Posted on Friday, September 16th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Seventeen years after it first hit theaters, The Blair Witch Project remains a genuinely creepy, intentionally frustrating, and unforgettable film that sets a high bar for found footage horror movie in general. However, the film’s legacy extends beyond movie screens and into the world of movie marketing, where it had a seismic impact. The film’s advertising campaign used the early days of the internet to its advantage, building an extensive and convincing mythology that could look, at a quick glance, like the real thing. The result was a horror movie that many people thought was a documentary depicting actual events. The seeds of all viral marketing, of how movies are sold on the internet, were planted there.
But 2016 audiences are more savvy. They have noses that have been more fine-tuned for bullshit. What worked in 1999 simply won’t work today – no one would ever believe that the new sequel, simply titled Blair Witch, was a depiction of reality. So how do you keep the Blair Witch legacy of outrageous publicity stunts alive? Simple: you hang a couple hundred of those creepy stick figures all over South Congress street in Austin, Texas to make it look like the city was visited by the witch herself.
In one of the creepiest scenes in The Blair Witch Project, the three amateur documentarians who have gotten themselves lost in the woods while attempting to make a movie about a local legend stumble across some kind of mysterious shrine: dozens of handcrafted stick figures, constructed out of wood and rope, hang from the trees. They’re crudely made, but they’re also just plain unsettling. Later in the movie other, uh, items of interest arrive in and around their tent in the middle of the night. Naturally, these creepy stick figures (which have become the face of a movie series that deliberately obscures its title villain) play a role in the new movie.
So, as far as crazy promotional stunts go, hanging 200 of these stick figures across a busy street in the middle of the night and allowing the locals to wake up to this sight is effective on a visceral level and thematically appropriate! Imagine being someone who saw The Blair Witch Project back in ’99, had the crap scared out of them, and then encounters the visuals seen in the gallery below while making their way to work? If only all movie advertising was so playful and ambitious. This is the kind of William Castle-esque hucksterism I can get behind.
Blair Witch is in theaters today and while critics have been divided on it, I quite liked it. It’s not the first movie and never tries to be, instead taking the Blair Witch mythology and transforming it into a visceral, non-stop thrill ride. It’s not a psychological slow-burn, but it is a great Friday-night-with-a-large-crowd horror movie.
Here’s that full gallery of images, courtesy of FonsPR for organizing and pulling off this whole thing: