by Juli Van Zyverden

"I am so scared...."

What is the scariest thing about The Blair Witch Project?

Is it the months of pre-release hype, fed sparingly to the public but only whetting their appitites so that the desire for more information stimulated the frenzy to build Web sites in homage or in parody of The Blair Witch Project?
Praise for a film that hadn't even been released yet!

Is it the world-wide obsession based on previews, chat-room talk and a 30 second spot on MTV?

Or is it those few terrifying moments of celluloid that concludes a film built on suspense, things that go bump in the night and the viewer's imagination?
Terrifying images that flash across the screen all to quickly and as the credits roll the audience is left wondering -"What happened?"

The Blair Witch -- A Journal is one woman's tribute to the film, detailing each step of her obsession with the film from the first time she downloaded the Quicktime™ preview from a Website, which led to her frantically searching the Web for more, more, more information. and then . finally building her own eerie Website. She then invited readers to post their impressions, and now there are several good essays on the effects of TBWP.

For those who have seen the film, knowing how it ends doesn't seem to be enough. The thirst hasn't been quenched. Steve (33) in Houston contributed three essays to The Blair Witch -- A Journal site. In one essay he wrote:

"It has been three days since I saw The Blair Witch Project. My nocturnal patterns have somewhat returned to normal, although I'm only sleeping about three hours a night. Curiously, the same word keeps coming up when discussing my response to TBWP. I am called 'obsessed.'

"... I have behaved differently. But obsessed? Maybe. Maybe not. If anything, I have been captivated with trying to figure out why I can not get this damned movie out of my head.

"The more I reflect, the more I realize that there is not one single reason that I am so taken with TBWP. There are several. There is the not quite so obvious theme regarding the nature of fear. What is scary in a movie? Hollywood has forced us to believe that gore, violent deaths and crazed lunatics with knives, axes, and shotguns, or monsters with huge teeth or acidic blood are really frightening. The problem with this logic is that in life we do not usually encounter the situations we see in these films. And when we do, we don't make the silly choices the protagonists make. We don't open that closet door, or get in the car, or look under the bed. We would instead run, fight, climb or find a way out. Hence, these movies aren't really scary - they're just gross.

"TBWP breaks this "gore-fest" mold in many ways. There are no knives or guns, no chases, no monsters, no giant lizards or chilling musical scores. There are just three young adults who don't realize how badly they are in trouble until it is too late. The choices they make we could see ourselves making in similar situations, and this is precisely why it is so fucking scary. Their motives are ours too."

Please, Steve, say no more! You are scaring me! In fact, if you haven't seen the film, don't read what Steve has written, since he discusses the film's ending in detail, and that would spoil it for you.

This low-budget horror film, which opened in limited release has enjoyed the best thing a no-name film can hope for: word-of-mouth free publicity. Internet chat sites and fan built Web pages have become the new way to read that indefinable measure of a film's hotness quotient. Before the film opened it had 20 fan sites, a mailing list, a Web ring called the Fanatic's Guide, and the number of fan sites dedicated to TBWP, or parodies of it, is growing.

After a screening earlier this year at Sundance, The Blair Witch Project generated what producer Gregg Hale called "a frightening amount of interest."

The official sites are Haxan, which is the film-maker's web site, and Artisan -- The Blair Witch Project. Artisan, the distributors, won the all night bidding war and pick up the distribution rights for a cool $1.1 million dollars. Naturally they also posses the site.

The Blair Warner Project was the first "take-off" on TBWP. A fun little parody which ended up creating a stir. The site was mentioned on MTV sending thousands of fans to read "Tootie's Journal".

More recent "take offs" on TBWP are :

The Clerks Witch Project which exclaims "The truth is out there! .... Just don't believe it."

The Witch Files - exposing the many conspiracies behind TBWP.

So it looks like screams and eerie sounds and the thought of being in a secluded area are just what audiences want in todays cinematic experience, and with TBWP they get as much as they can stand and then they come back for more.

Watch out Hollywood, with your high-budget, blockbuster films. Your days could be numbered. TBWP could signal the beginning of new life for independent films.

Remember Steve in Houston? He went back a second time to see the film. But not alone! He took ten friends with him. When asked why he went to see the film the first time, he replied :

"Because MTV News was smart enough to run one of the scariest movie trailers I'd ever seen..."

CineScene© 1999