Special Edition (1999)
In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary...
A year later, their footage was found.
The Blair Witch Project has many things going for it: 1) a classic set-up, straight out of spooky campfire stories; 2) a truly audacious approach to filmmaking; 3) talented young actors (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard) who were willing to put themselves through hell to make the picture; 4) a canny Web site which was instrumental in generating advance buzz, and should be required viewing for college marketing courses.
What it had going against it was hype. The early teaser trailers were pretty damn scary, but once the picture received its wide theatrical release, the trailers became breathless collections of press clippings that seemed to promise a non-stop, grueling 90 minutes of terror. A well-made Sci-Fi Channel special, "Curse of the Blair Witch" (see extras), also raised expectations. Thus, when people went to see a movie that originally cost as much to make as a fully-loaded new car, this Project was primed for a fall. Which didn't stop it from becoming one of the most profitable movies ever made.
Approached without preconceptions, though, it can be a compelling movie - I didn't always like what I was watching, but I was never once tempted to leave, or later, turn off the TV. Terrifying? No. Scary as hell? Sorry, Rolling Stone, not really. Creepy? Quite often. It was nice to hear audible gasps in a theater that were not caused by gore effects. All in all, a good little horror film that could have done with a bit more horror and a little less young actor angst. Oh, and unsolicited advice for young actors: learn another epithet besides f**k. That got boring.
See the full review at Stomp Tokyo.
Whereas I had expected a full-screen presentation, the movie is presented slightly crop-boxed; an interesting choice, though I sometimes felt I was watching a Viewmaster slide; it did, however, have the added effect of heightening the theatrical feel. The soundtrack is similarly well done, though I missed the blossoming effect I remembered from the movie soundtrack switching from Heather's camcorder to the DAT recorder. It's a minor quibble - the noises in the woods are as far removed as they need to be, and still give me a case of spine shivers.
Artisan outdid themselves on the interactive menus, drawing on pictures and ambient sounds from the movie, not to mention the occasional sound bite - these alone were spooky enough to keep me from viewing the disc late at night by myself. The Scene Index (eschewing numbers and simply titled "Day 1", "Night 2", etc.) Is represented by two torn-out journal pages lying on the forest floor, a flashlight playing over them. The titles on the Special Features page keep fading in and out, and if you highlight the infamous stick man figure in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, you'll be taken to three trailers for Blair Witch and one for The Stand.
The aforementioned Curse of the Blair Witch, the Sci-Fi Channel fake documentary which must have cost at least ten times the original movie's budget, is presented in its entirety - a very welcome and appropriate extra. For those not interested in spending 45 or so minutes on this, "The Blair Witch Legacy" boils down the bogus mythology to several text pages. "Notes" provides a few pages on the making of the feature, and the actors, directors and producers each get two pages for their bios. "Newly discovered footage" is a scene in the tent from the night Josh disappears - given the amount of footage not used in the final movie, this "newly discovered footage"scam is something Haxan will be riding for years to come (there was also one on the "soundtrack album", Josh's Blair Witch Mix). DVD-ROM owners don't get too much more than we mere mortals, a copy of the map and excerpts from the book and comic book.
The audio commentary, from directors Myrick and Sanchez, and producers Monello, Hale and Cowie ("The Haxan Five") helpfully answers some of the questions I had about the process of making this movie, but does occasionally descend into frat boy behavior (as when one of them farts and continues to claim, "No, man, it was the stream!"). The actual contents of the bloody bundle are revealed (along with the most popular guesses), and some nice insight into how important the art of editing actually is the final product.
A very good package for this movie, rendered all the more amazing when one considers that the filmmakers originally felt they'd be lucky to even cut a direct-to-video deal.
Dr. Freex, 4/15/00