The Mt. Rushmore of Horror Movies: The Blair Witch
The title credit of the Blair Witch Project is shaky, as if its a piece of black paper being held in front of a camera. The next screen tells us that the following is found footage of three missing filmmakers. The first shot from the film is zoomed in and out of focus and does nothing to cast doubt among the audience that this isn't the real thing. The tormentor and murderer of these three filmmakers spends the entirety of the film unseen, because what is unseen is far more terrifying and real to us than what is seen. This is the area where the Blair Witch operates.
The Blair Witch is a multifaceted villain. She serves as a murderous witch and also a demon who can possess others to do her bidding. The first quarter of the film plants the seeds through folklore, including the haunting "Make the next victim face the corner as the Blair Witch kills someone" bit. She uses good old fashioned witchcraft, from cairns to stick figures to symbols scrawled on the walls of an abandoned house. Her style of killing we don't actually see, although word is that she is fond of good old fashioned ritualistic murders and gutting.
The Blair Witch Project is not the first found footage film but it is the most famous. It is also the impetus for the explosion of the genre over the last two decades. Horror films are often criticized for wooden dialogue and goofy villains. Some horror films lose their suspense at the great reveal of the villain, as the minds in a film's art department or the CGI director are never as creative as the visions that take hold in the audiences own minds. Found footage films feel real. The lighting is poor, the sound muffled, the picture grainy, and the emotions of the terrified person holding the camera often felt genuine. The Blair Witch Projects influence reached even outside the horror genre into action (Cloverfield and End of Watch), Sci-FI (Europa) and superhero origin stories (Chronicle).
The first Paranormal Activity movie, on first viewing, was the most terrifying film I had ever seen, until the final shot(where it lost just a little of its fear). The film showed the things that we hear in the night and disregard as the wind, or just the creaks and groans of an old house. Following the arc of The Blair Witch Project, it follows the slow descent from amusement to terror before finally resulting in a possessed wife murdering her husband. Paranormal Activity churned out a series of films that, after the excellent third installment(impeccable use of the 80's home video format), were a general mockery of the genre. Yet at that point, found footage had become a fixture in the horror genre.
Sinister is not a found footage movie, but uses literally found footage as a key part of the plot and adds to some of the most graphic and disturbing visuals in modern horror films. American Horror Story's Roanoke season interspersed found footage with standard filmmaking to touch on virtually every horror element you can come up with when given the plot of "Couple with a disturbing past find a mansion for a screaming deal in the heart of Appalachia". As time goes on and movies evolve, it does not appear the influence of the Blair Witch will wane anytime soon.
The Blair Witch Drive in Totals:
Name: Blair Witch
Iconic Look: Unknown - may be hairy
Iconic Victim: Documentary film crews
Weapon of Choice: Magic
Body Count: 13
One on screen murder
One on screen corner standing
One off screen dismemberment
Reign of terror lasting over two centuries
Two awful sequels.