Revisiting ‘The Blair Witch Project’
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT by Russ Gomm. Published by Arrow Books. 119 pages. $24.95 retail.
Hard to believe, but next year marks the 20th anniversary of The Blair Witch Project, the no-budget indie horror smash that was arguably the first film to take maximum advantage of the Internet to promote its fictional mythos, which some believed was genuine. There were those who loved the film and those who didn’t – some due to the shaky hand-held camerawork, which added to the raw, frenetic quality of the film but also induced motion sickness in some viewers. The Golden Raspberry Awards “honored” it with a Worst Picture nomination.
Love it or hate it, for one brief shining moment it seemed everyone was talking about The Blair Witch Project. Was it real? Was it all a put-on? What was the significance of the last shot? How on earth did those camera batteries last so long?
For those who haven’t seen the film, it focuses on three young documentary filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams) who visit the sleepy Maryland burg of Burkittsville to research the legend of the Blair Witch, who is reputed to haunt the woods surrounding the town. Off they go, cameras in hand, tromping through the woods … only they can’t seem to find their way out. They’re also spooked by bizarre symbols strewn about the area and strange sounds at night, and things quickly go from bad to worse and beyond. A simple but effective scenario.
The film marked the debut of filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez and has proven a tough, if not impossible, act to top. To this day, whether worked apart or in tandem, they’re inevitably billed as “the Blair Witch filmmakers.” It may be a stretch to compare them to Orson Welles, whose debut film Citizen Kane (1941) is almost unanimously hailed as his masterpiece, but there is a distinct parallel. Likewise the three lead actors, none of whom has done anything nearly as successful as The Blair Witch Project.
In the wake of the film’s monumental success, grossing over $250 million on a budget of roughly $50,000, it also – for better or worse (mostly worse) – birthed a spate of mostly inferior found-footage shockers that continue to proliferate to this day. Nothing exceeds like success.
Now, Arrow Books – the publishing arm of Arrow Video, the UK-based company that specializes in genre-friendly cult classics – has published this entertaining, informative little volume by filmmaker Russ Gomm, whose 2015 documentary feature The Woods Movie is essentially a cinematic version of this book.
In his introduction, Gomm freely admits he’s a Blair Witch super-fan, and in his introduction, Blair Witch filmmaker Eduardo Sanchez opens his comments by saying Gomm is a freak – “and I love him for it,” he adds.
Gomm brings an unmistakably eager enthusiasm to the subject at hand, covering the film’s inspiration, production, release, and legacy – along with appreciations penned by various filmmakers, critics, and film historians for whom The Blair Witch Project was a watershed moment. Enthusiastic, yes – but never fawning. The critical observations made here are valid and worthy ones.
Gomm even gives a fair shake to the inevitable follow-up, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, a (very) compromised, and much-reviled project released some 18 months after the first one – a blatant example of striking while the hype was hot, as well as a striking example of the law of diminishing returns regarding sequels. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (best known for the acclaimed Paradise Lost trilogy) is candid in discussing his intentions for the film – while admitting its drawbacks — that it just may encourage a second, more sympathetic viewing for die-hard devotees.
Gomm, however, does not touch upon Adam Wingard’s follow-up Blair Witch (2016), a direct sequel to the original that completely ignored the second film, but given its recent release perhaps he simply hadn’t seen it. Given his fervor for all things Blair Witch, it’s safe to assume he’s seen it since.
For more information about Russ Gomm’s The Blair Witch Project, visit https://mvdb2b.com/s/RussellGommTheBlairWitchProject/AB004. The official Arrow Video website is http://www.arrowvideo.com/.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2018, Mark Burger.