Wednesday, October 7, 2015

This just in: Blair Witch Project still scary

I remember it very clearly. My ex and I were driving along in the Santa Cruz Mountains on a beautiful fall day, talking about creepy shit. And I said to him, “hey, have you ever heard of the Blair Witch?”

He hadn’t. Just that week at work, something popped up about it in a search I was doing about Halloween.  (No, it wasn't work-related, yes, I do this sort of thing all the time.) I told him what little I knew. Little enough. And even littler did I know I had fallen victim to the greatest web campaign in history. 

That’s just one of the reasons why I love this movie so much. Soon after this conversation, when I found out it was a movie, I became super pumped to see it. 

That’s why we found ourselves on opening weekend, opening night actually, at the Palo Alto Square to see it in a crowd tittering with excitement and no small amount of trepidation. Yes, there was palpable fear that night. After all my years of movie-going, I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like it. The closest I had come was during the first release of the Exorcist in the 70s, when reports of audience members vomiting in the theater were making big news. But I was far too young to go see it myself. When my teenage brother talked of going, I strongly urged him not to, with the fervor that only a freaked out 8-year-old can muster. I was convinced somehow that he wouldn’t make it out alive. Now, that’s a good PR campaign.

Fast-forward more than 25 years, here was its successor. Almost 20 years since, it still holds up really well. Why?

It’s simple. The premise is easy to understand and the plot never strays far. There are no wild subplots, no love scenes, no “back at the ranch” cutaways. So it’s really something that this bare-bones production can rivet us the whole 80 minutes. 

It’s about as close to real as fake gets. The producers left directions and suggestions for the cast, but no script. All the words are theirs alone and the reactions are authentic, because they’re “living” it as we watch. Genius. 

No fancy special effects. Just noises and some string-tied bundles. Okay, also a few teeth and maybe an organ or two.. But that’s it! The noises - hooting and hollering and cracking of sticks - are probably the most chilling things is the whole movie. Who can hear the children laughing and not wanna shit your pants? I mean, come on! 

It’s funny, at least at the beginning. One thing I love in a horror movie is a sense of humor. A production that acknowledges the suspension of disbelief just comes off as smart and sophisticated. The man-on-the-street interviews in Burkittsville take us from the everyday to the spooky tingles to the bizarre. If there’s a woman alive who looks exactly like a witch in the flesh, it’s Mary, the last interview before they hit the woods.. (She actually signed up to be an intern on the shoot, who knew they’d hit gold?)

It’s got a bang-up ending. I hate movies, TV shows and music that start out great and then fade away. This ending puts a giant exclamation point on the whole experience. The child-size handprints, the screaming, the dimly lit rooms where you just know shit when's all building to that final shot, which is legendary and perfect. And I’m not just saying this because the first time I saw it, a woman behind me starting sobbing. But ok, it helped! 

One last fun fact: shooting ended on Halloween night! 

So if you haven’t in a while or maybe never have, I urge you to sit down and watch the Blair Witch Project. 

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