The Blair Witch Project (1999) is one of those iconic films that has filtered into so much of our modern culture. It's also rather polarizing. I was 18 years-old when it came out. I completely bought into all the hype... at first. The website and the documentary totally piqued my interest and it was actually the first "horror" movie that I independently pursued as an interest. What happened to me, though, before the movie came out, spoiled some of its glamour, but I still couldn't shake the terror of some witch lurking in the woods looking to take you out!
I realized the footage was faked and the actors were actors when MTV was advertising for their movie awards and in the commercial it showed a shot of the three actors walking on stage. I did a double-take and I can remember the feeling of how bummed out I was that the movie was fake. That sounds really sick, in hindsight, but... I was a kid and while I didn't want the people to be dead (which wasn't how I saw it before I saw the movie), I bought that this was something pretty real.
Now, though, found footage or first-person POV on camcorders or cell phones are a common thing in the "horror" world. Cloverfield (2008), Paranormal Activity Series (2008-2015), The Last Exorcism (2010), and REC (2007)/Quarantine (2008)... to name just a few.
TBWP broke the industry and it carried over the reality TV success that dominated MTV in the '90s with starting with The Real World and snowballing from there.
I love The Blair Witch Project. I watch it every year for Halloween. It felt like the perfect movie to lead off my haunted adventure with.
The original is classic. I still love watching it over and over with this weird mindset that I am somehow going to discover some sort of clue to something. Don't try to tell my mind it's fake... it betrays me every time.
I enjoyed Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000). I met Joe Berlinger when his documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004) came out. I said I liked the movie, but he said he was ashamed of it and wished he had never done it and it almost ruined him personally. He couldn't handle the backlash and negativity of the film. I mean... I get it... he's a powerful and incredible documentary director (Paradise Lost Series, Brother's Keeper), but I felt bad for him. Especially when I learned that his version had been kidnapped by Hollywood to make it Box Office pretty. I'll add that it was also sad to see an actor or two who had already been seen on television and film in the sequel. It took away from even the idea that this could also be a form of found footage. (One of the actors is Jeffery Donovan, who also shows up in Berlinger's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile about Ted Bundy.)
I, shamefully, liked the glossy version. I liked the story material and the continuation of the very premise of The Blair Witch. It fed the obsession I still had.
Then in 2016, the original was revisited and BWP2 was retconned. They went back to the 100% camcorder style and found footage, but adding certain modern twists. It wanted to recapture the uncapturable (much like Heather herself). The film tries too hard to make us care about the realistic qualities of these actors. Just like in the original BWP, it thinks that showing them at the club and eating hot dogs connects us to these people. BWP you could connect, because they were so long humanized to us before the movie. Here it just seems like an attempt to get us to invest ourselves in finding the person we won't find.
But I liked starting with this, because despite having House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Exorcist (1973), and Poltergeist (1982) on my list, 1999 seems to be the starting point for the movies I'm watching. More importantly, though, it was the starting point for me and what would become one of my primary film obsessions (besides zombies and nuns).