Fear The Found Footage
The Blair Witch Project arguably created the found footage genre when it was released back in 1999. Telling the tale of a bunch of students striding out into the Maryland woodlands, the film offered audiences a new way of experiencing terror from the point of view of those being subjected to it, and they lapped it up. Now, the franchise is back with a bang in, well, Blair Witch, a Force Awakens to the original’s still terrifying A New Hope. With Blair Witch arriving on Blu-ray and DVD from January 23rd, what better opportunity to look at some of the terrors the original film has inspired: Of course there are examples of the ‘found footage’ style of filmmaking that preceded the 1999 classic such as 1998s The Last Broadcast, but when people think of ‘found footage’ a.k.a. documentary style films, they normally hard back to the wonders of The Blair Witch Project.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Okay, I know I just said The Blair Witch Project created the genre, but only in as much as Halloween created the stalk’n’slash (when actually, Black Christmas pipped it to the post but didn’t take off in quite the same way), but Cannibal Holocaust pre-dates the woods in Burkittsville by nearly 20 years. The tale of an attempt to recover reels of film from shot by a documentary crew is replete with nastiness – so much so that the director was briefly charged with murder – so it’s pleasing to see the genre took a more acceptable turn as years went by.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The granddaddy of them all, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick’s instant classic follows three filmmaking students (all loosely playing themselves) who venture into woodland in search of the legendary Blair Witch. The footage – supposedly found weeks later – shows that as they become hopelessly lost and seemingly tormented by an unseen force, things begin to unravel in fairly spectacular fashion (who can forget snot-cam?). The final ten minutes of the film remain truly, truly terrifying, with the film being an exercise in ‘less is more’ as much as it is a pioneer for a new genre.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
As Hollywood was peddling Scream rip-offs around the time Blair Witch came out, it was a surprising amount of time before another found footage saga hit the big time. Paranormal Activity, though, didn’t so much replicate the beats of its influencer as create a behemoth all of its own. Charting the story of a couple tormented by a malevolent poltergeist, the film also starred unknowns but mixed the creeping terror of Blair Witch with some seriously effective jump scares and cleverly un-showy special effects, launching a franchise of its own (of admittedly variable quality).
You can trust, it seems, JJ Abrams to up the stakes whenever he’s given the opportunity to, with no better example than Cloverfield, which tore up the found footage rule book and created a sci-fi monster epic shot entirely at ground level. Told from the point of view of guests at a farewell party, Cloverfield starts softly before it becomes blindingly apparent that a monster the size of a skyscraper is wreaking havoc in New York City.
Troll Hunter (2010)
A distant cousin of Cloverfield, Troll Hunter is another found footage monster epic, although this time the fantasy elements are ramped up in the snowy wilds of Scandinavia and an entire mythology is wrapped up in the found footage shocks (and laughs). So far so familiar as a bunch of students arrive to learn more about a legendary Norwegian bear hunter, but cue hilarity and terror in equal measure as it becomes apparent this hunter doesn’t hunt bears, but storey-high trolls who aren’t pleased about it at all.
Blair Witch (2016)
A direct sequel to the original film (and circumnavigating the ill-received Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows), Blair Witch comes from the genius mind of Adam Wingard, flying high after hits such as You’re Next (re-inventing the slasher pic) and The Guest (re-inventing the John Carpenter film). The brother of Heather from the original film finds himself drawn to the same woodland she disappeared in but in the 20 years since that time the good old Blair Witch has got even more dangerous and the terror witnessed first time round is ramped up to eleven. The film also serves as a sobering lesson to those who through drone cams were a good idea. An instant classic.
Blair Witch is available on Blu-ray and DVD from January 23rd alongside a box set with the original Blair Witch Project. The film is available digitally now.