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Five Hearts

"Fear at its most primal."

Written by Steven Walker

I had the distinct benefit of seeing the Blair Witch Project early in its run before it became a national phenomenon. I went in with virtually no expectations and no knowledge of the story except that it was extremely low budgeted. I did not for a moment believed the marketing lie that it was a true story. If it had actually depicted the deaths of real people, their families would never allow it to be released as a horror film. Not gonna happen.

Horror is a tricky genre. Truly great horror movies are few and far between. I think it’s because fear is such a personal, subjective thing that it’s next to impossible to scare a large group of people with the same idea.  Of course it doesn’t help that most horror movies are poorly written, poorly acted dreck that just recycles what has come before.

If you think about the truly classic horror movies, they all work by depicting fear on a very basic, primal level. Take the original Night of the Living Dead, which inflicted the zombie genre upon the world.  It is about people trapped in a small space while dozens of reanimated corpses try to break in and eat them. Claustrophobia, check. Fear of death, check. Cannibalism, check.

Next up is the Exorcist. Fear of god, check. Fear of Satan, check. Fear of something horrible happening to your child, check.

Finally is my personal favorite horror movie, the 1986 version of The Fly. Fear of disease, check. Fear of aging, check. Fear of losing a loved one, check. Fear of unwanted pregnancy, check. Fear of getting your limbs melted off by a giant insect, double check. Okay, maybe that last one is a little less universal.

Anyway, back to the Blair Witch Project. The basic premise of getting lost in the woods strikes right to the heart of universal phobia. Add on the notion of unseen tormentors stalking you as you slowly lose your mind from fear, hunger, and exhaustion makes a potent mix of terror.

Again, I can’t stress how much hype ruined this movie for some people. Seeing it with an unsuspecting crowd and no expectations was one of the most terrifying movie experiences I’ve had.  The documentary technique felt like a completely fresh idea back then, and the fact that much of the film was improvised makes the performances of non-actors feel totally believable. I knew people just like all three of those kids and there is not a dishonest or actorly moment between them.  It all feels raw and credible. That was also a time when cellphones and GPS were not ubiquitous yet, so whole premise felt plausible.

Many horror fans who had the movie overhyped to them were disappointed in the lack of blood/gore/actual footage of the Blair Witch. What they don’t seem to understand is that the very absence of these things gives the film its power. The second you actually show the Blair Witch she ceases to be an amorphous, terrifying thing in the dark night of your mind and becomes just a lady in a costume.

I also think the movie’s singular moment of actual gore is one of the best ever. When the first kid disappears and you hear him moaning somewhere out in the woods, it is severely creepy. They’re searching for him, calling out to him, and they hear him moaning but they can’t find him anywhere and the whole time you’re asking yourself, “Why is he moaning like that!?” Then the next morning comes and the girl finds The Package. The presence of the package outside their tent is freaky enough, but when she opens it and you can’t quite see at first and you just want a closer look and OH MY GOD IT’S HIS TONGUE!!!  Pardon my language, but it’s just fucking awesome.  People lost their shit in the theater when this happened. Then the fact that she is so freaked that she throws it away without even telling the other guy about it adds a whole other level of character development that takes it beyond the shock value.

It all culminates in one of the classic final shots. You hear the story in the beginning about how the Blair Witch makes people stand with their faces in the corner before she kills them, but at the time the characters don’t take it seriously and you totally manage to forget about it. Then when the final shot arrives and you see the last surviving kid standing with his face in the corner sends chills all through me.

All this praise aside, I admit the movie has very poor rewatchability. Once you’ve taken the ride there is really no reason to buy another ticket.




Copyright 2008 Flaming Heart Enterprises, L.L.C.