josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | Oct. 2016
In 1999 Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale unleashed “The Blair Witch Project" on the world. This film changed how films were made and due to its admittedly brilliant marketing, it also changed how films were presented.
Sold as a movie pieced together from footage found in the woods of the Black Hills belonging to missing (presumed dead) teens, it was engaging. In the early days of the internet, this was not only plausible but caught the attention of the world.
The term "found footage" was coined for this movie and although it was hardly the first film to be "found footage," it was the one that broke through into mainstream pop culture.
The movie was shot for 60 grand (if that) and grossed so much money it is still the leading budget-to-gross film of all time, a height once held by “Friday The 13th" in 1980. Really a movie about nothing (nothing happens and surely nothing is what is seen on camera) “The Blair Witch Project" proved you could scare an audience with implication and atmosphere. Very few films have come out since that elicited the reactions of a viewership the way “The Blair Witch Project" did.
“The Blair Witch Project" became a worldwide phenomena, which, of course, brought forth the slew of knock-offs we are still seeing today, one of which, was its own sequel and its own non-sequel as it were.
In 2000, a rushed out sequel (“Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2") by award-winning documentary director Joe Berlinger was shunned by fans of the original movie despite it being a clever, smart and genuinely subversive film. The ever-growing fan base of the first film seemed to want a rehash of the first movie, but rejected the sequel — which poked fun of fans at the same time pointing out just why another film in the style of the 1999 original was a bad idea. Talk about being ahead of the curve.
When Joe Berlinger made “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" he knew that the fan base and the studio both wanted something in the same vein as the first movie and coming from a documentary background, this was expected of him. Ultimately, he made the film they needed, not the film they wanted. Not "found footage," and instead using real actors and shot like a real movie and set in a storyline where the events of the first movie were not real and were in fact just a movie, was seen as a slap in the face to the audience. To this day, Blair Witch 2 is one of the most hated sequels of all time.
Around this time, the FOX network was attempting a Blair Witch TV series that never manifested ... well, sort of. The 2000 series “FreakyLinks" was created by the producers of “The Blair Witch Project" and was (for all intents and purposes) Blair Witch: The Series — a great series that is vastly underrated. Not called Blair Witch or featuring any names or titles for legal reasons, “FreakLinks" died a quiet and undeserving death at the hands of 2000-era viewers.
Now, all these years later, what the producers are calling the "real" sequel (apparently the second film never happened, ugh) is out and it's more of the same. This is the big, dumb, loud, unnecessary sequel that everyone wanted in 2000 instead of the smart, clever one that was made. This new movie has no reason to exist, as it was a complete retread of the first film and demonstrates no understanding of why the first film worked so well.
Joe Bob Briggs once made the joke that Halloween III was blasphemy as it tried to do something original and unexpected with its franchise, while the Friday The 13th franchise was great was due to producers simply making the same movie over and over and over again. This is very apt with the Blair Witch franchise. Blair Witch 2 was something different and was rejected. The new “Blair Witch" is more of the same crap we saw in the first movie, only ramped up to 11 and lacking the heart that first film had.
Most of the producers of the original movie have either lost sight of what they did to hit a nerve with audiences in 1999 or simply don't care as this new “Blair Witch" feels like a bombastic and bloated remake instead of a sequel. All the same notes are hit, the same style is employed with one major drawback: in 1999, “The Blair Witch Project" was truly a gorilla film with all the warts needed to make it seem real. This new “Blair Witch" is slick with foley work, looped dialog and obvious CGI effects. This is a studio version of the indy original, with none of the honesty that the original had.
Unable to recreate the brilliant marketing of “The Blair Witch Project" again, this time they employed the idea of stealth marketing. Shot and originally advertised as "The Woods" with a complete website and campaign behind it. During Comic-Con “The Woods" was revealed to really be Blair Witch 3 (or 2, since they are not counting the second film, ugh again).
Somehow, producers imagined that making this sequel in secret was equally as interesting as was the 1999 campaign of selling the first movie as a real film created by dead kids.
The franchise is dead, guys, leave it alone now.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.