TIFF brings Blair Witch sequel to Toronto. Did the original make movies better or worse?

Horror classic The Blair Witch Project did much more terrorize moviegoers and fatten the wallets of its creators when it was released in 1999. It also changed cinema in multiple ways, both good and bad.

The “found footage” conceit of furtive filmmaking is such a cliché of modern moviemaking, it’s hard to think of a time when the idea was fresh.

Yet there was just such a time — 1999 — and also a movie: The Blair Witch Project. This independently made horror flick, shot in eight days on consumer-grade cameras with a reported budget of $30,000, terrified midnight revellers at the Sundance Film Festival that January.

A simple tale of three young documentary filmmakers who vanish in the woods of Burkittsville, Md. while investigating a cackling legend, The Blair Witch Project went on to set box office records with its wide release that summer, earning nearly $250 million in worldwide ticket sales.

It became a blockbuster after the fact, appropriate for a movie that claimed to have been assembled from tapes abandoned by the missing witch hunters. The film inspired a host of copycats, including the horror franchise Paranormal Activity and the sanctioned sequel Blair Witch that has its world premiere Sunday night in TIFF’s Midnight Madness program.

But beyond mere imitation, The Blair Witch Project also changed cinema in ways both good and bad:

  • Good:It inspired a new generation of filmmakers to just do it:

After Blair Witch, nobody could say they needed a pile of money, studio backing or famous actors to make a movie people would clamour to see.

First-time feature filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez used unknown actors who were required to carry cameras and film themselves, shooting mainly on black-and-white 16 mm celluloid supplemented with some colour videotape. They blazed a trail that many followed.