Last night brought one of the most exciting horror announcements in probably the last decade: The Woods is actually Blair Witch, the third film in the franchise that began in 1999. Our own Brad Miska saw it several months ago and hailed it as the, “…game-changer horror fans desperately have been waiting for” and saying that it, “…breaks the mold of traditional horror and pushes the boundaries to the absolute brink.” You can read his full review right here.
This news set off what can only be described as a detonation of excitement across social media. There was a frenzy of people powering through incredulity and the vast majority of them arriving at a place of sheer glee and wonder.
As I watched this mass explosion of passion and delight, I found myself going back to when the first film came out and thinking about why it still has such an impact today. What follows are my own personal thoughts and opinions.
I remember when The Blair Witch Project was coming out. They hype around the movie was absolutely insane. It was written about in high-profile magazines, it was spoken about on talk shows… It was the water cooler hot topic discussion for a while and all for very good reason. The push was that this movie was groundbreaking, that it was the most terrifying movie in a long, long time.
But what set this movie apart was that the push wasn’t just how scary it was but also the attempt to keep up appearances that the events in the movie actually happened. This tactic was done through absolutely genius marketing that simply cannot be replicated these days.
You see, when they were pushing The Blair Witch Project the internet was a vastly different place. Google had been around for only a year and people were still using services like AOL or search engines like Yahoo, AskJeeves, Lycos, etc… Something to keep in mind about these search engines is that they weren’t exactly too hot at bringing the most accurate search results. The search engine game was still being worked on, something that Google was nailing but still building the user base for.
Not just content to create their own website, which is still around, I remember there being other websites created that corroborated the events in the film and added to the mythology. So what happened is that I went to search for “The Blair Witch Project fake or real” and the results made it seem like it was actually real. Furthermore, if you went to IMDb and searched for the stars of the movie, they were listed as “missing, presumed dead” (source). The studio planned it all this way and pretty much everyone fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. It was nothing short of incredible.
The marketing ploy worked and the film, which had an estimated budget of $60,000, went on to earn nearly $250 million worldwide, making it one of the best return-on-investment films ever released.
These days, search engines are so efficient that any attempt at creating a hoax will quickly be sniffed out and labeled as such. Snopes is almost always the internet user’s best friend but sometimes, just sometimes, it can be a real stick in the mud.
One question that I saw come up a few times (not often, mind you) on social media was essentially a rephrasing of, “Who cares? What does it matter?” After all, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows was critically panned (although there are those who defend it), so why should people be excited for a third film that took 16 years to arrive? Honestly, those are fair questions. For many people, The Blair Witch Project wasn’t something they were a part of. Perhaps they were too young to appreciate the brilliance of the marketing. Maybe they never watched the original until found footage became a huge thing, so it felt like it couldn’t really compete against films like Paranormal Activity or [REC], which moved at a far brisker pace and definitely brought more in the way of visual trickery.
But what I’m seeing here is much the same as what I saw when Jurassic World or Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. The high school and college kids who saw the first film in theaters have aged to the point that they might have kids that are old enough to see Blair Witch with them. It’s not just a horror movie, it’s a celebration of nostalgia while simultaneously passing the torch on to a new generation. For many, that alone is something worth celebrating. That is something to be excited about because it’s a chance to connect to our own youth and relive those days when we felt terror. Only this time we’re not alone.
Last night the horror community bonded over this reveal and it was a glorious sight. It was the kind of event that reminded me how our passion can surpass our differences. Sure, we may not agree on the worth of remakes and we definitely don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to the use of CGI over practical FX. But those can all be put to the side when we recognize that there is the potential for a great story, one that will shake us to our core.
That’s the power of Blair Witch. That’s what it awoke in all of us. Whether the world agrees with Brad’s review or not after September 16th doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that nearly all of us came together in joy and hope that we’d be seeing something special. That right there made it all worthwhile for me.