Shot on video by its lead actors, and largely improvised, The Blair Witch Project looks like a student film. Yet not since Easy Rider (1969) has an independent film caused so many shock waves in Hollywood.
Astute internet marketing propelled this quirky Sundance favourite into the mainstream. Made in just eight days for a mere $30,000, it earned more than $100 million in the month following its release.
Film students Heather, Josh and Michael are making a documentary in and around Burkittsville, Maryland, about the mythical Blair Witch when they disappear into the forest of the Black Hills on 21 October 1994.
A year later their footage is found . . .
There are interviews with locals, footage of the trio getting hopelessly lost in the woods and increasingly hysterical arguments. At night, inside their flimsy tent, they are assailed by creepy scuffling and eerie screams.
There are no special effects, just stick-men and some bones; no on-screen carnage, just hidden terrors lurking off-camera.
Writer-director-editors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick claim they were inspired by 1970s In Search Of… documentaries.
The movie’s mock-doc style convinced some gullible viewers that the film and video footage is factual.
The movie was a double-boost for actors Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams. Not only did it launch their career, but – in return for working for next to nothing – they were given a one-point stake in the profits.
The Blair Witch Project is certainly not the best or most original independent film ever made. More than anything its success confirmed the power of the internet as a marketing tool.