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By Excess Hollywood | August 15, 2007

There are two points that need to be made about “”The Blair Witch Project,” neither of which is based on anything more than observation and general consensus. The first being that the films owes a lot to “”Cannibal Holocaust,” which is covered later on this list and is a far better film. The second is that this film divided people into two camps: those for whom it worked, and those for whom it failed. First, the “”Cannibal Holocaust” connection.

It has long been said that the creators of “”The Blair Witch Project” (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sãnchez) got a lot of their inspiration from “”Cannibal Holocaust,” a movie about some documentary filmmakers who get lost in the jungle, eaten by cannibals and later have their film of the entire event discovered. (That’s a very basic synopsis of the plot.) “”The Blair Witch Project” is about three filmmakers who are making a documentary about the Blair Witch. They end up missing, but the footage they shot was found. It is through their film that we learn of their fate (in a roundabout way).

Granted, there are similarities between the two films, but there are just as many things that set them apart, too. “”Cannibal Holocaust” is a brutal film that works as a powerful social statement while dealing with a decidedly real aspect of society. Nothing is held back, and the director ended up in court over it. “”The Blair Witch Project,” on the other hand, is a subtle movie that tries to scare people, and it deals with a spooky entity that is entirely fictional. More people, however, believed in the film about a make believe witch than they did in the film about cannibals.

As for the second contention that there are two camps of people who saw this film, I can say that the film was a success for people with vivid imaginations. People who were used to having everything shown to them by filmmakers came out of the movie either thinking it was stupid or that it wasn’t scary at all. More imaginative thinkers found the movie creepy, and while some would say it wasn’t scary, most all of them agreed that the film had one or two very effective moments.

The real importance of the film, though, isn’t its connection to a 1980 Italian film or even its sharply divided audience. It was the fact that the filmmakers played the entire thing off as a real event, complete with a website that helped convince more than a few people of the movie’s authenticity. This was the first time the web was used in such an effective way with a movie, and because of this it is doubtful anyone could really pull it off as successfully again.

Even if you didn’t visit the website, you couldn’t have helped but hear about the movie and the three documentary filmmakers. There were newspaper articles and news stories about it. Television commercials made it seem real, too. It was so out of hand (and such a coup for the makers of this little film) that people were buying the whole dog and pony show before ever even seeing the film (and some of those people never planned on watching it in the first place).

I first realized how deeply absorbed into the culture this became when one of the actors appeared on a late night television show shortly after the film was released to the general public. At work the next day I mentioned that I had seen the interview, and a woman told me she wouldn’t watch the film because she didn’t want to see any “”kids killed by a witch.” I explained to her that the movie was fake, but she did not believe me. I reminded her of the interview on the talk show, and that only seemed to fortify her beliefs. She insisted that the interview was with a look-a-like actor and set up by the filmmakers so they wouldn’t be questioned in the disappearances of the actors. Her version of events had gone far beyond the initial lie, and the believer, who will often do this when faced with the reality of truth, fashioned a story that let her keep believing. I’m sure this co-worker wasn’t the only person to feel that way, either.

“”The Blair Witch Project” will never be remembered as a great film. When compared to “”Cannibal Holocaust” it is slicker in almost all aspects (especially hype), but all of its energy went toward convincing mainstream audiences that this was a movie they must see. “”Cannibal Holocaust,” a better film artistically (and in many other ways), never attempted to court the masses. In fact, everything about it screamed, “”Stay away!” Instead, it was meant to appeal to those whose taste run more extreme, and not nearly as many of those people ever believed the film was real in the first place (though it does include real animal cruelty and actual human deaths in its film-within-a-film). This goes to show one thing: When it comes to gullibility, nothing can match the susceptibility of the mainstream audience. Even when faced with an outlandish story, they still bought it hook, line and sinker, and that’s why the film failed for many people. The filmmakers didn’t realize that if you were dumb enough to believe the hype you probably weren’t imaginative enough to “”fill in the blanks” of that which wasn’t shown on the screen (which made the scares all that more effective for people with active imaginations). They sunk their film’s impact by targeting a very effective ad campaign (and make no mistake, that is exactly what it was) at an audience that wouldn’t get the film. In that end that translated to dollars (a smart move), but meant little in the sense of an artistic accomplishment.

When it comes right down to it, “”The Blair Witch Project” proved that in an artistically bankrupt culture filled with people who always want to be in on the “”latest and greatest” no matter the price, hype will always win over substance. That wasn’t the intention of the film, but it was the outcome. The people who enjoyed the movie the most were the people who never bought it for a second, and the majority of the people who saw it left scratching their heads. For that reason the movie will be remembered for nothing more than how to run an effective ad campaign using all the available media. “”Cannibal Holocaust,” however, continues to get better and even more relevant with age. It wasn’t the hit “”The Blair Witch Project” was, but it’s an artistic success. Unfortunately, as proven with the fake film about three people lost in the woods, Americans love being duped and will pay good money for it. It didn’t take a horror movie to prove that, but “”The Blair Witch Project” brought the point home probably better than any other movie in history. That’s a shame, too, because it was a fairly effective horror film … especially if you never bought the premise in the first place.

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  1. Don says:

    I’ve agreed with this list so far, and I suppose this film deserves some sort of mention for the hype it generated, but God I hated it…

    The “Cannibal Holocaust” comparison is common, and you’ll probably mention it, but to me the main difference between the two is that “Cannibal Holocaust” has something to say and it’s aggressive about it.

    While it’s hard to remove either film from their respective ‘hype’ I believe that “Holocaust” holds up better based solely on what’s on screen.

    I also have to disagree with you that Blair is a successful, subtle horror film, that’s what it’s going for, but without the huge hype and advertising power of the studio it would not work. Take for example the fact that it is pretty uncommon to find someone (horror fan or otherwise) who in 2007 claims that Blair Witch is one of their favorite films, even though lots of other subtle horror films are still very highly regarded.

    Removed from the hype the film doesn’t hold up, yet it is still going to be loved by people, just like kids who are 8 years old now are going to grow up wondering why Hollywood doesn’t make good films like “Transformers” anymore. It’s difficult to remove a piece of art from the events in your life that surrounded your exposure to it…

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