Blair Witch

I have a certain love for bad movies. I don’t know if started with watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 late night way back in the day, but there is a certain joy that comes from watching a bad movie. But every once in a while, I come across a movie so bad, I have to question its reason for existing. For a long time, the worst movie I had ever seen was called Time Chasers, a movie from 1994 that looks like it could’ve been made in 1979. Astonishingly terrible. However, some years down the road, that throne was vacated to make way for a horrible little film called Ultraviolet starring Mila Jovovich. Now, I know a lot of people seem to love that movie, but to this day, it’s still the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Manos: The Hands of Fate. If you’ve never heard of Manos: The Hands of Fate, the fact that manos is Spanish for hands should tell you everything you need to know about the movie. I still remember the night I saw Ultraviolet. When it was done, my friend said he was going to chuck that DVD out his Jeep window on his way home. I quickly replied, “Don’t do that. Some little kid might find it.” I just couldn’t bear the thought of some poor kid sitting through that movie. My friend made sure to destroy that disc.

Now, it being October, I love to sit down and watch horror movies. Earlier this month, I sat down and watched both Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky much to my delight. Let me just say that if you want to watch a good horror flick this year, might I recommend Curse of Chucky. They took a step back from the comedy of the previous two and made a great horror movie with a legitimately creepy Chucky. Anyhow, back on topic. Last year, a new Blair Witch movie came out and judging from the trailers, it was going to be good. I saw the original The Blair Witch Project in theaters back when it first came out and found it to be a great movie. I know some people didn’t like it, but considering that it was in a way the first of its kind, I delighted in every bit of it. This movie was made extra creepy by the fact that me and my best friend watched on a dark and stormy night. My friend’s dad taking us back home took a wrong turn and accidentally drove us through a cemetery and into the woods where we were eventually stopped by a road closed barricade. Though we had our suspicions, his dad swears he wasn’t messing with us and he just turned too early because of the fog.

A few years later, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows came out staring Jeffrey Donovan who would later go on to star in Burn Notice; a show so much better than this movie that you honestly for get he starred in it. While people generally seemed to dislike Blair Witch 2, I rather enjoyed it despite the acting. It had a great premise in which it basically pretended the first film didn’t happen. Yes, that’s right. Instead, the first movie was a movie and the plot of this movie is there are a group of people who are studying the mythology of the movie. Crazy stuff happens and it turns out that the Blair Witch is real. I understand the criticisms of this movie, but I appreciate the path that they took for the sequel. I’m glad they decided to go the traditional horror movie route instead of another found footage movie because how much belief would you be able to suspend with a second found footage movie about the same thing. Yes it was cheesy. Yes the acting was bad. But at least it understood what it was trying to be, which is much more than I can say for the third one.

When I saw the trailers for a new Blair Witch movie last year that got back to the basics, it looked promising. The brother of one of the people from the original film now 24 years old looking for his sister was a very cool hook and a reasonable way to try to pull the found footage thing again. This movie also pretends like the second movie didn’t happen (or at least it doesn’t address it). Very early on in the movie, it seemed so promising. It wastes no time in showing you all the cool modern high-tech gadgetry it would be employing to capture the footage from camera headsets, to drones, to GPS tracking. There was so much potential in this movie and the people making it had no idea what to do with it. Unfortunately, all the cool tech that should’ve made the movie better, made the movie worse. In what should’ve re-enforced the horror, the gadgets only made it difficult to suspend disbelief.

I’m going to get this out of the way right now. The movie automatically assumes everyone watching it doesn’t understand technology. The movie came out in 2016, but claims to take place 20 years after the original, so that would but this setting in 2014. MicroSD cards would’ve commonly been at about 128GB max (there may have been some 256GB out there, but I shudder to think of how expensive they would’ve been), yet everything is clearly in high-definition. They must’ve been changing out memory cards constantly, to say nothing of charging those video headsets.

And then you’ve got the extra camera functions such as the deer cams, the drones, the headset cameras that capture everything. One of the great things about The Blair Witch Project is you never saw anything. You’re left to your own devices to imagine what’s going on. Not so much with this one. You see it all and it’s all bad. Gash on the foot? Gash spasms cartoonishly. Stick figures connected to people some way. Break stick and kill person on camera cartoonishly. Movie about a Blair Witch? Show the cartoonishly large Blair Witch. In fact, just about every single thing that was creepy in the original was cartoonish in this one. It shows too much and it shows it badly.

One of the things that made the original movie so great was the acting, or lack thereof. Much of the movie was ad-libbed, so things didn’t feel rehearsed. Also, the crew in the original movie legitimately harassed the people in the movie in ways to make them terrified, so the fear you’re seeing in that movie is real. Yet in this new one, you can feel the acting. Everything thing feels so rehearsed that it’s painful. Nothing feel genuine. Now, you can talk all you want about the bad acting in Blair Witch 2, but here’s the thing, it wasn’t a found footage film. Acting in a found footage films should never ever feel like acting. Ever. Bad acting can get a pass in a standard movie, but not in a film in which the entire premise is to purport to be real, stated or not.

When you pull everything together, it’s like it was trying to be a big budget Hollywood blockbuster with an identity crisis, as though it was under the impression it was a found footage film. Now, I realize movies like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, and The Blair Witch Project are all huge Hollywood successes using the found footage premise, but my problem with Blair Witch is that it feels like it was actually filmed like a Hollywood blockbuster. Most of it doesn’t feel remotely like found footage at all. Because of this, it rips you out of any immersion that was potentially there. Watching Blair Witch, I was bored the entire way through. While I wouldn’t call this the worst movie I’ve ever seen (no one can dethrone you, Ultraviolet), it is one of the stupidest. After this was over, I watched a sixteen minute foreign film called Banana Motherfucker about demon possessed bananas impaling people and honestly, it was a much better movie.

If Blair Witch 4 happens, I think it best that it make like the previous two sequels and pretend the most recent one didn’t happen.

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Reverting back to VHS

For the most part, the switch from analog to digital for movies has been a success. In most cases, the superior picture and sound quality make for a far better experience. Sure, there are a few cases where the poor quality of VHS is better for the experience, usually in low budget horror movies where a cleaned up digital version can suck all the horror out of it. But one thing  the switch to digital that was really fantastic was bonus features.

Remember when DVDs came out and there was a menu full of cool extras like a trailers, interviews, and etc. that you could jump to at anytime? It really made spending twenty dollars on a movie worth it. VHS rarely had extras and if it did, you had to fast forward to the end of the movie to watch them, perhaps further if you were looking for a very specific one. Because of this, more people built up huge collections of DVD and Blu-Ray movies than did those who did the same with VHS. So when digital streaming and download started becoming more prevalent in recent years, you’d think it would carry on the fine tradition of DVD and Blu-Ray. Except it didn’t.

For some strange reason, the switch to a purely digital format took step backwards to the days of the VHS cassette. Imagine my surprise when I bought my first fully digital movie with bonus features unable to find anyway to access them, only to discover that to watch them, I had to wait until the movie finished. This is not just once isolated incident, however, as it seems to be the common game for online movies. How is it in a day of instant access, the extras are hidden at the very end? And if you wish to view these extras without watching the movie, you are bound to fast forward and rewind to access it, as even the chapter skip that was standard in DVD and Blu-Ray is often not to be found. I can’t imagine how much a pain it would be if commentary was a bonus feature. This poor implementation is perhaps the thing that shall keep Blu-Ray alive (for me at least) just a little bit longer.