
Wisconsin filmmaker and sparse-looking Mark Borchardt
making his super-8 black-and-white horror short “Coven” which came out in
1997. His two brothers Chris and Alex paint him as a dreamer artist. Mark is
constantly in debt, facing calls from debt collectors. For a “living” he
delivers papers (The Wall Street
Journal) at , driving his
own car, so he can listen to the radio, get the news of the world, and not be
bothered by a boss. (Delivery jobs are like that but they pay almost
nothing.) He predicts that the Internet will destroy print media within ten
years (by 2007, and that won’t quite happen, but bloggers are certainly
pressuring the media to change.) The film is 4:3 full screen.
He is also trying to make a feature called “Northwestern.” The Sony
Coven (1997, Sony Pictures Classics/Northwestern, dir. Mark Borchardt, 35 min) is the short mentioned above. An alcoholic, after OD-ing in a hospital, joins a therapy group that turns out to be a coven of witches and challenges his will to live. Whenever he is on the outside, the phantoms chase him, almost stripping him once, and smashing his car. In 16 mm black and white, but some of the scenes were shown in color in the documentary. The character Michael says that “writing” pays his rent, and that isn’t easy.
Ed Wood (1994, Touchstone, dir. Tim Burton, book by Rudolph Grey, 127 min, R) is a biographical sketch of the famous director of B-movies, with Johnny Depp in one of his early visible roles, and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. Some of his films were “Plab 9 from Outer Space” and “Bride of the Monster”. In delicious black and white, rather unusual for the time.
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