Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Blair Witch Project, or: How to Change Marketing Forever

Ten years ago (is it really 10 years?) a little no-budget horror film took the US by storm. The Blair Witch Project starred complete (and still) unknown actors, working from a mostly improvised script, relying on hand-held cameras and a director who who basically terrorized his cast for several days in the Maryland woods.

The production company, Haxan, knew they had something extraordinary on their hands. But how to market it? Some genius at Haxan (many have taken credit), decided to use the burgeoning Internet to take their film to the public, and the very first Viral Advertising Campaign was born.

Blair Witch had been a midnight fave at Sundance, but it was the Internet that really set it aflame. Some people (okay, a lot of people) thought it was real. The supposed 'found footage' of three documentarians who had disappeared while making a movie about a local Maryland legend went on to be the most successful independent feature film, ever.

I saw it first with a group of friends in rural New Jersey, and had to drive home through a mostly wooded region, afterwards. And I will be the first to admit that that ride home was extremely nerve-wracking. I remember thinking about a third of the way through the movie, "Enough! Leave them alone!" As an avid camper, the movie hit a nerve and I completely identified with the perils faced by the young protagonists. The best trailer I could find has Dutch or Swedish subtitles, but you get the idea:

The movie itself induced either terror or nausea, depending on one's sensibilities. In my case, I was scared silly. I saw it again with my then boyfriend, Rik, who I thought was going to pull my arm off (and yes, his name was really Rik) in fear. Needless to say, we cuddled a bit closer that night.

Like the best horror films (The Haunting) we never actually see anything in The Blair Witch Project. We hear lots of creepy stuff and we see glimpses of what may or may not horrific images, but there are no CGI ghosts or demons; no gore or splattered brains; no psychopaths waiting behind closed doors. And in those final moments, we see poor Mike standing in a basement corner while a terrified Heather screams, just before her camera falls to the ground. We never learn what exactly happened to our trio of filmmakers. We only know that they are missing. Creepy, scary stuff, indeed.

1st person POV to the extreme, Blair Witch changed the face of film, in more ways than one, forever. And a whole bunch of movies owe it a debt of gratitude. Last year's giant monster in New York movie, Cloverfiled, owes a huge debt of gratitude to Blair Witch, as does this year's phenomenon, Paranormal Activity, both in style and marketing. If it weren't for the Internet, neither film would have been nearly as successful.

Much was expected from both the cast and crew of Blair Witch. Little has come from it, for any of them. But recently, I came across this trailer for the newest film from Blair's co-director, Eduardo Sanchez. Seventh Moon looks like it could be an interesting and effective fright flick, though like Sanchez's last project, the surprisingly good alien horror film Altered, Seventh Moon looks like it will be released direct-to-video. Here's the trailer:

I guess the point is, no matter how good your movie is, and no matter how great your marketing campaign, in Hollywood you are only as good as your last hit. And that's a shame.

More terrors, anon.


Matty said...

You know, I always get shit from other people for LOVING The Blair Witch Project. I think it's pure cinematic genius. And I'm glad to hear I am not alone :)

Prospero said...

I hate when people pretend to know what they're talking about when bashing a movie. "Blair Witch" was literally ground-breaking in so many ways. And a damned scary movie, to boot. It didn't matter whether someone or someTHING was terrorizing them. It just mattered that they were being terrorized... and in turn, frightened the hell out of a lot of people. Just another reason to love ya!

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie on a first date. After the movie we drove to a wooded area, parked and then walked for about 10 mins into the woods were we proceeded to make out and then have sex! We were both turned on by where we were after the movie and suffered numerous bug bites. We only went out one more time because the sex was no where near as good as the first time.

Prospero said...

It is a good date movie...