Two facts about me that you might think would be mutually exclusive, but somehow are not: a) I love Halloween and b) I hate being scared. I love the fun of dressing up in costumes, eating candy, and enjoying lots of fun, Halloween-related entertainment, I just don’t want any of it to scare the crap out of me. I stick with Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. So my “scariest moment” was not a fun or beloved memory for me, but it is kind of a unique experience.
When I was in college, a local marketing company would often come to our campus and hand out passes for free movie screenings. Being poor college kids, we didn’t really care what the movie was; anything free was good. So that’s how my friend and I ended up at the local theater on a random Wednesday, months before the movie was released, seeing The Blair Witch Project.
Some of you genuine horror fans out there might think me lame for being terrified out of my wits by a movie that is probably considered somewhat tame by today’s horror standards, especially one whose underlying premise was debunked fairly quickly after its release. In my defense, as I said, I saw this movie months prior to its release and at the screening, it was presented as an authentic documentation of the events depicted. It was also one of the first films of the “found-footage” genre, so the audience, myself included, was not really used to the shaky-cam, night-vision, hyper-realistic cinematography style that’s best used as a parody of itself these days.
Several recent articles (like this), posted in conjunction with the release of the Blair Witch sequel, have documented the circumstances of the shooting that led to such believability, including unplanned intervention by the director to intentionally scare the actors and the cast being underfed in order to create more hostility between them. The movie was one of the first to use viral marketing, including listing the actors as “missing” on imdb.com. And of course, at the time, these were all kids my age. Wandering out into the woods with a backpack, a camera, and a map in search of a haunted legend seemed like just the type of dumbass thing many people I knew would do, so that added to the terror.
All of this combined to one of the worst and scariest movie-going experiences in my life. Leaving the theater when I got too scared somehow never even occurred to me, but I’m kind of glad I stuck it out, just because, in retrospect, it makes me feel like I was part of something big in the film industry. At that time in my life, being part of that industry was something I thought I might like to do with my life. So, even though horror is not my genre, even though I get the shivers if I even see that scary stick figure witch thing, I still think it’s pretty cool that I saw it before most and I bought it so hard. And of course, having the gimmick of the movie exposed shortly after its release made it universally mockable, leading to some memorable drunken hilarity involving a fellow Geekade writer who shall remain nameless.
Happy Halloween, however you choose to enjoy it. And if you really want to get a laugh out of your 30-something friends, take them hiking on a chilly, fall night and just start screaming “JOSH!!!!” into the darkness.
Karen Randazzo is a regular contributor to The Think Tank, and a co-host of Geekade’s TV podcast, This Week’s Episode