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'Blair Witch Project':
The hype is better

By Casey Hailey

"I was looking forward to this evening like nothing I can remember. Myself and three friends were about to have the privilege of seeing a private screening of 'The Blair Witch Project,' and based on dozens of reviews, it was supposedly the scariest movie in a long time, if not the scariest movie ever made," said film critic Thomas Brown.

The group waited until complete dark and, at 11:30 p.m., ran the movie.

"Minutes later we sat around staring at each other unable to speak. Finally I said, 'Uh ... is that the same film we've heard so much about?'"

Brown said that they all agreed that it was an interesting idea, but the "promise of something truly nightmarish never happens."

Viewers did say that they liked how different it was from the latest blood-and-guts horror flicks Hollywood's spinning out these days.

"I was expecting another 'Scream'- type horror movie. Boy, was I wrong. The movie is so real I find it hard to believe it's acting and not a completely true story," said Brandon McKinney, on the IMDb movie review site.

Ellen Boynton, a 25-year-old TV news producer from Wisconsin, felt similarly. "Directors Ed Sanchez and Dan Myrick truly succeed in creating one of the most original films of this century."

Contrary to this popular belief, the premise of the film is not original. The 1979 Italian film "Cannibal Holocaust" is about a search party that goes into the Amazon and discovers the tapes of a documentary crew killed by cannibals.

Also, "The Last Broadcast," which was co written and directed by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler in 1998, was about two broadcasters in Pennsylvania who air a weekly show called "Fact or Fiction." They go in search of the "Jersey Devil" in the Pine Barrens of south New Jersey, but only one of the four adventurers in their party returns alive.

The "Blair Witch" plot is far superior to either movie, though, opting for the high road of psychological thriller rather than the carnage and gore that the other two films resort to. (In fact, "Cannibal Holocaust" was banned in the Britain and Australia as questions were raised about whether people were actually killed in the production.)

The visuals in "Blair Witch" did cause several viewers to flee the theater; but it had more to do with being sick from the jolting camera angles and not from graphic shots of violence.

"We wanted total realism, so we had them shoot if from the first person perspective," said Myrick.

The camcorder-style filming actually took away from the realism, though. There are just certain things that no one in their right mind would stick around to film. The directors try to pad that fact over halfway into the movie when Heather, the mock-umentary's director, explained to her cohorts that she "has to keep filming -- it's the only thing that's keeping me going." But with a mass-murderer in close pursuit, it only seems logical that the camera would be the first thing to go.

The dialogue is what actually kept this film real. None of it was scripted, according to Myrick, and the tension, anger and, ultimately, fear comes through the character's words more than it does anywhere else.

"Their horror is frightening and the emotion (is) unmistakably real," said Boyton.

The other thing that keeps this film real is the legacy. Artisan's official Web site posted pictures of (fake) police reports and photographs along with a timeline delineating the myth of the Blair Witch months before the film's release. It helped create a kind of underground hype that lent to the movie's mystique. Was there really a Blair Witch? Was there really a myth about a Blair Witch? What about the mass murders in the 1940s? Some viewers still haven't figured out what is fact and what is fiction.

"The entire thing (the myth, the murders, the documentary) is the brainchild of the film's co-writers/directors," said Eric Alan, who runs one such Web site.

Unlike the Web sites, the movie doesn't give the viewer a feel for the whole legend. The background of the witch and the myth-which is the true lure and horror of it all-is lost on the audience, as they are only allowed to see a few cuts of interviews with the town's locals.

"I fully agree that the psychological terror is great, and the more that's left to the imagination the better, but 'The Blair Witch' leaves so much to the imagination that it just doesn't work as well as it could have," said Brown.

Perhaps the most poignant example of this is the ending. It has so much potential, especially since it's the climax of the film, yet it leaves viewers feeling "confused and frustrated."

"The final 20 minutes gets intense with the promise of something truly nightmarish to come, (but) it never happens. The movie has no end, no explanation of any kind. The final image on the screen is puzzling and vague, not provocative," said Brown.

Still, more and more fans are coming out of the woodwork, and it looks like "Blair Witch" may have quite a cult following -- more because of the Internet than the box office, though.

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