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John's Horror Banana-nanza Episode Thirty-Six: The Blair Witch Project
Cannibal Holocaust may have invented the found footage movie, but 1999's "The Blair Witch Project"
Thanks in large part to an advertising blitzkrieg of immense proportions, the movie generated buzz
before its release. It was billed as a found footage movie of real events, and the actors, much like
the actors from Cannibal Holocaust, were told not to show themselves in public. Eventually, the whole
farce crumbled, as some of the actors were seen at the MTV Movie Awards.
But what about the movie itself?
Well, in my humble opinion, it's the scariest thing put on film. Paranormal Activity came close, but the
frightening realism of the camera work, the realistic reactions of the actors, and the complete lack of
information of just what the antagonist of the film is make this the most intense movie of its kind.
Three college film students, Heather, Mike and Josh, decide to make a documentary about a witch
that is said to haunt a town called Burketsville, formerly Blair. The first thirty minutes are mostly interviews
with the townspeople, the most telling and frightening being a short conversation with town crazy Mary
Brown. She lives in a trailer, and her fence is made of sticks and rope tied together. Foreshadowing, anyone?
So this witch at one point possessed a man to abduct some children from the town, hold them in his
basement and kill them one by one, making one stand in the corner while another was killed. She was also seen by several townspeople rising out of the lake or appearing as an apparition, or so on.
The three begin hiking through the woods with plans to camp for about two days, hiking to different spots
including Coffin Rock, where five members of a search party were gutted alive next to each other with
strange symbols carved in their faces. After the first night, Josh claims he heard cackling while sleeping.
So, if you're looking for a witch and you hear cackling, why don't you go home right then and there? It's a
documentary, not a ghost hunt.
But I digress. Day two's hike to a graveyard that Heather insists exists, even though she's using a topographical map of an area she's never walked through, is interrupted by strange piles of rocks. Seven, in fact. Sort of like the seven children who were killed by the witch. They go back that night to film the rocks in the dark, which honestly is a useless scene. As Josh remarks, "Same thing, only darker."
That night, they are surrounded on all sides by strange sounds. Some sound like giant rocks being tossed around, some sound like footsteps, and others sound like entire trees falling to the ground. The next morning, they find three piles of rocks right outside their tent. It soon becomes apparent on day three that they can't find their way out. To make things worse, Mike admits to kicking the map into the river, which drives the group even further into paranoia with each other and their surroundings.
More noises the following night and more wondering around going nowhere lead to a night where, while sleeping, there is sounds of children outside the tent. Children, babies, and cackling. The tent begins to shake, and all three run from it, screaming about things they see in the darkness. The morning finally comes, and when they head back to their tent, Josh's belongings are scattered all over the ground, and covered in slime.
After wondering around and fighting all day, nothing happens overnight. However, the next morning, Josh is gone. Considering that they walked the same direction the previous day and ended up in the same place, Mike and Heather decide to walk east. That night, Josh is heard screaming in the distance, but neither Heather or Mike are sure if it's a trick, or even where to look.
The next morning, Heather finds a stick bundle wrapped in Josh's shirt outside the tent. She tosses it aside, but eventually works up the courage to look inside, where she finds a severed tongue and teeth. Mike and Heather walk some more, and again, don't find anything. That night, after a video confession to the group's parents by Heather, Josh's screams are heard again. This time, Mike and Heather begin walking towards them, and stumble across an abandoned house. Inside, Josh is heard screaming. Ignoring the strange symbols and children's handprints all over the walls, they search the house until they both end up in the basement. And...
Well, you'll see.
So, as I've said, this movie is remarkably effective. If you have the slightest ability to use your imagination, it goes from effective to terrifying. Sure, the camera work is shaky, and may make some people nauseous. And sure, there are tons of these movies. The biggest problem with all these is that there are times when the audience says out loud, "Put the camera down and do something!" And in this movie, the characters get into several fights involving the same thing.
This movie stands the test of time, and despite the awful sequel, is a horror classic.