Web Witchcraft


Take the promotional hook from Last House on the Left (“Keep repeating: it’s only a movie . . . “), contradict it with the premise behind the ’70s hoax film Snuff (which boasted the tag line “Made in South America: where life is cheap”), and you have some indication of the way The Blair Witch Project is being promoted on the Net: simultaneously as the scariest movie since The Exorcist and as actual documentary footage. In its attempt to mine the film’s mythology about the disappearance of three film students, distributor Artisan Entertainment has converted into a sort of prerelease DVD loaded with additional information relating to the film’s prehistory and aftermath. As a result, the site actually embellishes and extends the film’s narrative: photos and texts document the history of witchcraft in Blair Township, disclose additional information related to the missing students (“Heather’s Journal” and “Senior Prom photo”), and chronicle the subsequent police investigation.

This imaginative gambit has paid off: not only has the site logged 13 million hits since April (it’s currently averaging about 500,000 a day), but it seems to be operating in informal alliance with other tribute sites ranging from the Blair Witch Project Countdown! page ( witch/count.htm) to the Blair Warner Project site ( Lounge/3027/Blair.html), which mimics the film’s campaign in its search for Blair from The Facts of Life and features “Tootie’s Journal.” Add to this tons of positive buzz on newsgroups, and it looks like Artisan and Haxan, the collective behind Blair Witch, have fashioned the guerrilla promotional campaign of the summer simply by screening the film for word-of-mouth and then fanning the buzz online.

Many skeptics, however, are wondering who’s doing the fanning. Suspicions surfaced last month after a string of reviews posted to sounded the same pseudo-
promotional punch-phrases in lockstep fashion: a description of the visceral torment inflicted by the movie (“It’s a fucking rollercoaster ride through hell— with no return ticket”), claims of post-
traumatic stress disorder (“I’m not going to be able to sleep”), punctuated by the refrain “I’ll
never go camping again!” Despite the baseline redundancy and subliminal plagiarism of many Internet posts, one conspiracy theorist still glimpsed a hidden design: “I’m sorry, but did anyone else notice an eerie . . . consistency to the format of each of these reviews/press releases?”

Jessica Rovello, who runs the day-to-day operations of Artisan’s Blair Witch Web site, dismissed the notion that the distributor is planting its own hype: “I wish that we had the time to do that, but we don’t. We keep track of the various film discussion sites to see what people think of the film, but we don’t take part in the chats.” In the meantime, it seems as if the promotional premise of the film— “Is it fake or real?”— is now being
applied to its Internet buzz as well.