The Blair Witch Project (1999)

1h 21m / R / Horror

iHorror.com, in partnership with Tampa Theatre, presents a special screening of The Blair Witch Project, with writer/director Dan Myrick hosting an audience Q&A LIVE on the Tampa Theatre stage after the film!

Most movies, after they’re released to theaters, simply disappear — maybe they make a few DVD sales or get a streaming contract, but a couple years later, nobody is talking about them. Very rarely, a movie becomes a fan favorite, or even a classic. One in every few thousand movies is truly influential. But sometimes a movie reconfigures the way an entire genre is envisioned, made, and promoted. Love it or hate it, The Blair Witch Project called into question what film could be.

The nature of its production would have been revolutionary enough on its own. The film stretched a tiny budget with largely improvised dialogue around a story outline, footage shot with handheld equipment largely controlled by the actors themselves (who sometimes didn’t know what they were filming or where they were going), and dozens of hours of film cut down to under 90 minutes to find the story in the edit room. The plot works because the meta-plot works: the audience is told they’re seeing raw footage from unprepared filmmakers who went into the woods to make a documentary about the legend of a murderous witch, which is actually kind of true. And an entire sub-genre of “found footage” faux-documentaries got launched on the back of The Blair Witch Project, which continues to thrill and scare (and render motion-sick) rapt audiences around the world. But just as revolutionary was the marketing around the movie, which persisted in the fiction that the film itself created: the actors were billed as “missing” or “deceased” and did no promotional work; the footage was said to have been found in the woods; creators Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez even filmed a companion project for the Sci-Fi Channel which claimed to tell the history of the Blair Witch mythology — which they had, of course, made up.

But even then, it’s more than the sum of its parts. From its explosion at Sundance to its record-breaking returns at the box office, The Blair Witch Project shook up Hollywood completely. A radical marketing plan that insisted the movie showed real events would only have worked with a movie that could conceivably pass as found footage; a movie that was improvised and felt like raw footage would only have attracted audiences with a wild, outside-the-box marketing plan. It was a blurring of fictional boundaries that can only be compared to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio drama; for the first time, the story didn’t really end when the lights came up in the cinema. Back then, audiences didn’t know what to believe about The Blair Witch Project and its stunning and mysterious ending. Of course, years and the Internet information fire-hose has left moviegoers a lot more jaded and skeptical than they were in 1999. As much successful art is, it’s a product of a place and time. But as a groundbreaking piece of work that debuted at exactly the right moment in history, The Blair Witch Project still stands as a completely sui generis horror classic, a union of creative ambition, originality and execution.

During his post-film discussion, Dan will share details about his new film SKYMAN, some of which will be shot locally with Tampa-based producer Joe Restaino and the iHorror team. Click here for more details about SKYMAN’s production.