You sneaky little so-and-sos.
Lionsgate premiered Blair Witch, the new reboot of the 1999 horror classic, at Comic-Con earlier tonight, and they gave the exclusive news about the until-now-top-secret film to Entertainment Weekly. What I find amazing is that they’ve screened this film at least once for press and they managed to actually keep the secret until now. I know how embargoes work, and I know how people love to talk, so for Lionsgate to have pulled this off makes me believe once again that you can actually have and keep a secret in this business.
Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane did earlier this year, this film snuck up on us while hiding in plain sight. It’s tough to keep the entire existence of a movie a secret, but keeping the nature of it a secret by telling everyone that it’s something else seems to be a workable game plan. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett spend a fair amount of time interacting with members of the film press socially, as do the film’s producers, Jessica Wu and Keith Calder, so I give them extra credit for all keeping poker faces as they worked to relaunch one of the most recognizable titles of the past 25 years.
You’ll notice I haven’t referred to it as a “franchise” yet. That’s because it’s not one. It’s a first film that was made totally independent, and a sequel that (whether you’re fond of it or not) was such a major financial misstep that it killed the property dead. At least when people talk about the Ghostbusters franchise (also one good film and one movie that is considered a major misstep), they can also be referring to the larger property that spilled into games and comic books and toys over the years. With Blair Witch, it was one film, one sequel, and then nothing. Radio silence since then.
Lionsgate, which absorbed the old Artisan catalog at some point, was smart to make this new Blair Witch under the radar. If they’d announced it from the very start, they’d be dealing with years worth of complaining and griping at this point, no matter what. That’s just the way fandom works at this point. I’ve already seen some people complaining that Lionsgate just ruined the surprise and should have only revealed this at the exact moment the film comes out, but that’s just not feasible in terms of marketing. By choosing to use Comic-Con as their launching point, they had most of the entertainment press in one place at one time, and by keeping the surprise until now, they were able to enjoy a major shock wave that pretty much stole the day out from under anyone else. Hell, as Simon Barrett pointed out, they didn’t even tell the people who were there at the screening until they were seated, which means this happened —
This happened during our screening in the lobby. pic.twitter.com/XJO45I2bAL— Simon Barrett (@Simon_Barrett) July 23, 2016
— which is super-cool, I must admit.
My experience with The Blair Witch Project was pretty special, and I will always hold it dear because the way I saw it helped turn it into a real exercise in terror. Before the film played at Sundance, a video cassette was sent to Harry Knowles. It was unmarked, and Harry, who has a deep abiding love of PT Barnum, couldn’t resist playing up the whole backstory. He told us that it had been sent to him with a note that the sender wasn’t sure exactly what the film was, or whether or not he should believe it. He claimed to be asking for help in determining if it was true, and Harry knew that my friends and I were about to start a cross-country drive at around 2 in the morning. We were just wrapping up the final night of the Quentin Tarantino Film Festival in Austin, and we had about 26 hours of driving ahead of us to get back to LA. Harry organized one final stop before we left, though, at the apartment of our friends Jed and Rebecca. He put on the film, and we sat there slowly but surely getting pulled into the expertly built film that has been imitated so many times since 1999.
When the film ended with Mike standing in the corner and Heather screaming and none of us sure what we’d just seen, Harry wished us a cheerful farewell and sent us out to drive a good five hours in the pitch dark through what I can only call “Texas Chainsaw country.” And we were TERRIFIED. We were beside ourselves. Every little thing freaked us out, and we loved it. By the time we got to LA, I was head over heels in love with The Blair Witch Project, and the entire experience reminded me of why I love horror films in the first place.
Based on the new trailer (which we’ve embedded here), it’s clear that this is a real sequel. One of the main characters is the younger brother of Heather from the first film, and he’s looking for answers about what happened to his sister. Knowing Blair Witch so well, I’m curious what they plan to do to make this “the scariest movie ever made,” as there have been so many films that have aped the first film completely that it feels like Wingard, Barrett, and their collaborators have their work cut out for them. Early word from the Comic-Con screenings seems to be good, though, and no matter what, I am stoked to see this team pull off such an epic bait-and-switch.
We're at an interesting moment for horror, and I had a discussion about that with Chris Eggertsen which you can see embedded below.
Blair Witch arrives in theaters September 16, 2016.