Editorial: WHY IT’S TIME FOR ANOTHER BLAIR WITCH, Part 2

bw1The summer of the year that brought the 20th century to a close, for me, was a fantastic and exciting time. I had just celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday, I was living on my own in a semi-luxurious apartment and I was shamelessly indulging in the nightclub lifestyle – my weekends comprised of hitting disco after disco, losing myself in house music and coming home in the wee hours of the morning to suffer from massive hangovers later that day more than I care to remember. I had commemorated having been out of the closet for two years and I had also just taken up the pastime of re-familiarizing myself with 80’s slasher films, renting them from a still-operating mom-and-pop rental house in large numbers and watching them whenever a free moment presented itself. During a weekend outing to the local cinema in the fall of that same year to painfully sit through the romantic comedy HOME FRIES, a teaser trailer appeared as the lights dimmed that immediately and effectively captured my attention. The trailer was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and the images of a figure donning a beanie delivering a tear-drenched and mucus-soaked apology into a video camera was something that stayed with me long after I left the theater. That trailer was for the then-upcoming horror film, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. After that night, I heard nothing else about the film until while working for a local pest control company several months later, my friend Carol came to pick up her husband one afternoon and stopped by my desk holding a paperback book having to do with the film inquiring as to whether or not I knew about the movie or the legend surrounding the witch herself. We engaged in heavy conversation for about an hour, as she knew I was a sucker for fright films in general. I told her about the spooky teaser trailer I’d seen that night and she told me about the book she was reading and what she’d found on the Internet about the three missing filmmakers that were the core of the entire story and upcoming film. The more we engaged in conversation, the more curious I became and that nagging inquisitiveness turned into a benign obsession – thankfully. Around this time, the television spots for the film began invading prime time TV and while visiting a friend’s house with my kid brother, we became engrossed in the documentary THE CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel the night of July 11, 1999. I was taken prisoner by the story and the mythos surrounding the events that would be taking place in the film and I sat there absolutely mesmerized. From that night, I spent many, many hours at the public library – as the Internet was not as prolific and widely available then as it is today – reading countless articles, watching numerous on-camera interviews with Burkitsville police and town locals, trying to learn more and more before viewing the film itself when it premiered several weeks later on July 30. The idea of the film’s simple premise – Three kids go out into the woods to make a doco and never return but the footage they shot does – was something colorfully new for me. This would be the very first “found-footage” film (as this new and modern style of filmmaking would soon be dubbed) that I would ever lay eyes on as I had no idea about the two notorious independent movies preceding it that would eventually inspire it: 1980’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and THE LAST BROADCAST, which appeared just the year before.  Before I knew it, I – along with most of the nation – was suddenly ravenously hungry to find out what all the hoopla would boil down to once we all got to finally sit down in front of the final film itself.

 

The night that it was released in the U.S., I stood alone at the movie theater’s box office in the humid Texas heat having made the decision to watch it on my own as I wanted to experience it without any interruptions or intrusions. The line for tickets was out the door into the parking lot of the shopping mall the theater was located in. There was both an excitement and a tension that filled the air as everyone there was psyched to get inside. With everything I’d researched and had read over the course of the previous two weeks, I was ready to find out what happened to Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams. Yes, I – along with countless others – went into the theater with the impression that what I was about to lay eyes on was one-hundred percent real and that I was about to witness what really happened in the Black Hills forest. The film’s brilliant marketing strategy had us all tightly in its grasp, hypnotizing everyone into believing that this “found footage” was completely legitimate.  It made me tense and that’s exactly what I was wanting.  As the lights in the building faded to darkness and as the film began, there was a group of younger hooligans in this sold-out screening that were sitting toward the front of the theater guffawing and pointing at the screen, taunting the titular character of the film herself to “come and get them” and assuring that the entire group of us in attendance knew that they “weren’t scared”. Eighty-one frightening minutes later, after the terrifying and disturbing final scene tore the theater – and everyone in it –  to shreds, the screen went pitch black, and something happened that I will never forget: Everyone – including the loudmouth group of boys sitting down in front – was silent. No one uttered a single word as the low-frequency booms coming from the soundtrack echoed though the cinema. Nobody moved a muscle and nobody breathed. We all sat there motionless, having been paralyzed from fear. As the credits rolled, not one person stood up to leave the theater. As everyone looked around the room waiting to see who would be the first one to get up and leave, I remember sitting there with sweat upon my brow, my heart racing from what I had just seen. I had no intention of moving or stand up while at the same time, I wanted nothing more than to leave the theater as quickly as I could.  There was an indescribable anxiety that filled the room and after what felt like an eternity, the first person stood up to make for the exit. Others immediately followed suit, saying not a word to each other. I quickly joined them and made my way out of the theater, my heart racing faster than I could keep up with. I was disoriented and dizzy. The film had absolutely terrified me and being a horror fan, it takes a lot to inject me with crippling fear. I walked out of the cinema and as soon as I walked out through its front doors, I ran home as I lived only a few blocks away. I ran as fast as I could, scared out of my mind. Though I was thrilled that the film did what it set out to do, and it did it phenomenally, all I wanted at that moment was the safety of my bedroom. This little movie that was made on a micro-budget went on to not only change the face of filmmaking and the face of horror itself forever, but it brought about a new genre that is still alive and well to this day, much to the chagrin of horror fans everywhere. This is where it all started. This was its mainstream origin.

 

bw2Last spring, a teaser trailer appeared for THE WOODS, a new horror film being helmed by the team of Adam Wingard (most well-known for directing the TAPE 56 segment of V/H/S, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, and bestowing upon us the perfection known as YOU’RE NEXT) and partner/writer Simon Barrett. These two have taken their love of 70’s and 80’s horror films and have brought their own unique style and flair to the modern-day fright flick. Along with fellow contemporary directors Guillermo del Toro, Ti West, Alexadre Aja, and David Robert Mitchell, they all have managed to not only win over long-time horror fans, but recruit new ones as well.  The trailer itself is a frightening glimpse into what happens to a group of millennial twenty-somethings who wander into the forest at night and are accosted and tormented by a demonic presence. Yes, it sounds rather run-of-the-mill and yes, we’ve all seen trailers for horror films claiming to be “positively the most frightening film ever made” before even being exhibited in front of an audience. But there was something about the trailer – and the film’s fantastic one-sheet poster – that I honestly couldn’t quite put my finger on. If you’re a die-hard horror fan who hasn’t been hiding under a rock within the last few days, you’ve probably already gotten wind that Wingard’s completed film screened at San Diego’s Comic-Con this past Friday night. In what could probably be regarded as the best news horror fans have heard in years and the best twist by a major film studio, Lionsgate, who will be releasing the film to theaters, gave everyone in attendance the jarring shock of their lives: THE WOODS is, in actuality, a new and long-overdue sequel to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT! 17 years after it terrified us and robbed us of countless weeks of sleep – and 16 years after the horrible and easily forgettable sequel – fans of the original film, including myself, are screaming in total what-the-f*ckness, asking many questions including the most prolific ones of all: Why now? And why did we have to wait so long for this to happen (as the creators of the original have been talking about a sequel for almost fifteen years)?

 

One word: Nostalgia. If you take a brief moment and look around you, there is a wave of wistfulness that’s hit the country within the last few years. If you turn on the television, you will find two to three networks dedicated solely to broadcasting shows that were popular when our parents were children, and people are watching in massive numbers.  80’s TV-favorite FULL HOUSE received an overwhelming resurgence in popularity with its sequel series, FULLER HOUSE and Nickelodeon has even launched a sister channel, THE SPLAT, devoted to broadcasting cartoon series popular during the Clinton administration.  Recently, we’ve gotten big-screen adaptations of the beloved JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS, another entry in the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES series and the PEANUTS characters made a well-received return to theaters after a thirty-five year hiatus. THE MUPPETS and MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN had both big-screen and small-screen revivals, there’s been a huge embracing of the new STAR WARS film and this past weekend moviegoers were treated to another STAR TREK sequel. Classic video games are now more in demand than they ever have been with successful “flashback” editions of The Sega Genesis, the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision taking us back to our childhoods in American suburbia when mall culture was at its most prevalent (Nintendo has even made the announcement that they’re releasing a mini-replica of the original Nintendo Entertainment System coming in November).  Pokémon GO has proven to be a massive success here in America with fans that played the video games on their Game Boy and watched the series on television, re-launching the phenomenon that started back in the mid 1990’s, gaining new fans in the process. Within the last decade, there has been a landslide’s worth of horror – and mainstream – films that have been remade and released in hopes to get both the demographic who watched the original films when first released and new patrons who have only maybe heard of the source material to flock to theaters and make some money while doing it. We’ve had remakes and reboots of films from horror powerhouse franchises FRIDAY THE 13th and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET with new ones on the way. THE CURSE OF CHUCKY came and reminded us why we were afraid of that damned demonic doll in the first place and THE EVIL DEAD jogged our memories as to why it’s a bad idea to open books bound with barbed wire. Americans my age that lived through the eighties and nineties are clamoring for their childhoods and filmmakers are raking in the cash by tugging at our heartstrings and giving us those chances to re-live the days when we were happiest and when society lived in a much simpler time, free of the grip of modern technology.

 

BW3So where does the newly-announced BLAIR WITCH film fit in all of this? Lionsgate dropped the bomb at the perfect time in the midst of everything taking place that I’ve pointed out above, giving us that one piece of our collective 90’s memoirs that, until now, had yet to see the light of day. Fans of the original film have been desperately waiting for a proper sequel with the majority of us agreeing that 2000’s BOOK OF SHADOWS did nothing to enlighten us on anything that happened in the first film or give us any closure to the events that happened in its nightmare-inducing finale. Though the film was intended to end ambiguously, fans like me who had followed the mythology way before the film first screened felt a bit of resentment that we didn’t get all the answers we wanted when it came to its finale. Just what was there in the forest the night they were attacked? Why was Mike standing in the corner when Heather reached the basement? Were Mike and Josh both conspiring together to get revenge on Heather for putting them through the harrowing ordeal of being lost out in the woods? Who (or what) was really responsible for the events that happened at the film’s ultra-frightening climax? From what I’ve read, we may get answers to those questions that have been burning in our minds for almost two decades. That excites me more than anything and proves that the ghastly legend of Elly Kedward is still relevant in this day and age. We’ve been dreaming of one day getting another film and now our wish has finally been granted.

 

Furthermore, Lionsgate did a fantastic job at keeping the secret of THE WOODS under wraps for the last few years. When the first Blair Witch film was released, it was cleverly and effectively marketed as something thrilling and real that ended up being something it wasn’t and now we are getting a film that was intelligently marketed as something it wasn’t that ends up being something tangible and exciting. Wingard will be a household name after this film hits theatres and spreads like wildfire. Its success is clearly inevitable. The man is skilled in the art of horror and knows exactly what needs to be brought to the table to give longtime fans exactly what they want. The best part about the series’ return is that Eduardo Sanchez, co-director of the original, has taken a gander at the finished film and has given it both his blessing and seal of approval. We are hoping for genuine scares. We are hoping to finally know what really happened to the three filmmakers. And more than anything, we want to be taken back in time and feel like we’ve returned to 1999, preserving the essence of what made the original film a milestone in horror cinema. I am more than confident that director Wingard and writer Barrett are definitely the pair to trust with the job. What surprised me most with the announcement at Comic-Con was the film’s release date of September 16, a mere fifty-nine days away. Unlike, let’s say, the GHOSTBUSTERS re-boot which was announced way before its intended release, there will be no time for complaining, griping or spreading hate throughout horror fandom (the SUSPIRIA remake, anyone?). Her time is now and we are ready for her. With all of the imitative swill that has tried to capitalize on the monumental success of the original well into the 21st century, I would love nothing more than for this incarnation to be the mother of everything cinema verité – being so damn good, so damn frightening and so successful that it becomes the film that ends the long-exhausted trend once and for all – a symbolic last hurrah that brings the entire genre full circle. Welcome back, Blair Witch. We’ve missed you, girl.

Comments
2 Responses to “Editorial: WHY IT’S TIME FOR ANOTHER BLAIR WITCH, Part 2”
  1. Matt Garcia says:

    Leonel you are a master writer. This article is by far my favorite you have written. I only liked the first 15 minutes and the last 5 mintues of the original “Blair Witch.” Despite that fact I am so excited to see the new one. Especially after reading this article.

  2. vidville says:

    crap article.

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