Whether you have actually seen it or not, The Blair Witch Project (1999) may be one of the most recognizable horror movies in the genre—and we may never see another movie quite like it again, or at least one that will draw as much panic and disturbance the way this movie did. As the trailblazer for “found footage,” an entirely new subgenre of horror at the time, countless replicas of this iconic movie started to come out of the woodwork. How many times have we seen opening credits scrawled with “this really happened” or occult runes and symbols strewn across our screens? Granted, The Blair Witch Project didn’t create these classic gimmicks, but they were able to perfectly weave them together and create enough hype around the “truth” behind their story to make it a legend in horror.
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Taking advantage of the early internet, when we barely had broadband (let alone social media) and everyone still believed everything they read online, the team behind this movie set up one of the best marketing campaigns to date. Months before the filming had even began, the moviemakers pushed out missing persons reports from Frederick County Sheriff’s Department using the real names of the college-aged film crew, but it didn’t stop there. Creators Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez also released countless fake news clips, websites, newspaper reports, and interviews building up a stir around the alleged missing students that set off to the woods for their documentary—and it worked.
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Moviegoers filled theatres around the country to see what they thought was a documentary on the disappearance of these young men and woman. Filmed on a handheld camera, the lack of music, script, film crew, and special effects made the movie all the more convincing. In fact, the entire production cost under $60,000, and considering that the movie grossed $249 million in the box office, the hype around The Blair Witch Project made it one of the most successful indie movies of all time.
While more recent movies like the Paranormal Activity (2007-2015) series, Cloverfield (2008), and Chronicle (2012) are its direct successors, these movies (along with countless others) are riddled with inspiration from The Blair Witch Project.
Michael C. Williams in The Blair Witch Project (1999)
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Unfortunately, due to the lack of faith we have in the validity of the internet, as well as the news in general, a phenomenon like The Blair Witch Project may never happen again. Though since the veracity behind the movie was disproved and the marketing campaign was revealed, this tactic of promotion was adopted by Blair Witch successor Paranormal Activity and even in big-budget blockbusters like The Dark Knight (2008). Though this approach to marketing has evolved and the reach goes much further nowadays, The Blair Witch Project has left its mark on the movie industry forever.
The Blair Witch Project is returning to select Regal theatres this Friday, October 25th.