In spite of the fact John O will not allow us to borrow the Black Gate dirigible for a road trip (air trip?) out to the San Diego ComicCon, we followed all the many developments of last week from afar, with maniacal interest. After all, this is where we see what we have to look forward to on the entertainment front as we slog through another Midwest winter.
From world-class cosplay to the many celebrity appearances it was difficult to decide where to look first – unless of course you’re obsessed with a good horror movie, in which case the place to look was the many trailers which made their debut during the week.
We had glimpses of Justice League, Kong: Skull Island, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and a television-series version of The Exorcist starring Gina Davis, which actually looks pretty interesting if you don’t mind priests fighting demons with guns instead of holy water.
But an unexpected treat came in the form of the screening of an upcoming found-footage horror film called The Woods.
From what we are told, during the screening the posters for The Woods in the theater lobby were swapped out for ones simply titled Blair Witch, and audiences were informed that they were about to watch a direct sequel to the 1999 horror blockbuster that started the craze: The Blair Witch Project.
Blair Witch picks up years after the events of the first film when one of its characters discovers footage that appears to show Heather Donahue, his long-lost sister and lead character of the original film. When he and a group of friends set off into the Black Hills Forest to try and find out what happened to her, terror ensues.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Blair Witch was intended as a sequel of the original film from its inception, and is designed to reboot the franchise. Directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S, You’re Next), the film was shot last year in Canada under the working title The Woods. Its connections to the 1999 film were kept under extremely tight wraps — only a select group of people knew the true nature of the film they were shooting.
From the trailer, Blair Witch seems to stay true to the original’s much-copied formula: a mock-umentary pieced together from footage supposedly shot by a group of filmmakers investigating the Blair Witch legend. In this case, one of them is Heather Donahue’s younger brother. In fact, the trailer plays like a 1999 greatest-hits reel, echoing the original’s apology scene, the stick totems, and, of course, the abandoned house with handprints on the wall (and a corner to stand in).
What’s missing is the ultra-low-res production values that were part of the original’s charm. I suppose the difference can be chalked up to the fact that an iPhone looks better than the Hi8 camcorder used for much of the original; which I guess implies it’s a phone, not “footage” that is actually found.
The other big departure is the actors. The Blair Witch cast, though young, has fairly substantial acting resumes whereas the original trio of Heather, Josh and Mike (their real names were used) were literally stepping in front of the camera for the first time and their lack of acting chops made the tension and the building fear all the more believable. In fact, a delicious rumor circulated for a short time that The Blair Witch Project was “real,” fueled by the lack of recognition of the cast and the fact they stayed out of sight for some weeks after the film’s release.
The Blair Witch isn’t the first sequel to The Blair Witch Project; a sequel titled Book of Shadows was released in 2000 and largely departed from the found-footage style of the original. It was a “meh” at the box office and was panned by the critics, though I enjoyed it as a stand-alone horror movie. A third sequel was planned in 2009, but was eventually abandoned; perhaps because by then, it’s originality had long sense worn off.
Rebooting the franchise makes sense for Lionsgate, who bought Artisan Entertainment, which produced the original film. Found-footage horror films are incredible money makers for studios (i.e. Paranormal Activity 1-5), because they can be filmed relatively cheaply and tend to pay dividends at the box office. And The Blair Witch Project was the film that started the craze all those many years ago, earning a whopping $248 million worldwide on a $60,000 micro-budget.
Though I searched, I found not a whiff of any cameos by the original three actors, in spite of the direct references to Heather Donahue. I have Mike Williams’ contact information as I had the pleasure of meeting him and Heather at Days of the Dead in 2013, so I’m curious what they all think of this venture. At the time Heather had just followed her boyfriend into marijuana farming, way out in front of broader legalization. So I’m guessing she, at least, does not need the dough.
Stay tuned while I check in with Mike, and in the meantime check out the trailer.
Blair Witch will be released to theaters on September 16th.
Yes, we all agree – there’s nothing new in Hollywood, but you have to admit, the trailer is intriguing and though we’ll never again be fooled into believing in “found footage”, it’s still good for a scare if done right. Let’s hear what you think – post a comment or drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.