As much as I love film, I often don’t care very much about how films are made. In certain cases, I actively don’t want to know for fear their illusions will crumble (there are things I’ve learned about 2001: A Space Odyssey I wished I hadn’t). As it is in so many circumstances, The Blair Witch Project is an exception. It casts a spell of realism no making-of account can break, and there is nearly as much creepy atmosphere in the behind-the-scenes machinations as there is on the screen. Heather, Mike, and Josh weren’t just playing the roles of scared, hungry, weary, irritable souls adrift in the woods; they really lived those roles over the course of the film’s seven-day shoot. I also believe that analysis is particularly necessary when dealing with Blair Witch because so many viewers don’t get why it wields such power over other viewers. Such analysis is pretty unnecessary when it comes to a film like The Exorcist. There’s a terrifying-looking little girl doing terrifying and unspeakable things under the sway of Satan. There is nothing remotely so explicit in Blair Witch. For the film’s numerous detractors, there’s nothing in it at all. We never see a witch. We never see anyone do anything more horrible than bickering or confessing to kicking a map into a creek. A film of such ambiguity is destined to leave a lot of people cold, and even though they probably won’t do a turnaround after reading an explanation of why other people think it’s scary, they might still want to understand why.
This is all to explain why The Blair Witch Project is such a necessary installment of the Devil’s Advocates horror film studies series. Author Peter Turner does justice to the film by covering as many of the necessary points as he can in the slim page count the strictures of this mini-book series allowed him. He traces the origins of its unique storytelling device further back than the usual Cannibal Holocaust starting point, going back to epistolary Gothic novels, Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast, and the first-person pov noir Lady in the Lake. Then he spends the majority of his pages on the making of and analysis. For fans of the film, the latter will be fairly self-evident: Blair Witch draws its powers from the fear of the unknown and the empathy its first-person camera perspectives create. More intriguingly, Turner also gets into how the film contrasts the more typical misogyny of slasher films yet is still guilty of that crime in other ways and how the cameras’ constant presence both increases and decreases the illusion of reality.
The most common problem with mini-books like this is the author either has trouble filling the pages discussing such a limited topic or fails to cover that topic when so few pages are at his/her disposal. I could have read another 200 pages on how The Blair Witch Project was made, and I think there is a great book on that subject still waiting to be written, but Turner still manages to make excellent use of his 83, allotting enough space for the film’s unique origins, creation, meaning, marketing, and legacy to satisfy.
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