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The Blair Witch Project

The slasher/horror genre, first pioneered in such classics as Halloween back in the '70s, failed to gain any new innovations during the '90s, as most major releases relied on stale set-ups and shopworn clichés. In fact, the situation had become so bad that the best-performing fright-flick in recent years has been Wes Craven's Scream — a film that built a reputation and repeat-viewership with a wink-and-nod approach to its own worn-out mold. But the low-budget, high-thrills The Blair Witch Project became a 1999 box-office sensation (to the tune of $130 million), and for good reason — people just love to have the shit scared out of them, which Blair Witch manages to do very, very effectively. Refusing to journey trails that others have already blazed, Blair Witch co-scenarists/directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez decided to cook up a good old-fashioned ghost story that doesn't rely on cheap shocks, gore, or buckets of blood, but instead gradually moves from a familiar world to unfamiliar surroundings, deftly supplanting notions of power and security with emotions of helplessness and scared-out-of-your-wits fear. In the process, Myrick and Sanchez also did something that rarely happens in the motion-picture industry nowadays — they made a film that is authentically original. The Blair Witch Project is worth seeing simply because there is no other cinematic experience like it. Detailing the events of three student filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Josh Leonard) who enter the woods of Maryland in search of the "mythical" Blair Witch — only never to return or be seen again — the directors broached the concept of method acting like an arsonist who discovers a stray can of gasoline on a hot summer day. Rather than fashion a shooting script and let everybody look at it, Myrick and Sanchez sent their three charges into the woods — with genuine (and heavy) film equipment strapped to their backs — and then subjected them to the elements, a dwindling supply of food and smokes, and lots of things that go bump in the night (courtesy of the crew, who kept as close to the actors as possible while remaining unseen). With only the barest of notes to go on, and never aware of what their colleagues will do, Donahue, Williams, and Leonard deliver perfect performances that rarely strike a false note, leading up to a terrifying final sequence that should be watched with the lights on (that is, if you intend to get a good night's sleep). Artisan's DVD release of The Blair Witch Project is a feature-packed feast, with a solid transfer of the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio within a matted overlay to preserve the rounded-off corners of the print. Audio is in the original Dolby Surround 2.0, and extras include a commentary with Myrick, Sanchez, and members of their crew; the 44-minute "documentary" Curse of the Blair Witch; a deleted scene; a textual supplement on the history of the Blair Witch legend; cast and crew notes; and DVD-ROM content that offers access to the Blair Witch website and many goodies contained therein.
—JJB



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