Fresh Blood

The left-field, ultra-low-budget The Blair Witch Project scares us in a way that Hollywood's forgotten

"Dan and Ed made the film in the editing room," says Hale. "It was whittling, whittling, whittling down."

Myrick says they were "going for that realism that a documentary would capture. The camera's not always in a convenient spot, you don't always get the right thing on screen."

Adds Sanchez: "Sometimes the camera comes on in the middle of the action, in the middle of something, not at the beginning of a scene."

The Blair Witch boys are reluctant revolutionaries. They describe their film as an example of benign serendipity and joke sarcastically about being "rebel filmmakers" who break all the rules. Some of their favorite films--Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, Alien, the original Star Wars--are mainstream studio movies. Get them started, though, and they'll critique the history of onscreen terror and discuss how they've "undermined the system."

Sanchez, for instance, talks about his admiration for Alfred Hitchcock, and what The Birds and Psycho taught him about restraint. "You don't show the violence; you don't show the horror onscreen. You show it offscreen, and then you build up to a payoff. And the problem these days is that the audience has become so used to $100 million CGI budgets that the payoff is becoming bigger and bigger, and yet, it's becoming less and less of a payoff.

"Like the first scene in the first Alien, where you see that alien uncoil itself and come down, when Ripley's on the ship by herself. It's the first time that kind of design was done, and people were like, 'Holy shit.' You can't do that these days. The audience is just too smart for that--they've been bombarded by images like that for the last 15 years. I think Blair comes up with a new way to scare people. We started realizing that what we'd done is a film that lives a certain percentage on the screen and a certain percentage in the viewer's head, like no other film has done for a while."

Says Myrick: "You're looking at CGI being accessible in a way it has never been before. I think it can become a trap for a filmmaker--and you almost write scripts around the excuse to use CGI. The horror and the drama take a back seat to the effects."

Myrick, who seems more interested in going against film tradition than the more laid-back Sanchez, grew up watching slashers. But he says cheeky, farcical movies like Scream have run their course.

"I think they're fun, but I don't think they're scary. I don't think they're horrific. We're so used to the conventions. You hear the music cue, and you know if the camera moves up and favors to one side something's gonna come out, so you're expecting it and it's so predictable. And you know the main characters are never going to get killed. It's a formula that becomes so predictable. I don't find that scary. Just going 'boo' to someone is easier, I think, than developing some psychological dread.

"I think horror films are falling under the same franchise mentality as other [studio] films," says Myrick. Cool-looking monsters--whether defined by a hockey mask like Friday the 13th's Jason or knives for fingers like A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy--dominate the energy of the filmmakers. Lost in this is the horror that should be driving the film in the first place. "We just got back to the essentials of what scared us."

Tony Timpone, editor of Fangoria, agrees that effects and CGI are wagging the dog. "It becomes a case of one-upmanship," he says. "One year, there's 10 special effects in a film, and then the next year, there have to be 50. I think Armageddon is definitely the worst offender--it was just a headache-inducing experience. I just saw Wild Wild West--that was just visual effects for visual effects' sake. It looked cool, but it was all just, 'So what?' There's been a real dumbing down of the motion picture industry."

Myrick and Sanchez have chosen to maintain both a stylistic and a geographic distance from Hollywood. Though Orlando has a limited film scene, the two feel comfortable there and say Disney has promised them a good deal shooting on a back lot at Disney World. They take their status as members of Haxan Films seriously--Myrick compares Haxan to the Scandinavian collaborative Dogma 95 in their attempt to make effects-free minimalist films and speaks about the way the collective sustains them both creatively and personally.

There's another reason they're happy to keep working with old friends in Orlando instead of sipping bottled water at The Ivy: Myrick has been through L.A.'s wringer before. A few years ago, he spent some weeks in town trying to shop a film's trailer around to distributors, and he found the city frustrating and full of games. He has little warmth for the industry--and his last few weeks of heavy promotion for Blair Witch haven't endeared it to him.

"I think we've undermined the system in a way," he says. "Some Hollywood types are taken aback that five broke dudes from Orlando could make a movie on a shoestring budget that scares the hell out of them. Hollywood, for me, has been affirmation that there are cheeseballs and assholes in the world."

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