Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mommy, Mommy, the Blair Witch is coming to get me!

In 1999, a friend of mine who was an independent filmmaker told me about an exciting new horror film coming out soon: The Blair Witch Project. He didn’t know much about it except that it had generated a tremendous buzz. I rolled the name around my mouth. “Blair Witch” sounded like a kind of witch, as if there could be more than one kind of witch but this film was about a Blair witch; and then “Project” added a layer of complexity, an almost technological-sounding frame to contain and contextualize the Blair witch.

Then I went to the web site, which bore plain white words emerging from a black background:

“In October 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary.

“A year later their footage was found.”

Blair Witch Project, you had me at “footage.” What would the footage show? What would the footage show? I had to know. I devoured the web site. I read everything I could find about the movie. I talked to people about it, asked them what they knew, told them what I knew. I found out the release date and made plans for it. I was hooked, fascinated, obsessed.

Now, let me point out that I was not one of those people who fell for the movie’s marketing campaign, which was designed to make us all believe that the events of BWP really happened. I knew it was just a movie. But it was a movie that had uncannily extruded a filament of itself into the darkest recesses of my psyche. It had to do with the movie’s backstory (nicely chronologized on the web site) about Elly Kedward, the reputed witch of the title. The more I read and thought about the movie, the more real Elly seemed to me. Not that I actually thought she was real! I knew the movie was fake, the actors were only actors, etc. But Elly began to seem real to me. Her vengeful spirit, haunting the dark, cold woods outside the township of Blair, began to seem real. The blood coating the frozen midwinter earth started to seem real. I began to wonder if I should see the movie after all.

About a week before the movie came out, my wife left town for a few days on a business trip. That first night alone, as I lay in the dark trying to go to sleep, everything I’d read about BWP started to swirl around in my mind. I saw the woodcut that depicted Kedward being banished from the town of Blair on a dark winter day. I saw the scruffy young filmmakers out in the woods, perplexed looks on their faces. I saw the dead bodies on Coffin Rock. I saw the oddly runic, oddly human symbol formed by sticks tied together.

And, worst of all, I saw Elly Kedward. Not as she was depicted in the woodcut; that figure was just a blank-faced cipher in a cloak, seen from a distance. No, this was Elly Kedward as a dark, brooding female presence right there in the room with me. I felt her there, watching me. I’d open my eyes, and of course I would be alone; but as I would look around the dark room, I would wait in dread for a shape to coalesce out of the clot of shadows in a corner, or for a slim female silhouette to step through the bedroom doorway. I realized I was driving myself crazy by lying there with my eyes open trying to see something horrible, so I shut them, but the phantasmagoria inside my imagination was just as scary; and besides, if my eyes were closed, she could sneak up on me. So I opened them, until I couldn’t take it anymore, and I closed them, until I couldn’t take it anymore.

Sleepless night.

I got better sleep the next night, just because I was so exhausted from the night before. Then my wife came home, and somehow with her there I had no problems sleeping. Don’t ask me why. Nowhere in the BWP mythology is there a mention of a special power that spouses have against the witch. I guess having a large sleeping mammal in the same bed with you can do wonders to dispel the worst excesses of a hyperactive imagination.

When the movie came out, I enjoyed it thoroughly, although it was a bit of an anticlimax. How could it not be, after a buildup like that? But there was one moment in the film that made it all worthwhile. It was near the end, when Heather was filming her confession inside the tent. She’s crying, and her tears are glimmering in the light of the camera, and the snot is running out of her nose, and her reddened eyes cut away to the walls of the tent, and she says, sobbing, “I’m scared to close my eyes . . . and I’m scared to open them.”

Chills raced up and down my body. Somehow those filmmakers — and, for a film like BWP, I include the actors in that category — got to a place where they understood the deepest essence of fear. I think that’s what horror films are about, ultimately: fear. The central subject matter of a horror movie is the human experience of being afraid. And BWP tapped more deeply into that experience than most horror films ever do.

And that, my friends, is why I still love that film. That film rocks. Which is why I chose to write about it for the “Hey Internet, Stop Being Such Cynical Effing Douchebags Blog-a-Thon,” sponsored by Final Girl. I may be a nerd or a weirdo or whatever other negative name someone wants to call me, but at least I am not a cynical effing douchebag. Nor am I cynical. Nor am I a douchebag. The effing . . . I’ll get back to you on that one.


Stacie Ponder said...

People are divided into two groups: those who like Blair Witch, and jerks.


But really...I adore this movie. It absolutely scared the bejeesus out of me, and parts of it still do even though I know what to expect.

QOAT said...

There should be a third category of person...those who have not seen it yet. That would be me. I'm sorry, I really am a contributing member of the movie-going world. But really, I made time to see and be scared by The Ring, so why not this one? The filmmakers even came from my local university here (UCF)...I'm a looooser! OK, I'll rent it, watch it and report back.