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The Blair Witch Vs. Paranormal Activity

October 29th, 2009 by unkle lancifer · 14 Comments

Did I mention that I wasn’t crazy about that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie?( I’m glad it stuck it to the SAW franchise though.) To tell ya’ the truth I guess there is a lot of popular stuff that I just don’t get. I hate cars, have never owned a cell phone and I’m truly appalled by pizza delivery places offering any kind of dessert.

Some people have told me that if I saw PARANORMAL with a non-sucky crowd before the hype I’d feel differently, maybe they are right but I am unconvinced. One particular piece of PARANORMAL propaganda that ended up galling me is the claim that it is superior to the film on whose shoulders it stands on, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Now I know not everybody digs B.W.P., I can name several people off hand whose opinion I value more than my own who find it intolerable, yet for me it really does do the trick.

In fact, I watched it again the other night (obviously well aware that it is not a true story at this point) and I still gotta say it gives me some real creeps. It certainly works for me better than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY did. I guess BLAIR just hits me where I live and rakes up my own personal bugaboos where P.A. does not. Anyway, I thought I’d try to share with you just what about it I think makes it a scarier and more effective movie (at least for me)…

ATMOSPHERE
For some people PARANORMAL is particularly frightening because it takes place at home in a bedroom where you are supposed to be able to feel safe. I get that, but ultimately looking at a bed just makes me feel like taking a cat nap. I defy any demon to try to wake me when I’m truly exhausted and welcome them to join me in bed if they are so inclined. On the other hand, woods, especially barren woods with trees that look like skeleton hands reaching out of the ground, scare the crap out of me. From Little Red Riding Hood to THE EVIL DEAD, woods are a common backdrop for tales of terror because they hit on something primal within us all. Think of it this way, the characters in B.W.P. were trying to GET OUT of the woods so that they could go home and GO TO bed, that’s gotta tell ya’ something.

OLD LADIES
Whether it be the scary faced locals or unseen witches, old ladies are built to unnerve. I know the GOLDEN GIRLS seem nice but just imagine them suddenly attacking you…it’s enough to make you faint on the spot. Everyone from Hansel and Gretel to that poor loan officer (ALISON LOHMAN) in DRAG ME TO HELL understands this. I’m sorry PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but demons tend to have cool horns, awesome pointy tales, and sexy goatees. On the other hand old ladies smell like mothballs and chew Mary Jane Candy… you’re trumped again!

PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT
I know HEATHER DONAHUE (who by the way, ruled in the miniseries TAKEN) can be kind of grating and sometimes comes off like a disgruntled Urban Outfitters manager, but she admits her mistakes, never courts trouble and is an aspiring filmmaker rather than an aspiring bead stringer. JOSHUA LEONARD and MICHAEL C.WILLIAMS are guys you wouldn’t mind sharing a beer with; the only thing I would share with MICAH SLOAT is a live hand grenade.

MYTHOLOGY
Both films saved a lot of paper by forcing their cast to ad lib without scripted dialogue, but you can’t accuse the makers of B.W.P. of slacking creatively. Even if one felt slighted by the content of the film itself you have got to hand it to whoever came up with the spooky legend of the BLAIR WITCH; it’s far too elaborate to go into detail here, but if anyone knows a more effective campfire story I’d love to hear it.

GETTING LOST SUCKS
As a person with literally zero sense of direction who as an adult has been summoned by intercom to meet up with my lost companions at the entrance of a Target department store, I feel for the trio walking in circles in BLAIR WITCH. Acting wise their frustration and exhaustion reads as authentic to me whereas our PARANORMAL pals just come off as mostly petulant and perturbed. The BLAIR kids make some dumb moves but their efforts are evident, the P.A. couple overlooks obvious solutions simply because they are conveniently told that any attempts to escape would be fruitless.

YIKES!
Some complain that nothing ever happens in B.W.P. but I beg to differ, there are several scenes that chill me to the bone even during a repeat viewing. The use of sound and darkness is pretty intense if you ask me and I am always aware of myself straining to hear and see more. Giggling children? Was that a cackle? Is that Josh crying out in pain? Is somebody just fucking with them? How about that damn dilapidated house at the end? That place just reeks of evil. Maybe those hand prints are a little over the top but I would not spend a second in that dwelling especially at night no matter how lost I was. At this point the film has earned its contagious hysteria as far as I’m concerned. Maybe STEVEN SPIELBERG might have preferred a CGI witchie-poo to fly toward the camera at the end, but I think the sight of Mike standing in the corner staring at the wall is simple unshakable perfection.

THE REALITY IS
We all have our personal fears based on our nature and experiences. Would I think old ladies were so scary if that crone hadn’t harangued me at summer camp? Would I think being lost was frightening if I had not experienced the same feelings myself? Is Micah’s macho arrogance and mundane living space just too alien for me to relate too? Ultimately I can’t blame my disappointment in P.A. on the hype because B.W.P. had just as much or more and I loved every minute of it. Both films deserve laurels for relying on their audience’s imagination for scares but for me BLAIR WITCH illustrates the idea that sometimes less is more and P.A. reminds me that sometimes it really is just less…

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14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 joshacid37No Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    I saw The Blair Witch Project three times in the theater, and each time the last five minutes had my heart racing like no other movie has (especially the first viewing, holy crap).  I’d had the fact that it wasn’t real spoiled for me long before it came out, so that was never a problem.

    Now I’m remembering that I had a friend at the time who was from Maryland and who tried to convince me (and I think was convinced herself) that she’d been hearing about the legend for years.  I had to tell her, “You must be thinking of something else…This is all invented for the movie!!”

  • 2 ChrisNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    To be honest, I felt both were overhyped garbage, and neither scary. A lotta people give me that nonsense about “not having an imagination” (as a writer, I think I have more than enough), or “unable to relate” (I live in a wooded area, and in a house where odd occurances happen regularly, so again, I call b.s.), but a movie that doesn’t hit you, doesn’t hit you. I think the story behind the making of both films is way more interesting than the films themselves.

  • 3 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    *

    Chris,

    I’m not into that “not having an imagination” bit either. I have to admit though that I had thought similar things about my pals who didn’t like BWP at the time. Now, getting that same response from others about PA I can see how offensive it is. Like you said, these movies just hit you or they don’t. You can’t make somebody like something that just does not work for them. I don’t expect to change anybody’s mind about either movie with this post but I wanted to try to explain or figure out for myself why one movie scared me and the other didn’t. 
    Joshacid,
    That ending still gets to me too! For some reason I keep expecting to see a face in one of those windows in the house.

  • 4 FatherOfTearsNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I haven’t seen “PA” but I have seen “BWP” and it’s pretty decent.  The ending was creepy plus I did relate to being lost in the woods. I HAD this friend back in the 1990’s who would suggest hiking trails in NY State saying that he knew them well.  Of course we got lost!  Haven’t spoken to him in 13 years………and it will stay that way!  But I digress.  Anyway, for those who don’t like “PA”, here is a parody on YouTube…………….which is getting some mixed reactions as well!



  • 5 milathNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    I completely agree with pretty much all of this. BWP was definitely far superior to PA imho for many reasons. I have a much longer bit I wrote on these two movies over on IMDB in a similar thread.
    To add to what you wrote though, I’d say that PA doesn’t leave enough to the imagination. You’re pretty much given the explanation for everything right from the get-go and there are too many fx shots that don’t leave much open to interpretation. In contrast, BWP gives you a framework in the form of the awesome legend and just lets your imagination run wild throughout the rest of the movie.
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who found that Micah character to be completely alien. Plus he was a giant asshole, which completely made it so I was actually hoping he’d die by the end. I suppose on that point, PA delivered. heh
    Anyway, good read!

  • 6 Andre DumasNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Hahah I just finished reading B-Sol’s post about PA and agreed with you on your comment there. 
    We are so the same. The ambience of the woods is 300 times more chilling and terrifying than the bedroom in PA activity. Besides the fact that their house was way too nice to be supported by one working person who never works and a bead stringer, it just wasn’t scary to me. I’ve been scared being in my own house- but I wasn’t scared to be in their house. That probably doesn’t make sense. Oh well.
    The woods though, are everywhere, especially here in New England, where the woods are as dense and chilly as fuck. There are moments when you are in the woods when you feel like people are watching. There are moments where you feel terrified that you will never find your way back. And there are certainly moments when hearing a branch snap makes you pee your pants.
    When watching BWP I could feel and practically taste the fear of the characters. I felt for them and was affected by them. I hated Micah. And I hated Katie too. Micah sounded too much like Jim Halpert, and Katie did nothing with her life except whine about being chased by a demon. I hope Micah realizes that it’s his fault the demon got angry in the first place- he did cause all the negativity after all…
    But your point about the old lady is spot on. That old woman in particular is so frickin scary. Also scary is the drawing of the blair witch- actually the drawing they show when that old lady is telling the story- the one about the blair witch opening her robe and being covered in hair….oh my god that picture still haunts me.
    And the house. the house at the end! i love the handprints. I love the monstrous echoes and the impalpable evil that surrounds it. It’s the kind of understatement that really truly works for me. 
    ….Horse/goat hooves in baby powder? Not so much.

  • 7 Andre DumasNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    sorry that was really long. I’m embarrassed now

  • 8 Blue SevenNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    I really like both of these movies.  They’re like an apple and an orange.  Actually, I like Paranormal Activity better than oranges and apples than The Blair Witch Project.  I was scared by both movies, found Micah no more annoying than Josh or Heather, although I am more scared of the woods than a cookie cutter Rancho Penasquitos house.  I believed that a day trader could well afford a house like that, at least a few years ago.  I will say that the original ending of Paranormal Activity was lame, though.

  • 9 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    *

    Blueseven,

    You are the biggest winner because you get two movies to like. 
    Now I’m also obsessed with that idiom about apples and oranges. I know the point is that the two are completely different but as I see it they are both roundish and famous for being fruit.
    I’m wondering why it isn’t apples and anvils.
    Anyway, I definitely prefer apples to oranges but don’t go by me because my favorite is lemons…with salt.
    Andre,
    Don’t be embarrassed because I love long comments and people who agree with me.
    Milath,
    I really did take a strange dislike to Mikah the last time I hated somebody that much they were named Jenna Elfman
    Father,
    Parody is the true sign of success! I am partial to this one though…

     

  • 10 Jeff AllardNo Gravatar // Oct 29, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    I liked Paranormal Activity just fine but BWP easily takes the edge with me. I saw BWP on a VHS dub months before its release, which was probably the most ideal way to view it. While I initially popped in the tape late at night with the thought of checking its quality and saving it to watch for another time, I ended up watching it all the way through and having one of the most sleepless nights I’ve ever had. All the elements you list as making BWP great, Unk, I totally agree with. However, while PA doesn’t have the dense, tantalizing mythology or the harrowing aura of doom as BWP, I did find it to be a fun little goosebump raiser. Even if I hated it, I’d still be applauding its success – it’s always cool to see another indie horror milestone hit big.

  • 11 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Oct 30, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Jeff,

    I am really happy about PA’s success. Hopefully the trickle down effect will benefit other indie horror films. I’d prefer that it was happening for Trick ‘R Treat but whatayagonnado? I think BWP holds up really well and I forgot to mention, I enjoy the fake doc “Curse of the Blair witch” too!

  • 12 Jeff AllardNo Gravatar // Oct 30, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Curse of the Blair Witch – God!! In some ways, I find that scarier than the film itself – great stuff!

  • 13 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Oct 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Interesting discussion here.  One thing up front that drives me bananas – all the jokers that wanted to see the “Blair Witch” actually appear in the film were not paying attention.  Ellie Kedward’s ghost was most likely working through some nutjob like Rustin Parr – thus the whole “Mike in the corner” ending.  The viewer never knows what aspects of our protags’ torment was supernatural and what was just psychotic.
    Anyhoo, PA wasn’t bad.  I love those phony Youtube ghost videos and this would rank at the top of that genre, but there was not a lot else there.
    I agree with most of Unk’s post – especially the bit about the Golden Girls turning on you.  Also, the woods are frikkin scary – I live right next door to a pretty large forest and I love it, but I have been freaked out more than once walking alone on the trails late at night (Once to actually investigate a strange noise!  I was just asking for it!)

  • 14 ballpeenNo Gravatar // Nov 2, 2009 at 10:44 am

    The previews for PA absolutely killed the movie for me.  They showed all the scares and left nothing for us to squirm with at the theatre.  Instead of being in the moment happily freaked out, I found myself wondering when I was going to see the stuff I saw in the previews.  Not a smart marketing tactic.  I agree that Micah was a turd (as expected- c’mon, a Parker Bros. Ouija board to the rescue?) and I felt more annoyed at Whatshername for still going to class, beading and otherwise believing she was fucked.  I suppose as a woman, I have a particular sensitivity to when female characters give up, regardless of whether the genre calls for it or not. The best part? NO CREDITS!!! It just ends, so you’re left carrying the weight of Whatsername’s dinosaur-demon face with you as you make the obligatory restroom stop after the movie’s over.

    The Blair Witch on the other hand… let me just say that I will never watch that movie again (same with KIDS) because the first time was the scariest, I let myself be undecided about whether it was “real” or not while I was watching AND the image I will never in a hundred million years forget…  Mike in the corner.  Holy SHIT.  I remember not quite understanding the significance of that scene until much, much later and in spite of that, it is still one of the flesh-crawlingest doom-laden images I have ever seen, knocking French and fever dream-like Italian horror films out of first place for creeptastic dread.  Eeeep!

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