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By Russ Marshalek (a place both wonderful and strange)

I recently gave y’all my thoughts regarding my personal history with “The Blair Witch Project” and its upcoming sequel “The Blair Witch”. For the next installment here of The Blair Witch Watch 2016, I reached out via to a friend of mine, noted horror connoisseur Josh Strawn, also of the bands Azar Swan and Vaura (as well as about 500 other projects I can’t keep track of), to get his thoughts on the hype, the myths, the legends and his expectations in having a movie return to those woods.

Russ: How did you become aware of the original Blair Witch Project film, and to what extent did you believe and/or participate in the backstory (believing it was real, the web site, etc)

Josh: A close friend of mine had told me about a segment he’d seen on Bravo or IFC about a documentary crew that was investigating a witch legend and disappeared. I think it was actually some sort of test reel or short film they’d broadcasted long before the completion of the film, but we didn’t know that. He was intrigued by the clip and I think maybe even bought it a little.  I was intrigued by it when he told me about it — hearing about the clip felt like being told a ghost story.

Russ: What are your memories from seeing The Blair Witch Project for the first time?

Josh: I worked at a movie theater at the time. On Thursday nights, the projectionist would “build up” the movies, which was the process by which a theater would put basically load the film into their projector when theaters still used film. Normally, they just run the films and don’t watch them, but for big movies we were all excited about we’d stay after closing and kinda have a party. “Blair Witch” was one we all wanted to see. Keep in mind there aren’t many reviews floating around, there’s no word-of-mouth discussion about it. And we’re in southwestern Virginia, where the woods and mountains we’d go camping and hiking in look a whole lot like those in the film. Maryland is a neighboring state, so it all felt very close to home already. And I have to say, I bought it 100% on first viewing. It was one of the most intense, terrifying, fun film experiences of my life. Of course a week later it was widely known that it was a “found footage” style film, and the backlash set in quickly.

Russ: Did you see or care to see the second film? If so, do you feel it has a place in the canon?

Josh: I saw it. I have to say from what I remember it was so impossible to follow and weird (bad weird) that I don’t even know what it’s about. But I was super excited about it when it was announced. It does seem like it might be better ignored? I’d have to watch it again to know for sure, though. But I probably won’t.

Russ: How do you feel the original Blair Witch influenced the horror film genre?

Josh: Blair Witch was a trailblazer of more than just horror. It was riding a wave of reality-blurring that’s become a cultural norm. I worked at an advertising research firm for 8 years tracing the rise of co-called “viral” advertising from right around the dawn of YouTube. Everyone from Ray-Ban to Burger King was dropping low budget “fan made” videos online in the hopes everyone would believe they were real. As for how Blair Witch influenced horror, I think it influenced tons of stuff obviously, but most of it was garbage. The reaction to Blair Witch’s legacy was better than its legacy. For me, that’s films like “House of the Devil” that definitely seemed like they were rejecting both the found footage phenomenon and the postmodern self-referencing of “Scream.” By the time movies like “The Sacrament” came around, I just started to actively dislike it, feeling like they would have been good movies had they not opted for the found footage format. Of course there were some good moments–certain vignettes from the first two V/H/S movies were good, and the Paranormal Activity series had its moments.

Russ: What are your hopes for/thoughts on the upcoming Blair Witch?

Josh: I’ve been enjoying Adam Wingard’s movies, he’s definitely one of the better filmmakers on the horizon of contemporary horror. So I do have high hopes. But it seems like a really difficult task, bringing the Blair witch mythology into the reality TV/viral advertising era in a compelling and exciting way. So I’m also a little skeptical. Wingard kind of has his work cut out for him. If he succeeds, though, I’ll be happy. I certainly don’t harbor those feelings of hostility towards the Blair Witch movies that some people do. I really like the story and the original film and the mythology has a lot of possibilities. I’m sort of expecting he’ll play it straight, and just make a solid horror film using that mythology, which I think could work. If he needs someone to help with the soundtrack, my email address is….

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