Halloween Treat: Blair Witch Project Storyboards & Other Scary Stuff

Halloween is one of those holidays that gradually loses its appeal over time. Eventually, most of us get too old to eat bagfuls of candy without getting sick and too lazy to work up costumes that will only be worn once.
But the holiday does retain one amusing quality, decade after decade: it has the power to make certain adults afraid of the ghosts, goblins, witches and other apparitions that even a half-bright six year old should know are only pretend.  Here's Pat Robertson, who certainly looks old enough to know better, fretting over what he calls "Satan's Night:"

That's okay; I didn't watch the whole thing either.

Pat Robertson is what happens when you take the collected writings of a bunch of superstitious people from ancient times as the infallible Word of God; everything in this world has to fit into this magical tale, even if you have to bend it and break off pieces to make it fit.  You end up carrying around an elaborate fairy tale in your head and assigning meaning to everything you encounter based not on the thing itself, but on how you think it might fit into that tale.  Next thing you know, you think Halloween candy is evil and Haitian earthquakes happen because God is angry at people who died in 1785.

Science is about letting reality speak for itself; when you encounter something new and unknown in this world, do you ask questions, examine it, try to figure out what it is and what it means based on its own inherent properties? Or do you try to find its place in a story you're already carrying around and assign it meaning derived from that story?

These are two very different ways of approaching the unknown; one says "this is interesting. What is this?" The other says "OH MY GOD IT'S __________! WE MUST FLEE!

Which brings me to The Blair Witch Project. If ever a movie was constructed to test which way you approach the unknown, it's the 1999 cinema verite classic that set box office records for profit margin. From reading hundreds of reviews, I would guess that roughly half the people who saw it found it terrifying, in part because it left so much to the imagination, and half found it not frightening in the least, mostly because there wasn't anything out there. 

I was one of the latter. I found myself trying to figure out what all that crap they saw and heard in the woods actually was, while others assumed everything was related to the ghost stories and witch tales they heard at the beginning of the movie.

In fact, those ghost stories you hear in the beginning are so disjointed, unconnected and obviously apocryphal, and the things the characters find in the woods so vague and ambiguous, that I could only assume that it was the whole point of the movie. Can you take a half-assed bunch of stories, construct a coherent narrative out of them, carry it around and hold it together long enough to create terrifying meaning out of say, a pile of rocks? Or do you dismiss those stories as incoherent and therefore not helpful, and proceed to examine each new object or sound as closely as possible and try to figure out what the hell it is?

My favorite example of the Rorschach quality of this film is the mysterious "package" that Heather finds outside the tent in the morning after Josh goes missing. Reviewers saw everything in there from Josh's tongue to his finger to his intestines; I paused the DVD and examined the thing for half an hour and still couldn't figure out what it was.  Turns out, the actual prop was made out of hair, false teeth, and some other random garbage.

What people saw depended on which part of the backstory they chose to apply.

And now, as promised, your Halloween treat: the Blair Witch Project as I saw it, in the form of storyboards that feature various Kens & Barbies and which probably cost more to make than the damn movie.

Some Facts About The Blair Witch Project:

1. The original film reportedly cost $35,000 to make and generated revenues that have exceeded $248 million, a profit margin that only a shoe company wouldn't envy.

2. The film was made to simulate a home video, as though it was unscripted and shot by amateurs using an inexpensive hand-held camera; this effect was cleverly achieved by having it shot unscripted by amateurs using an inexpensive hand-held camera.

3. Although the unsteady camera work gave some in the audience headaches, it did succeed in making others nauseous.

4. The viral ad campaign led many to believe that they were watching actual footage shot by young people who, tragically, were never found.  Most viewers, however, believed that there was nothing tragic about that at all.

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