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'The Blair Witch' scares up buzz

When you head back to work Monday, you may just hear that the No. 1 movie in America is something called "The Blair Witch Project."

If you're a movie fan or 16-to-24 years old, you probably know about it. You've read stuff on the Internet or in magazines or maybe the Monitor's interview with two of the young actors last week. You may even have seen it already.

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At least one analyst predicts it will earn $100 million and provide the best "return on investment" of any movie ever made.

Here's the quick "backstory" (to use the Hollywood term): Two young filmmakers, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, made the 87-minute horror film for a ridiculously low cost, somewhere under $60,000. The plot: In 1994, three college students get lost in the Maryland woods trying to make a documentary about a local legend, the Blair Witch. The students are never found, but their equipment is, including black-and-white film and color video they had been shooting. The jittery, hand-held shots show the trio becoming more and more frightened as they are harassed each night. They hear terrifying sounds, and strange objects are left outside their tent by someone or something they never see.

Some critics have been wowed, calling it the scariest movie in a long, long time and breakthrough filmmaking. It's safe to say that any film that can be made so cheaply and earn so much money will be imitated. For that reason alone, it's worth tracking.

Among the people I've asked who've seen "Blair Witch," most agree with me that it's not all that scary. But scary or not, it's making history for at least a couple of reasons.

No. 1: It's brilliant guerrilla marketing. Sanchez and Myrick set up a Web site,, long before the film even had a distributor, with "evidence" about the case that left the impression that the events were true, not fiction. They've also been accused of planting fake favorable comments about the film at online chat sites to stir up "buzz." However that buzz was created, it is now a roar. The film is being called the first hit to be marketed mostly on the Web.

No. 2: The filmmakers' technique, which they've called "method filmmaking." The actors were left alone in the woods, never seeing the production crew, who provided them only with a daily set of instructions and a dwindling amount of food. Did Sanchez and Myrick try to wear down and terrorize their actors into realistic performances? If so, was it acting? If the tears and hysteria are even partly real, are we viewers only voyeurs?

Or have they created a brilliant modern myth, the best scary hoax since 1938 when Orson Welles broadcast phony newscasts of an invasion from Mars?

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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