A new Blair Witch movie is on its way as I write this, and season 6 of American Horror Story is taking some tidbits and straw men from it, so here is my story of why Blair Witch Project is the scariest movie I have ever seen.
It scared me and I own it. The terror, not the movie. I do not own it, nor do I ever want to see it again.
When the movie came out in July of 1999, I was just starting to work with my RevolutionSF co-founder Shane Ivey at Zealot.com, the site that we worked for that paid us (kind of) before it went kablooey and we launched RevolutionSF. The movie was the hippest geek-related thing at the time, so we felt like we had to go see it, to be up on the current scene. That was how we talked back then.
I know what I'm getting when I see a horror movie. Scream explained it all, and introduced the world to the multifaceted Matthew Lillard, too. I know when to prepare for a jump scare, because of the music. I know when the monster's not really dead. I know when the puny humans are about to get killed.
Blair Witch Project was scary because it took all that away. No music. No special effects. Just a bunch of idiots in the woods with a video setup that today anyone could do with their phones.
Sidebar: I hope in the new Blair Witch movie, all they have is their phones.
OMG my phone is saying I didn't catch Squirtle! Stupid woods! End sidebar.
I heard from many a discerning horror fan that the movie was subpar. It did not scare them, they tut-tutted at me.
Those people are full of crap.
When I posted on Zealot about being scared in this movie, I said "Feel free to call me a female body part if you must." Naturally, a good-natured, silly commenter then said "You're a breast."
Sidebar: Remember when websites had good-natured, silly commenters? Good times. End sidebar.
I saw the movie with my future wife, Stefanie. She's now my present-day wife, Stefanie. Both of us grew up in rural Alabama, so close to the woods that you could hear things.
So Blair Witch Project struck a nerve with us that maybe it did not amongst those who grew up with noises of streetcars and Broadway show tunes or whatever city folks have to deal with.
We were told to be careful in the woods. We played out there, but not late at night. True story: Stefanie's woods had wild hogs in them.
Wild hogs loose in the woods is funny now, when we're all grown up, safe in hog-proof homes.
Both my parents and Stefanie's told us there were people living in the woods, unsavory types, I assume. This may have been after my dad saw Deliverance, but I didn't doubt such a thing.
Our parents and grandparents were super helpful and supportive when we told them of our fears about the woods.
By that, I mean they gleefully encouraged us to be scared to death, by telling stories of Bigfeet and what those strange noises could be.
So when we saw the movie, we were grown adults, with our own jobs and keys. We wouldn't be afraid of some movie. Not us. Nope.
Then those idiots got lost in the woods, and we never saw what scared them, or what did to them whatever it did. And I had to drive home to deep, dark, Clanton, Alabama, which has woods all around it. Nope. Nope. Nope.
I came out of that theater sweating the sweat of fear.
The big thing that happened when that movie came out was that the shaky camera made people barf. Barfing would have been pleasant. I would have loved to do me some barfing. It would have taken my mind off things.
I did not identify with the characters in Blair Witch Project or find them appealing. They are standard horror-movie victims, but we don't get the sweet relief of seeing their cathartic, hilarious deaths. The movie took that away with the music and special effects.
Our imaginations ramped up the terror so much moreso than seeing an actress in a witch suit or a special effect would have. That's where the movie won, and I lost.
Like Stefanie, I've been in the woods and gotten turned around and wasn't sure where I was. I've heard noises outside my house that I couldn't identify. I can imagine a lot (thanks for that, Maw-Maw Crowe.)
Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows came out a year later. Why did I go to see it after my debacle with the first one? Dude, I don't know. Leave me alone.
My full review of that is right here Blair Witch Project worked because it took out all the horror-movie cues. So in the sequel, they put them all back in. I was not terrified during this movie. That's one Blair Witch movie in a row that didn't scare me!
Blair Witch Project led to a lot of movies trying a lot of ways to duplicate what it did. The Paranormal Activity movies and the other found-footage movies don't do it for me. For the record, I do not need or want to have it done for me.
I proclaim that no horror movie is as scary as this, and now I'm the elitist gatekeeper.
"That's not scary, it didn't happen in the woods outside my house." That's the kind of thing an elitist like me says.