The Blair which project? The Blair *Witch* Project! That’s what we’re talking bout in episode 30 of We Have Such Films To Show You, and it turns out that it’s a film that still holds up pretty well 15 years on.
So what’s the skinny on a film that got famous as much as anything for having no good reason to have expected to get famous? Blair Witch looks like an indie film project — tiny cast, no sets, no recognizable names, not much of a plot or sense of direction — but it’s a really *good* one. So much is done well in terms of economical horror filmmaking here, from exploiting poor or no picture to using smart, sparing sound design, to letting the fundamental discomfort of disorientation and interpersonal emotional tension do the work of putting viewers on edge.
It’s not a film that stands up well to close rational scrutiny, but it’s not the sort of horror film that’s operates under the pretense it could. It’s just creepy and doomed from start to finish, a slow cranking burn through fear of the dark and the sense of having gotten in way, way over one’s head.
Also interesting, for a film that deserves a lot of credit for being a guiding light to the explosion of found footage horror that’s followed in the last fifteen years, it what it doesn’t have: nowhere in this film do we see the now almost obligatory-feeling use of camera-POV sexual exploitation of one character by another, things that are between hinted at and blatantly leaned on in everything from Paranormal Activity to V/H/S. Blair Witch didn’t even glance in that direction, and didn’t need to.
We talk a bit about what worked most and least for each of us (Yakov was genuinely scared watching it again, Josh was engaged with the film’s narrative and style but found the strong memory of most of the twists robbed it of actual scares for him on revisiting), and also come up with a few questionable theories about the metanarrative of the film, including a discussion of, as usual, the question of who the editor of this footage would have been if the viewer takes at face value the idea that this is supposed to be an assembled artifact within the film’s universe, especially given that a notional edit of the Blair Witch footage would have required among other things a lot of painstaking matching of soundless 16mm film to DAT audio recorded independently out of syc.
Highlights of a couple of those theories:
1. Heather, the lead woman in the film, is of the same possessed-by-a-film-auteur-demon ilk as Josh theorized Katie from Paranormal Activity was; we don’t see Heather die on camera, because she doesn’t, because she was planning The Blair Witch Project film itself as her real film project, and her pointedly crappy documentary-within-the-film was just an excuse to lure Josh (film-Josh, no relation) and Mike into the woods to kill them off.
2. The Blair Witch Project is not meant to be a literal edited film, but a metaphorical projection of the narrative arc of memories of some Maryland police officer who was tasked with reviewing the footage. He or she sits through twenty, thirty, forty hours of camcorder and developed 16mm film and DAT audio, trying to piece things together, and what we’re looking at and listening to is a semi-cohesive representation of the resulting nightmares said officer had over the next several weeks, months, years of their life, so traumatized were they by the force of the total footage and the grisly circumstances.
Also we got off on a tangent near the end about the current trend of retro-console graphics — 8bit and 16bit Nintendo/Saga pixel art games — and whether there will ever be a similar strong, faithful retro movement to recreate the shitty low-poly-count, low-res texture aesthetic of the earliest 3D console releases for e.g. Nintendo 64 and the original Playstation. Why? Who knows! Maybe because the Playstation game Silent Hill was based in part on Kindergarten Cop? That’s a reason, sure.
And that’s that for this episode! Thanks for listening, see you next time.
That’s right, this double-fortnight we’re talking about the 2007 franchise-spawning indie found footage film about a man haunted by his douchebaggery and a woman haunted by actually literally being haunted.
We talk about the found footage aesthetic, the mechanical/framing quirks of a movie that depends for a significant portion of its length on a single static repeated shot, the legacy of Blair Witch Project and the general found footage/fake documentary genre, the weird bits and pieces that didn’t make the official release, and a lot of other little things.
We also talk about the pressure of plot on characterization — essentially, the idea that Micah is such a dull unlikeable douchenozzle and Katie so tolerant of said dullness and douchenozzlerly not so much because it’s great for the characters or the story but because it was a workable way to justify things continuing down the path the film required.
And we hash out a few theories:
1. Katie was possessed the whole time, which is why she put up with Micah’s bullshit; it was a long con by the demon.
2. Micah’s stubborn insistence on filming and apparent disinterest in involving others in the situation is a metaphorical critique of the auteur approach to film-making, which would ironically have been more appropriate had the film itself been worse.
3. The demon is the filmmaker, in a literal sense: it isn’t just interested in crossing over or inhabiting Katie, it’s specifically enthusiastic about breaking into the indie horror film industry and sees filming a convoluted snuff documentary as its big break. Katie is the assistant editor, putting together a secret rough edit every time she’s off camera at the demon’s behest; the film we see is entirely that work, with the final scene being something Katie then slapped onto her running edit and made obvious for the San Diego PD to find.
All in all, we both liked it a lot and thought it was good for a scare. And it got us pretty jazzed to touch a little more on found footage, so next fortnight we’re going back to that OTHER hugely-grossing zero-budget indie flick: we’ll be covering The Blair Witch Project in all its trend-starting glory.
Don’t call it a comeback! Call it the apocalypse. Also download it here.
After a brief glitch we are back with Episode 28, in which we cover the third part of John Carpenter’s thematically-linked Apocalypse Trilogy: In The Mouth of Madness starring John Trent Sam Neill at his scenery-chewing best.
The film repeatedly veers into metafiction, and boy do we get into that. Considering the central conceit of the movie is that the events we watch are the product of possibly-middling-but-inspired author Sutter Cane, it’s hard to draw the line between the film representing schlocky horror writing, and the film simply being schlocky horror writing. Carpenter, of course, leaves the answer up to us.
Technically, the movie is fun to watch: canted angles abound, acting regularly veers into expressionism: one character appears to have simply wandered off the set of the Re-Animator. The effects, while not at the level of the virtuosic visuals in The Thing are a thrill. The moment where the possessed Styles steps out from the crashed car is Carpenter and his crew bringing their a-game. This animated GIF does not do it justice.
And, of course, this is the single most overtly Lovecraftian film Carpenter has made. References to Lovecraft are everywhere, from Sutter Cane’s story titles, to characters’ names, to the cosmic horror cosmology dictating that beyond this veil there is no god, but something far, far more terrifying. Interestingly, Sutter Cane himself is not the anemic recluse most of us think of when we think of the man H.P. Lovecraft. Rather, he is charming and self-assured. And, sadly, quite underused.
It’s a thoroughly Carpenterian? Carpenternal? Carpentric. Let’s go with “it’s a thoroughly Carpentric film”. There’s a lot in here that resonates with what we talked about a couple episodes ago regarding his 1982 film, The Thing; they’re very much contemporary films by the same director, for better and for worse, and unfortunately Prince of Darkness as a whole is a bit worse despite having a lot of charm to it.
We talk a lot about the dialogue, probably the weakest major component of the film, and also about the effects, which are by and large strong and distinctively Carpentastic (though Josh was wildly underwhelmed by the choice of “pee from your mouth into someone else’s mouth” as the repeated vector-of-badness-transmission effect). We also contrast some of the storytelling decisions that worked and didn’t with what was going on in The Thing; notably, Prince of Darkness maintains the isolated, close-quarters plot mechanic but eliminates the distrust and paranoia at the core of the Antarctic story, leaving us with rather clearly marked Good Guys and Bad Guys butting heads.
And our heroes! Boy oh gosh, this movie’s leading man is a creepy sexist stalker jerkwad. It’s not clear how much so that was intentional and how much was 1987 and how much was John Carpenter’s personal view of the world, but it’s hard to get behind a guy and his love plot when he comes off as such a skeeze. But the whole cast is a little bit unlikeable; again, the dialogue is part of the problem here, but it also felt like in at least a couple cases some helpful establishing/exposition scenes might have been cut that would have helped a bit with both characterization and narrative cohesion.
All of which is a shame because the core gimmick of the film — a group of academics grappling with the discovery that “Satan” is something older and stranger and more corporeal than contemporary religious posits — is a really interesting one, and felt a little underdeveloped while some unnecessary dialogue and monster-fight hijinks could well have been cut to make room for it. Still, the film takes some the idea in some interesting directions when it can manage to stop staring lovingly at Stalker McGee’s mustache.
In a couple episodes, we’ll tackle the third film in the Johnadict Carpenbatch Apocalypse Trilogy, In the Mouth of Madness, but next fortnight we’ll take a break and look at 1979’s Margot Kidder classic, The Amityville Horror. Will Superman appear in the nick of time? PROBABLY!
This fortnight, we cover two films: 1951’s (apparently) seminal and lauded The Thing From Another World and 2011’s The Thing, which is simultaneously a prequel to and remake of Carpenter’s film. Both are, as Carpenter’s film from last episode, based more or less on the 1938 short story “Who Goes There” (Josh actually read it, Yakov read [most of] the comic.) The former film hasn’t aged well. The later hasn’t aged … yet, I guess. And there’s plenty to talk about; if you’d like you can grab the MP3 file directly here.
The Thing From Another World has all the embarrassing hallmarks of 1950 filmmaking: complete tonal confusion? Check. Weird gender dynamics with uncomfortable undertones? Mhmm. Effeminate foreign villain? Yup. You betcha. Acting of only a slightly higher caliber than an unenthusiastic table read? Oh yeah! And while the movie eschews almost everything interesting about the story, it’s all bad; there’s a lot in this movie that eventually finds itself iterated and improved upon in both science fiction and horror film. In a lot of ways, The Thing From Another World is much more of an Alien movie than it is a Thing movie.
2011’s confusingly titled The Thing follows the Norwegian crew in a series of events that leave us with the most hirsute last girl in horror film history. Of all things, the film takes the (unnecessary and not-in-the-original-story) villain from the ‘51 film although it lends him a little more moral ambiguity in the process. Not wanting to step on Carpenter’s toes, the film gives us an Ellen Ripley-type character rather than a new MacReady. Meanwhile, someone on the Academy Award-winning (albeit not for this film) FX team really, really liked the fact that a torso turned into a mouth, because every thing in the film has one. But, generally, this is a fun flick. A fun flick with an ending completely altered ending.
See, there was supposed to big a big reveal (redundant spoiler alert) that the ship which crashed into Antarctica 100,000 years ago didn’t belong to the Thing. Rather, it took over the form of whatever sort of aliens piloted the ship. And at the end of this film, we were supposed to see said aliens in a very Space Jockey (from Alien) capacity. Instead we get some sort of weird 3D Tetris effect that never gets explained. Ah, well. So, enjoy the new episode and we’ll see you next fortnight!