Although Apollo 18 didn’t take off at the box office, it certainly did boast an interesting “high concept” pitch.
Meaning, an idea you can explain in 30 seconds or less: The Blair Witch Project on the Moon. Yeah, yeah, we know the Blair Witch Project was a long time ago now, but it’s actually in it’s own little sub-genre of horror along with Apollo and Cannibal Holocaust: the found footage horror film.
Apparently Cannibal Holocaust did it first, but the basic premise with all three of these films was people disappear, then they find film or video tape left behind that explains how they vanished, and it’s usually not a pretty picture. Cannibal Holocaust told the story through film, and director Ruggero Deodato did his job too well. He actually went to jail because Italian authorities thought it was a snuff film, and the actors had to appear in court to prove they were still alive.
The whole point with Blair Witch was to take the budget limitations and turn them into assets. It’s been called the gateway to digital video, but it was actually shot with a Hi8 camera, which is basically a step above VHS, probably the only Hi8 feature length movie. The disappearance takes place in 1994, and Hi8 would have been the best available technology film students would have been using then.
Blair Witch also launched viral marketing with their website, www.blairwitch.com, which again was a function of budget. ”I happened to know how to build websites. I had just broken up with my girlfriend and I had a lot of free time on my hands,” says director Eduardo Sanchez. In my small way, I was creating the prototype for what was to come afterwards. It was cool that I helped create something that people were emulating.”
Some accused Blair Witch of stealing from Cannibal Holocaust, but Sanchez, who co-directed Blair Witch with Dan Myrick, says he found out about Holocaust. A fan wrote in to the website: “This movie sounds really familiar to Cannibal Holocaust, have you ever seen it?,” and he sent in a VHS copy.
“We popped it in and watched an hour of it,” Sanchez recalls. “It’s not an enjoyable movie. Once they started killing animals, I didn’t want to see it anymore. We had never heard of it, and it’s probably a good thing we’d never seen it. We’re all very sensitive to copying people, and ripping people off, so I don’t know if we would have done Blair Witch if we had seen Cannibal Holocaust. We didn’t want to do anything that had already been done. The premise of Cannibal Holocaust is exactly the premise as Blair Witch if you take all the details out, and we were just shocked by it. We were kinda like, ‘Wow, there really are no new ideas.”
Blair Witch was definitely a movie in the right time and place, with viral marketing exploding helping get the word out big time, and it’s proven a difficult trick to repeat. As Joe Dante (Gremlins) told Fangoria, “The Blair Witch Project is kind of a unique case. There aren’t going to be a lot of pictures that have the combination of luck and timing that that picture had. People went in expecting a terrifying thrill ride, and what they got was a home movie. Yet everybody had to see it. The website thing was unique and brilliantly done. It boiled down to a bunch of kids getting their amateur movie released as a feature, which is great – good for them.”