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The UnPopular Opinion: The Blair Witch Project

Jan. 30, 2013by: Alex Maidy

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

In March of 1999, my friend was performing in a local theater production with some independent film actors. During the course of a conversation, he somehow was passed a copy of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT on VHS, which had made it's way to him via friends of directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick. My friend passed the copy to me and I brought the tape home. Knowing only a few things about the movie, I popped it into the VCR and watched it. At the time it was 2am and I felt I had been tricked and was watching some piece of shit filmed on camcorders that someone was trying to pass off as an actual movie. 80 minutes later and I was scared shitless.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is not just a good movie, it is a great movie. Forget all of the watered down "found footage" movies released since then as none of them feel as real as this movie does. Even the theatrical and DVD releases of the film process the footage to look like film. Seeing it in true VHS glory shows you the power of letting your imagination run wild. Neither the sequel or any rip-off films since have captured the raw horror that was on display in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT which is why it truly is THE EXORCIST of modern movies.

Poor Heather, she will always be remembered as the chick with the snotty nose who was "so scared".

Capitalizing on viral marketing before anyone knew what viral marketing was, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is a master class in marketing in under two hours. After watching the movie countless times on that VHS tape, I made my way to the theater when it opened on June 30th to watch the crowd in awe of this horror masterpiece. For the most part, everyone got into the groove of the movie, but I was shocked that they were not as blown away by it as I was. So, lets break it down to the essential reasons why it works.

First off, no one in the movie is a recognized actor, but they are good actors. Many of the successful found footage movies (CLOVERFIELD, THE LAST EXORCISM, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) work because the actors come across as natural. But, when you watch THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, it doesn't feel like they are acting. It feels as if what is happening on screen is actually happening to the cast. Credit the directors who planted actors in the town for the main cast to interact with without divulging who was real and who was a plant. Then, when camping in the isolated Maryland woods, the directors used GPS tags to lead the actors to their next location with basic prompts on what to do. This lends an air of realism to the movie that rarely appears in any fictional movie. When the actors break down emotionally in the movie, you sometimes doubt whether the cameras caught a real or acted moment.

Sticks and stones may not break your bones, but they will give you nightmares.

Take also the fact THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was directed by Sanchez and Myrick, but all camerawork was done by the actors. Lead Heather Donohue had never held a camera before making this movie. Some claim the intense shakiness of the camera led to them getting sick but I credit it with adding to the realistic feel of the movie. You never question why these actors are filming, something that makes you wonder in other movies. Why the hell do so many people have that many video cameras in their house, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY? Why does the camera suddenly appear everywhere, CHRONICLE? THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is the most documentarian of any found footage movie which helps it work as well as it does.

The other biggest asset is the backstory. The ancillary documentaries that go along with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT like THE BURKITTSVILLE 7, THE CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH, and THE BLAIR WITCH LEGACY are excellent in their own right, building the tension and universe of the fictional witch to the point that you question whether it really happened or not. The biggest benefit to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT compared to other found footage movies is that even today people question whether it was real or not. Back in 1999, when people were still not quite as adept to search online for background on movies as they are today, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was still able to exist and be questioned, something we rarely do today, even with the found footage genre.

Somebody put baby in the corner!

But, even without looking at the additional material or viral marketing for the movie, it succeeds as a film, horror or otherwise, because of what you do not see on camera. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT works completely as a movie analyzing the breakdown of the human mind when isolated in the wilderness. Unable to find their way back after searching for a supposed supernatural being, the three characters begin to turn on each other. The shape of sticks and bundles within the woods send an ominous aura around everything they do and force their minds to play tricks on each other. But, what if the supernatural being is actually real? The movie never quite tells us if what we are seeing is the work of The Blair Witch or humans torturing our characters or just things that our eyes and minds want us to see. All we get is a very abrupt ending that leads us to believe the urban legends are true, but the final choice is up to the viewer.

When all is said and done, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is an excellent movie to introduce horror fans to. Like Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING or Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT can scare you without showing anything. Made for less than $20,000, this movie will keep you up at night with nothing more than some sounds, some sticks, and the fear of isolation. The days where a movie like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT can be made is over. But, we can always look back fondly on this moment in film history and realize that there is still room for originality in the film industry.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

Source: JoBlo.com

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+4
3:40PM on 01/30/2013
Did people dislike this? As far as I knew, this was a pretty popular film at the time. For me, the film was never that scary. I found out that nothing in the film was real before I saw it, and I think that's the trick. For everything that happens in the film, it's only frightening if you're convinced that it's real. Most horror films are filmed in a very purposeful way to ratchet up tension and create frightening moments. Blair Witch was filmed with the intention of coming off as real. The
Did people dislike this? As far as I knew, this was a pretty popular film at the time. For me, the film was never that scary. I found out that nothing in the film was real before I saw it, and I think that's the trick. For everything that happens in the film, it's only frightening if you're convinced that it's real. Most horror films are filmed in a very purposeful way to ratchet up tension and create frightening moments. Blair Witch was filmed with the intention of coming off as real. The moment that you knew it wasn't was the moment that this lost it's fear factor. I agree that this was well made for it's purpose. It does tell a story successfully, while being filmed in a way that comes off as real. But you have to go into viewing it without knowing it's a film and not a showing of found footage.
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1:34PM on 01/30/2013
I was actually under the impression that most people did like this movie; at least back when it came out. I somehow didn't see it for the first time until Halloween this past year and... I thought it was horrible. I found it boring, not even remotely scary, and generally just very painful to watch. I was barely able to get through it and only did so because I stupidly and blindly bought the blu-ray (but for $5 it wasn't that much of a waste I guess). I'm sure a lot of that has to do with it
I was actually under the impression that most people did like this movie; at least back when it came out. I somehow didn't see it for the first time until Halloween this past year and... I thought it was horrible. I found it boring, not even remotely scary, and generally just very painful to watch. I was barely able to get through it and only did so because I stupidly and blindly bought the blu-ray (but for $5 it wasn't that much of a waste I guess). I'm sure a lot of that has to do with it just not holding up over time, but it REALLY doesn't hold up. I'm pretty convinced the success and the reason a lot of people liked this was because of the marketing being so innovative at the time. It's all about timing and smart marketing; not the quality of the movie.
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2:14PM on 01/30/2013
Wow, all the hype ruined it for people by the time it first hit home video. You waited WAAAAAY too long...
Wow, all the hype ruined it for people by the time it first hit home video. You waited WAAAAAY too long...
2:16PM on 01/30/2013
I know. To be fair, I probably would have crapped myself if I watched it when it came out. I was only 12.
I know. To be fair, I probably would have crapped myself if I watched it when it came out. I was only 12.
12:59PM on 01/30/2013

:D

I loved it and bought into the whole marketing campaign. It made the movie that much more fun.
I loved it and bought into the whole marketing campaign. It made the movie that much more fun.
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12:57PM on 01/30/2013
I'm not really sure that's an unpopular opinion. Outside of the last 5 minutes which I did feel were truly scary, this movie is painful to watch. Again, though GENIUS marketing, as a somewhat unaware movie view, guessing this was the movie that launched the whole found footage concept, so I still respect the shit out of what they accomplished, just not a big fan of the movie itself.
I'm not really sure that's an unpopular opinion. Outside of the last 5 minutes which I did feel were truly scary, this movie is painful to watch. Again, though GENIUS marketing, as a somewhat unaware movie view, guessing this was the movie that launched the whole found footage concept, so I still respect the shit out of what they accomplished, just not a big fan of the movie itself.
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12:54PM on 01/30/2013

:D

I loved it and bought into the whole marketing campaign. It made the movie that much more fun.
I loved it and bought into the whole marketing campaign. It made the movie that much more fun.
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12:52PM on 01/30/2013
Wow. I thought more people LIKED this. Shows you what I know.

The film is not one I really care to revisit, but opening night in a sold out showing my sister, best friend, & I were creeped the hell out & on the edges of our seats the whole time. Theater was the quietest I've ever experienced. INTENSE.

For that I say it was fantastic & forgive em for that ending.

SPOILER ALERT
My only real beef was the guy throwing the map away. So dumb & pointless....
Wow. I thought more people LIKED this. Shows you what I know.

The film is not one I really care to revisit, but opening night in a sold out showing my sister, best friend, & I were creeped the hell out & on the edges of our seats the whole time. Theater was the quietest I've ever experienced. INTENSE.

For that I say it was fantastic & forgive em for that ending.

SPOILER ALERT
My only real beef was the guy throwing the map away. So dumb & pointless....
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12:01PM on 01/30/2013

Awful.

I don't think anyone can or will argue that the marketing wasn't brilliant. IT was. It sold us all on the idea that what we were about to see may, in fact, be true and will blow our minds.

The reason this film is successful or terrible, and never in between with people, is you were either duped or you weren't. I wasn't. I watched it, knowing full well the whole time that it was fake. Why? Because it was a movie in a regular theater, not an underground seedy place where snuff films
I don't think anyone can or will argue that the marketing wasn't brilliant. IT was. It sold us all on the idea that what we were about to see may, in fact, be true and will blow our minds.

The reason this film is successful or terrible, and never in between with people, is you were either duped or you weren't. I wasn't. I watched it, knowing full well the whole time that it was fake. Why? Because it was a movie in a regular theater, not an underground seedy place where snuff films are shown.

So, given that I didn't buy into the premise that it was all true, the film fell completely flat and failed to deliver on anything it promised. It was also a major disappointment to me because I was so excited and eager to see it! With that teaser trailer, I was convinced it was the one horror movie I would ever see that would legitimately frighten me and I was super excited by that prospect.

Also, like Bob Loblaw highlighted, the people in the movie were unbearable and I spent the whole time wishing they'd just shut the f*ck up. You can only watch bitching and complaining for so long -- and really, if I were in a fight, I WOULDN'T be filming it. I'd turn my camera off. Cuz why the f*ck would I shoot that?

Not a timeless movie. It'll be long forgotten in the years to come.
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11:35AM on 01/30/2013
The is a reason the filmmakers behind this never made anything worth a damn since.

I thought this movie was terrible. The dialog tried painfully hard to seem "real", i.e. a bunch of meaningless conversations. The scares were laughable (oooooo, someone is rattling my tent, instead of seeing who it is I'm going to run into the woods screaming and never look back). The characters were unlikable morons (I threw the map away because I'm the biggest idiot in the world). The script is just a bad
The is a reason the filmmakers behind this never made anything worth a damn since.

I thought this movie was terrible. The dialog tried painfully hard to seem "real", i.e. a bunch of meaningless conversations. The scares were laughable (oooooo, someone is rattling my tent, instead of seeing who it is I'm going to run into the woods screaming and never look back). The characters were unlikable morons (I threw the map away because I'm the biggest idiot in the world). The script is just a bad series of horror cliches, and if it were made like a traditional movie it would have be laughed off of the screen. The $20,000 budget went straight into someone's pocket, because it certainly didn't go into the movie (keep in mind that the marketing was covered by the studio and is not part of the budget).

I seriously have to go back to how stupid and unlikable these characters were. I mean the crew of Prometheus were geniuses compared to the characters in this movie. I can't stand unmotivated stupidity, and it is just lazy writing.
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10:15AM on 01/30/2013
I feel like the movie kept a sense of dread and fear throughout but really only got scary at the very end. I am not sure it is a GREAT movie but it was a genre creating film. It was effective, done on a shoe string budget and gave the big Hollywood movies a different type of competition. It taught studios that they can make profits off of cheaply made movies, and I think this has kept a lot of actors employed and a lot MORE films made. For its time, and effect yeah great, but overall NOT a
I feel like the movie kept a sense of dread and fear throughout but really only got scary at the very end. I am not sure it is a GREAT movie but it was a genre creating film. It was effective, done on a shoe string budget and gave the big Hollywood movies a different type of competition. It taught studios that they can make profits off of cheaply made movies, and I think this has kept a lot of actors employed and a lot MORE films made. For its time, and effect yeah great, but overall NOT a great movie when compared with films over the course of time. It doesn't rank up with the Godfather or Citizen Kane, it isn't even better than Les Miserables or Zero Dark Thirty or Argo. So great? Not so much. But in the context of its time and influence, it ranks better.
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9:47AM on 01/30/2013

Ghostwatch

It wasn't that original - see the BBC's "Ghostwatch" drama from 1992. I even recall that the makers of Blair Witch admitted it was an influence.
It wasn't that original - see the BBC's "Ghostwatch" drama from 1992. I even recall that the makers of Blair Witch admitted it was an influence.
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9:33AM on 01/30/2013

inclined to disagree

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Some like it, and they are welcome to enjoy it. I was always in the camp that believed this was complete garbage with a brilliant marketing scheme. If they hadn't pushed it as documentary footage - no one would have been impressed. But what I take exception to is this phrase:

"even today people question whether it was real or not."

um. no. What backwater town that time forgot did you go to in order to find folks that still wonder if this movie
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Some like it, and they are welcome to enjoy it. I was always in the camp that believed this was complete garbage with a brilliant marketing scheme. If they hadn't pushed it as documentary footage - no one would have been impressed. But what I take exception to is this phrase:

"even today people question whether it was real or not."

um. no. What backwater town that time forgot did you go to in order to find folks that still wonder if this movie was real? It's commonly accepted that this movie was scripted and made, not found. No one who has seen a newspaper or the internet in the past decade holds the notion that this was anything other than a movie.
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9:08AM on 01/30/2013
I agree, it was a good movie. I wouldn't say it was scary but creepy is a better word to describe it. It gave me the chills a few times.... and that was after I found out it was fake. I often wonder how I would feel about this movie had I watched it thinking it's real. But in high school some d-bags always want to tell you about the movie before you get a chance to see it.
I agree, it was a good movie. I wouldn't say it was scary but creepy is a better word to describe it. It gave me the chills a few times.... and that was after I found out it was fake. I often wonder how I would feel about this movie had I watched it thinking it's real. But in high school some d-bags always want to tell you about the movie before you get a chance to see it.
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8:53AM on 01/30/2013
Thank you for defending this awesome movie.
Thank you for defending this awesome movie.
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8:47AM on 01/30/2013
I won't knock the film for being a one of a kind or anything like that but I was bored as as they get in theatres. Doesn't mean it is a bad movie, just not for me.
I won't knock the film for being a one of a kind or anything like that but I was bored as as they get in theatres. Doesn't mean it is a bad movie, just not for me.
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8:37AM on 01/30/2013
I have fond memories of this film alongside my older sister. The not knowing was it's best qualities, those websites about the film were as scary as the film itself.
I have fond memories of this film alongside my older sister. The not knowing was it's best qualities, those websites about the film were as scary as the film itself.
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8:17AM on 01/30/2013
I wouldn't say this is an 'unpopular opinion' as such. The Blair Witch Project has been pretty divisive since its release - some people think it's brilliant, other people think it's terrible.
For people who managed to catch it on its original cinematic release, I think they saw it in its best light. The way it used differing aspect ratios for the "film-maker's" different cameras was an excellent touch, and one that I'm not sure I've seen replicated since. Early dvd releases detracted from that
I wouldn't say this is an 'unpopular opinion' as such. The Blair Witch Project has been pretty divisive since its release - some people think it's brilliant, other people think it's terrible.
For people who managed to catch it on its original cinematic release, I think they saw it in its best light. The way it used differing aspect ratios for the "film-maker's" different cameras was an excellent touch, and one that I'm not sure I've seen replicated since. Early dvd releases detracted from that effect by cropping the image to a uniform format. I'm not sure if it's had a better treatment on Blu-Ray as I don't own it, but that was an aspect of the film I thought was genuinely cool.
Personally, I like the movie despite it being merchandised to death after its release. It showed the potential for found footage horror even though it didn't invent the genre like many assume. It's had a more significant impact on popular culture and cinema than all but the greatest of horror movies, and should be acknowledged as such even though in and of itself it probably isn't one of the greatest ever horror movies.
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7:46AM on 01/30/2013

The true brilliance of this movie wasn't the film itself but the marketing of it.

Couldn't stand this movie as the characters were so fucking irritating, I honestly didn't care what happened to them. The only truly spine-chilling moment in the movie was that last screencap in the article where he's standing frozen in the corner like the witch used to make the children do. Other than that, it did nothing for me. It was so successful because so many people were convinced that it was all true.
Couldn't stand this movie as the characters were so fucking irritating, I honestly didn't care what happened to them. The only truly spine-chilling moment in the movie was that last screencap in the article where he's standing frozen in the corner like the witch used to make the children do. Other than that, it did nothing for me. It was so successful because so many people were convinced that it was all true.
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6:57AM on 01/30/2013

Why is this the "unpopular" opinion?

As for myself and everyone I've ever discussed this with, the Blair Witch project is an awesome movie. I didn't realize there was any doubt to that! Now the found footage knock-offs HAVE to be shit, and that I can understand, because you can only get away with the "schtick" once. After that, everyone knows about it and you lose the magic.
As for myself and everyone I've ever discussed this with, the Blair Witch project is an awesome movie. I didn't realize there was any doubt to that! Now the found footage knock-offs HAVE to be shit, and that I can understand, because you can only get away with the "schtick" once. After that, everyone knows about it and you lose the magic.
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+1
6:15AM on 01/30/2013
Besides the marketing campaign the movie offered a solid script and capable actors selling the whole "real footage" stuff. Good movie, great marketing campaign and a groundbreaking way of direction (like it or not).
Besides the marketing campaign the movie offered a solid script and capable actors selling the whole "real footage" stuff. Good movie, great marketing campaign and a groundbreaking way of direction (like it or not).
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5:53AM on 01/30/2013
It was one of those movies that had either got to you or didn't. Its essentially a film to be watched every 10 years are so, as the impact of the last scene(pictured above) is never as powerful as the first time.
It was clever film making with an even more clever marketing campaign. Not up there with The Exorcist, but still a great horror film to end the millennium.
It was one of those movies that had either got to you or didn't. Its essentially a film to be watched every 10 years are so, as the impact of the last scene(pictured above) is never as powerful as the first time.
It was clever film making with an even more clever marketing campaign. Not up there with The Exorcist, but still a great horror film to end the millennium.
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5:42AM on 01/30/2013
This movie claimed to be a documentary on release. That's why it made so much money.

This film was edited at the same film school I went to. The professors there told me that everyone who saw this movie in private screenings thought it was a joke. After the marketing and hype hit, those same people thought is was a horror masterpiece. The Blair Witch is a marketing scheme that proves hype can in fact alter people's perspective of what is good and bad.
This movie claimed to be a documentary on release. That's why it made so much money.

This film was edited at the same film school I went to. The professors there told me that everyone who saw this movie in private screenings thought it was a joke. After the marketing and hype hit, those same people thought is was a horror masterpiece. The Blair Witch is a marketing scheme that proves hype can in fact alter people's perspective of what is good and bad.
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5:24AM on 01/30/2013
It was groundbreaking when it was released - low budget movie that turned it gazillion in profit. And the movie was quite scary too. However, it only worked because at the time there's no movie like it. Should it be released at the present, it'd be just another found footage movie.
It was groundbreaking when it was released - low budget movie that turned it gazillion in profit. And the movie was quite scary too. However, it only worked because at the time there's no movie like it. Should it be released at the present, it'd be just another found footage movie.
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+16
3:03AM on 01/30/2013
Easily the most overrated movie of all time.
Easily the most overrated movie of all time.
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+20
2:11AM on 01/30/2013
Whether you liked or hated this movie, I think it's safe to assume that we all agree the sequel Blair Witch 2 was utter garbage.
Whether you liked or hated this movie, I think it's safe to assume that we all agree the sequel Blair Witch 2 was utter garbage.
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+0
1:34AM on 01/30/2013
Shit movie.
Shit movie.
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+3
1:33AM on 01/30/2013
I believe Blair Witch is an important film in marketing and in the horror genre. It may not hold up as well when it came out, but it's better then any other found footage film to this day. The terror and anxiety is still there and the ending gives you the creeps of just what if and what is actually out in those woods.
I believe Blair Witch is an important film in marketing and in the horror genre. It may not hold up as well when it came out, but it's better then any other found footage film to this day. The terror and anxiety is still there and the ending gives you the creeps of just what if and what is actually out in those woods.
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