Who’s Afraid of The Blair Witch Project?

Chatterbox has a terrible confession to make: He went to see The Blair Witch Project yesterday and, despite trying very, very hard to be scared, wasn’t. What’s puzzling is that Chatterbox scares very easily. Loud, sudden noises make him jump. The sight of blood makes him blanch. A staircase creak in a dark old house makes him shiver. Mrs. Chatterbox is always saying that Chatterbox is preposterously easy prey for Hollywood’s cheapest effects. This raises the troubling question: Is Chatterbox too much of a philistine to be scared by the tonier, more abstract terrors served up in The Blair Witch Project? Is Chatterbox incapable of Art House Fright?

This possibility occurred to Chatterbox a few months ago when he rented the classic French thriller The Wages of Fear, which has for its can’t-lose premise the transport by truck of highly explosive material through bumpy jungle roads. Chatterbox (and, it must be said, Mrs. Chatterbox) lost patience with the extremely tedious exposition leading up to the Big Event and shut it off. (This even though the film starred a young, extremely suave Yves Montand.) Chatterbox dimly recalls admiring the novels of Charles Brockden Brown, whose depiction of supernatural events occurring in broad daylight somewhat resembles the terror-of-everyday-life technique behind The Blair Witch Project, when he read them in college. But Chatterbox doesn’t particularly recall being scared by them.

Chatterbox really thought he was going to like The Blair Witch Project. For the first half-hour or so, he marveled at the film’s deft, improvisational style. The three student filmmakers depicted in the movie, who present themselves in home videos and snippets of their planned black-and-white “documentary,” seemed like real people. (The college they go to, according to Time magazine–Chatterbox missed any reference to it in the actual movie–is Montgomery College, situated about eight blocks from Chatterbox’s house.) “Aha!” Chatterbox told himself. “Ever so gradually, the ordinariness of the film’s events will give way to terror, making everyday life seem absolutely terrifying!” Chatterbox looked forward to being spooked by what Culturebox termed “the nameless evil just beyond the video camera’s little pool of light.” Chatterbox was still looking forward to this thrill an hour into the film as he gazed upon various pagan-looking piles of rocks and bales of twigs. Ten minutes before the movie ended, Chatterbox realized that the terror just wasn’t going to happen, and his feelings of pleasurable anticipation quickly gave way to feelings of inadequacy.

Perhaps, Chatterbox thought, he was probing the wrong medium. He logged onto the Blair Witch Web site. But it required a plug-in that Chatterbox didn’t have on his desktop, and he lost patience. One parody site called Blair Bitch Project and another called The Blair Witch Ate My Ballswere also disappointments. Finally, Chatterbox looked up some real folklore from Burkittsville, Md., where The Blair Witch Project is set. There’s a legend about a place called “Spook Hill,” where ghosts supposedly help push your car to the summit, and one about Confederate soldiers dumped in a well, and one about a mythical beast called the Snallygaster–part reptile, part bird, part octopus, with “huge jaws” and “razor sharp teeth.” These didn’t scare Chatterbox either.