I found THIS New Yorker article on the "Five Scariest Movies Ever?" and it got me thinking about what the last movie was that genuinely scared me. I'm not talking a music-sting jump-in-your-seat moment... I'm talking about a movie that unsettled me so much that I had difficulty existing in the world afterward.
As a fan of the horror genre I had to go back in my mind to what the last film I saw was that terrified me. And what I came up with surprised me.
I have a controversial vote: The Blair Witch Project.
I have to explain...
I believe I saw The Blair Witch Project under what can only be deemed "ideal conditions."
I worked in the entertainment industry back in 1999 and my boss at the time walked in one morning and handed me a VHS Tape.
On the spine was a P-Touched label that simply said "Blair Witch Project."
"Here." he said. "Somebody gave me this. Supposed to be scary but I couldn't get through it."
I took it to my friend's house that night and gathered a small group of fellow horror/sci-fi geeks and their girlfriends for a viewing. We knew absolutely nothing about it.
We hit play and were WIDE-EYED AND RIVETED to the screen for the entire film.
Comments were made during the screening like "Is this real?" "This is fake right? ...RIGHT?!"
By the time Heather runs down the stairs, the camera catching glimpses of children's hand prints on the walls, only to find Mikey facing the wall and Heather's incessant screaming.. and then a hard CUT TO BLACK.
We sat there stunned.
(Don't watch the below clip if you haven't seen the film ever.)
WAS this film real? Can't be... right?
We rewound the ending to see any details we missed. A cacophony of questions filled the room:
"What was that guy doing standing at the back wall?"
"Remember? They said that guy who killed the kids--"
"---Yeah. He used to make them face the wall before he killed them."
"I think he's in a trance."
"Is it a ghost?"
"Those are little child hand prints on the walls!"
"Is she dead at the end?"
"Well she drops the camera."
"Is there an image in the shuttering frame?"
We must have run it back a dozen times. We eventually had to mute the volume because Heather's screaming was unsettling us so much. We pored over it so much it might as well have been the Zapruder film.
The internet wasn't what it is today so we searched for what we could but there was no real info out there.
Was it real?
The film affected me so much that my roommate and I were jumpy for a full month.
And when I went camping 3 months later with a group of friends... and some separated off in the late afternoon and we found ourselves calling after them into the woods... I became very self-aware and giggled uncomfortably.
But most of all, we passed that tape on. Anyone we talked to who hadn't seen it.
"Dude you HAVE to watch this."
By the time the film hit theaters, it had a lot of word of mouth behind it and it became a huge phenomenon and made buckets of money for Artisan. But the backlash was hard.
Many people who saw it in the theater left motion-sick from the camerawork or bored because there was no gore or payoff to the hype. "We don't see anything. This sucks." many an audience member would say.
This film couldn't have worked in the theater.
After all, we had already seen Mikey quit his job on Letterman and the full cast appeared --alive and well-- on the cover of Newsweek. Add to that the NUMEROUS parodies that were spawned from it and the mystique didn't just get diluted, it evaporated.
I really think the only way it could have ever shocked a wide audience is being handed around on a nondescript videotape... watched in the living rooms of people who wondered if it was real.
It's also a testament to guerrilla filmmaking and ingenuity.
There's no gore.
We never see the creature.
It's the ultimate low-budget feature made with video cameras, sticks and sound.
The film turns 10 --TEN!!!-- years old July 2009 and it still holds up. It's timeless.
If you haven't see it, I dare you to rent a cabin in the woods alone and watch this film.
Open your mind, give it a shot, and appreciate one of the great genre offerings of the past decade.