"The Blair Witch Project"

The film isn't as scary the second time around, but its marketing still beats the devil.

By Jeff Stark

Published June 15, 2000 7:01PM (EDT)

"The Blair Witch Project"
Written, directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sénchez
Starring Joshua Leonard, Heather Donahue, Michael Williams
Artisan; original 4:3 aspect ratio
Extras: Director/producer commentary, "fake" documentary, more

The shoddy, hand-held-video quality of "The Blair Witch Project" gave the low-budget film the feeling of a poorly lighted fake snuff flick bootlegged on a third-generation videotape. With a 4:3 aspect ratio, it even looked like TV. On a television, without the distraction of a fidgety, popcorn-munching audience, the indie phenomenon should be even more at home in its medium -- and even scarier. Oddly enough, that's not the case. It might be for first-time home viewers, but for anyone familiar with the plot -- what happens, or more exactly what doesn't happen, to three student filmmakers lost in the woods of Burkittsville, Md. -- the novel filmmaking technique and eerie suspense can't carry a second viewing.

The DVD version compensates for the lack of thrills with a load of extras. When "The Blair Witch Project" first came out in theaters, the stories about how the directors made the film and the marketing were almost more fascinating than the film itself. The marketing succeeded on two levels. First, it created a remarkably long-lasting rumor that the film was actually a documentary. (A good six months after the film was released, Salon was still receiving clueless e-mails asking if the story was true.) Second, it invented an entire mythology and back story around the film -- pieces of folklore, news reports and phony missing-persons files -- much of which was featured on the "Blair Witch" Web site. Some of the pieces of that effort turn up here.

The audio commentary, featuring the directors and three of the film's producers, plays a bit like a boys club, with all five cracking jokes, pointing out flaws in the actor-shot cinematography and illuminating moments of filmic serendipity, such as how Joshua Leonard's bad camerawork actually made one of the actresses look even more spookily bizarre. It's talky and fun, if not exactly enlightening.

The one-hour Sci-Fi Channel special "Curse of the Blair Witch," however, is just boring. It's essentially a fake documentary about a fake documentary, but it's too self-consciously a parody, the kind where a filmmaking teacher sits in a director's chair and tells the camera that Heather Donahue was one of his most promising students. Moreover, the filmmaking feels like a low-budget creation trying to look upscale, which is a big difference from the gleefully low-rent movie. And the lore surrounding the film -- how many children were killed and by whom -- is certainly less interesting than the charged relationships between the filmmakers in the movie.

Also included in the package are one scene of canned footage, the trailers, some bios, a timeline and some irritating DVD-ROM features that demand too much attention every time you put the disc into your computer.

Jeff Stark

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

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