It is astonishing to me that another decent found footage horror film would not be made until Paranormal Activity in 2007. The Blair Witch Project became one of the highest grossing horror films, largely due to its low budget and its amazing advertising campaign.
Even though the film was released in 1999, it still holds up, I think. It still strikes fear into you. This film used a technique called “retroscripting”, where the actors were simply given an overview of what the filmmakers wanted out of the film and then off they went. The entire film is improvised, which is why the interactions between all the actors feel so genuine. This really helps to add to the fear. The actors in the film really do make you feel like you are watching the found footage of three people who died in the woods in Maryland. In fact, the actors, themselves, are the ones who controlled the cameras (unlike Paranormal Activity, where Oren Peli was doing the camera work).
Yes, this film is good at holding your attention. Yes, this film is a genuinely good psychological horror film. But, I firmly believe that this film would have been nothing had it not been for the amazing advertising campaign ahead of its release. I was only seven years old when this film was released, so I obviously was way too young to watch it. But, I do remember this film coming out. I remember my mother, a bonafide horror buff, being OUT OF HER MIND EXCITED about the release of this film. Leading all the way up to the release, the public was meant to believe that this was actual footage. That this film was real footage found in the woods in Maryland and then released. The internet was greatly used, this being one of the first films to have an advertising campaign that relied heavily on its website. And, holy shit, did that campaign work. The Blair Witch Project, which only cost $60,000 to make, made back, in total, $248 million. For that reason alone, I will always be surprised that it took a major studio 8 years to make (or pick-up rather) another low budget “found footage” horror film.
This film was one of the first of its kind. I say “one of” as not to negate the films Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and The Last Broadcast (1998), although their advertising campaigns were not as solid. Some (myself included) may point to this film as the beginning of the end for horror films, however. Not that this film is bad. As I stated above, it still does the trick and will scare the hell out of you. However, had this film not come out, would Paramount Pictures have ever picked up Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity? Would they have risked it? Would we have had the numerous sequels and prequels? Would films like The Devil Inside and Unfriended and The Gallows have ever made it to theaters? I’m not saying that all found footage horror films are bad. Cloverfield is AMAZING. And, the film Creep is fantastic (it’s still on Netflix. I highly recommend it). BUT, it feels like a new found footage film is being shoved down our throats every couple of months. It was rare for a long time to come across great horror films. Thankfully, it seems like we are moving back out of that, with films like It Follows, The Babadook, 10 Cloverfield Land, and Hush (also on Netflix. Watch it.)
What do you think about found footage horror films? Do you like them? Or do you think they’ve been played out?