With the recent release of BLAIR WITCH, it has quite a few people re-visiting the original, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, in preparation. I wholeheartedly loved the film, having seen it three times in the theater, yet haven’t revisited it since. My good friend, Jerry Smith, Editor in Chief of ICONS OF FRIGHT, did just that after having vowed never to watch it again. What were his thoughts in checking out these Sloppy Seconds?
In 1999, as a hyper and cocky 18 year old, I invited a few friends to watch a film which I had heard a lot about. A film that had a monumental amount of hype surrounding it, when it was marketed as a true story. The film was THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The way I figured, it would be just another Friday night and after it was over, we’d all go out bowling or skateboarding like we typically did. Little did I know, it would change my life in a frightening yet silly way.
Making our way to our local theater, my friends and I joked around, acted like idiots the way 18 year olds did, and eventually bought our tickets to the film. I was a hardcore fan of James Ellroy, Jim Thompson and pulp authors at the time and though I have always been a lifelong horror fan, I just couldn’t accept that this silly film would do anything for me. However I’ve always been down for whatever, so we walked into our screening, sat down and the film began.
Eighty-one minutes later, I walked out, speechless, unable to articulate what I had just seen. Instead of opting to go skateboarding or jamming with my fellow musician friends, I had them drop me off at my house and called it a night. At the time, I was living in an addition to my father’s home. His porch had been turned into a bedroom, with drywall for walls, a small window and various other renovations which hadn’t been completed yet. Sleeping there, the wind would always blow through the doorway and I would always hear tree branches in the winter nights. That was what regular nights felt like. This night though, it would be absolute hell and terror on Earth for me.
As I walked into my room, I made my way to my stereo, put on some Depeche Mode and The Cure and tried to read into the night, so I would have to sleep. As the evening became later and later, my heart began to race, the wind blew twice as hard and I began to hear noises. All I could think of is the final scene in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and I was terrified. Every single sound startled me and made my jump. Up to that time, I had never been so frightened. I swore that I would never watch the film again…and I sure as hell lasted quite some time.
With Adam Wingard’s BLAIR WITCH about to hit theaters, I made the decision to revisit the original before catching the sequel. I had owned the DVD for at least five years by now, but like my promise, I would never watch it again. Due to writing about films and as a film critic, I couldn’t make an assumption on Wingard’s film, without being reminded of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s classic that had scared me more than any film in history.
I sat here, just as I am now, on my couch, with the lights off, my TV’s sound bar turned all of the way up and ready to experience the film which I had successfully dodged for 17 years. Would it have the same effect? Would it still make me feel lost, helpless and absolutely scared shitless? The answer is YES. It still scared me on every level, kept me up at night and left me feeling like the power of a good horror film is the greatest thing in the world. It had everything a genre film should have. Characters you relate to, situations you imagine yourself in, and storytelling that left you mystified and full of questions and wonder. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT didn’t need crazy sound design, a drone and modern takes on what worked initially, like 2016’s BLAIR WITCH opted to feature. It was a solid film, filled with great acting, a larger than life viral marketing mystery and a punch to the gut in every way possible.
Where the sequel went wrong was in its attempt to redo what was done before but with newer takes on it. Instead of feeling like a genuine sequel and a continuation of what we had seen in 1999, we were given something closer to the same ol’ found footage fare that we’re getting used to and tired of. It lacked that authentic-feeling tone, that sense of realism and that genuinely horrifying ending. An ending that not only scared the living hell out of me, but led to a 17-year refusal to see the film again. I’m glad I watched the 1999 film again, because it reminded me of just how wonderful our genre is, a genre I’m proud of being a part of.
Check out the opening to the original THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT:
The trailer for the new BLAIR WITCH: