Tag Archives: the 90s

Frightfest 2015: The Blair Witch Project

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

A year later their footage was found.

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So begins one of the most puzzling horror hits of the 90s. So effective was its marketing campaign that it had many convinced that they were watching a documentary even after the closing credits. Actress Heather Donahue later revealed that her mother received condolensce cards from frends who honestly believed that her daughter was genuinely missing and presumed dead. The Blair Witch craze was so strange and so devisive that it managed to earn an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature Film and a Razzie nomination for Worst Feature Film.

With over 15 years of hindsight, it’s all too easy to take The Blair Witch for granted. Within months of its release, the impact of some scenes had been diluted by way too many Blair Witch spoofs. The film’s unexpected success went on to inspire so many imitators that Sean recently called for an end to the “found footage genre”. To be 17 though, as I was, when the movie first hit theaters was a truly terrifying experience that took me days to recover from. Watching it today, its barely lost even a bit of its initial impact.

blair witch

For those who haven’t seen it, The Blair Witch Project follows three student filmmakers who spend a weekend in the woods to make a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch, who supposedly haunts the area. The poor kids soon find themselves hopelessly lost in the woods and stalked and psychologically tormented by unseen forces (presumably the Witch). Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez rely entirely on the hand-held “documentary” footage to capture the horror.

In fact, Myrick and Sánchez really did rely on their trio of actors to be their camera operators. Spending eight days in the woods alone, the actors improvised almost all of their dialogue and rarely knew what the unseen crew would throw at them next. The unorthodox approach pays off. The three lead perofrmances were convincing enough to fool so many audiences into thinking they were watching a real doc, after all. The Blair Witch may not be real the the tears and fear often are. It would even be compeelling just as a story of three students lost in the woods. Of course, it’s their tormenter who makes The Blair Witch Project a horror classic. Unseen by the audience, we have only the reactions of the tormented and our own worst nightmares to rely on. The Blair Witch is whoever you want her to be, whoever you are most afraid that she is. The film works every bit as well as your own imagination does.

Good Will Hunting

Good-Will-Hunting-01-4This movie is worth watching if just for Ben Affleck’s matching windbreaker and tear away pant outfits alone. He has the EXACT wardrobe of my Catholic school gym teacher\music teacher\ librarian, who accessorized hers with orange lipstick, a popped collar before they were cool, and faux-black curls that reached at LEAST three inches in height.

Matt & Ben, god love em. I love how these two high school drop-outs laboured to make the college classroom scenes authentic, but couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use a mop. I love Hollywood for that. Actors can learn to box and DJ and make a béarnaise sauce, but they can ben-affleck-and-matt-damon-owe-everything-to-good-will-hunting-co-star-robin-williamsnever convincingly fold laundry or pump gas. Why is that?

Anyway. The interesting thing about this movie is that it fools you with its quirkiness and quick wit into not seeing the incredibly predictable story arc. Sad, abused, troubled kid is actually a genius and he just needs someone to provide the Armour-Piercing Statement: “It’s not your fault” enough times to crack through his tough-guy veneer and get some healing on. Despite the basic cliché upon this film is predicated, the film succeeds in its smaller bubbles of truth. The defense mechanisms feel true. The relationships are charismatic. And blessed be, it avoids the gift-wrapped perfect ending. I like the ending of this movie so much, I’ve written about it before:

Like every other morning, Ben Affleck pulls up to Matt’s house with a product-placement cup of coffee, and jobs up the front stoop in his latest sport-douche look. This time, though, the last time, he knocks on the door, and no one answers. We already know that Ben has always secretly hoped for this very thing: he has said that his favourite part of the day is between his knock and Matt’s answering, that length of time where he can imagine that his brilliant friend has left his desultory life behind to chase the starsbenny. So we know that Ben is happy, but we also know that he will inevitably also be sad, having just lost his best friend, and having no such escape route himself. It’s a very bittersweet moment where not a single word is spoken, but so much is said. All of this is communicated with just a slight grin, but the script and the director have set this moment up so perfectly that it plays on the audience’s emotions for all it’s worth. Love it.

 

As Good As It Gets

tumblr_m1ehh5O2Z81rra86mo1_1280It’s impossible to tell if it’s this movie that’s not aging well, or if it’s me. Maybe I’m just getting more curmudgeonly with every passing year, but this movie seemed better in my memory than it did in the re-watching.

Jack Nicholson, who is superb, plays Melvin, an obsessive-compulsive gentleman who lives an extremely regimented life until two things stop him in his tracks: a diner waitress, and a mangy dog.

The first: Helen Hunt is, playing a martyr named Carol, or you know, just doing the Helen Hunt thing. I’m immediately annoyed with her character. Being a single mom is so hard, guys! And article-1350653-000B108A00000258-682_634x481asthma: the worst! She got an Oscar for this, so I guess I’m just being hard on her. She plays the only waitress that will serve Melvin at the only restaurant he’ll eat in. When she doesn’t show up to serve him his usual three eggs, over easy because her son is sick, he shows up at her house hungry with a doctor in tow.

The second: Greg Kinnear plays Simon, Melvin’s arty neighbour. Melvin is not what you would call a sociable man anas-good-as-it-getsd has no love for any of his neighbours, or their acquaintances, or their pets. In fact, Simon’s pup Verdell takes a trip down the trash chute early on because Melvin can’t stand the sight of him. But once Cuba Gooding Jr. brow-beats Melvin into caring for the dog while Simon recovers from a vicious attack, certain aspects of pet ownership start to feel enticing – particularly when little Verdell starts to imitate some of Melvin’s idiosyncracies.

Always worth a mention: Jack Nicholson was also awarded an Oscar for his work on this film, and this one I can get behind. Melvin’s only communication with the world is a series of as-good-as-it-gets-41-4degrading insults – racist, sexist, homophobic, you name it, he spits it out. And yet we love him for it, almost. We certainly forgive him. Just a lift of his bushy eyebrows and we’re his. The fact is, there’s great dialogue between these players, full of irony and thoughtful observation. It really makes you wish the plot didn’t follow such a conventional path. If only the film makers were brave enough to follow the characters down their authentic, quirky paths instead of playing it safe.

The dog, by the way (played saucily by “Jill the dog”), never received an Oscar for her stellar work on the film, but did pick up a UK Shadows Award, presented to the best dog actor, and I think a imagescase can be made for hers being the most charming role of them all. Technically Verdell was played by 6 dogs (Timer, Sprout, Debbie, Billy, and Parfait) but Jill was undoubtedly the star – Greg Kinnear (who was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting) describes being “upstaged by Jill”: “She’s got these lashes and big eyes… and when she walks onto the set everybody just says ‘oooh’.” Jill and company are Brussels Griffons and terribly cute. I’m sure she could melt the heart of any obsessive-compulsive, and I don’t know that there’s a higher compliment I can pay than that.