The Blair Witch Project (Devil’s Advocates)


REVIEW James Gracey

The Blair Witch Project1999’s Blair Witch Project was a groundbreaking indie horror title that needs little introduction. Peter Turner’s monograph successfully posits the film as one of the most influential titles in horror cinema history and explores how it subverted conventional cinematic objectivity and identification through an eerie blending of fact and fiction.

In compelling detail, Turner not only examines the significant place held by The Blair Witch Project in horror cinema, but its influence within the found-footage subgenre, its deployment of non-fiction filmmaking methods to create a sense of palpable realism, and its now infamous production process. His opening contextualisation highlights just how staggering the film’s success and subsequent impact was. Released at ‘the end of the first real century of cinema’, during a wave of multi-million-dollar CGI-heavy blockbusters including The Phantom Menace, The Blair Witch Project went on to become one of the most financially successful films of all time. A brief glance at other horror titles that year, including The Sixth Sense, Sleepy Hollow and End of Days, further demonstrates just how unique and phenomenal The Blair Witch Project was.

Heralding the era of digital filmmaking, the film paved the way for indie filmmakers keen to break out of obscurity with the use of cheap and accessible equipment and innovative means of distribution and marketing. Turner notes that commitment to realism was the prime directive of the filmmakers, and a chapter devoted to the canny marketing of the film hones in on the filmmakers’ use of a still fledgling Internet to reach its target audience and the mythology they created to further convey this sense. He suggests the influence of burgeoning reality TV was also an important contextual factor for understanding the film, as well as its echoing of the Dogme 95 manifesto.

One of the most interesting segments of Turner’s monograph explores the style and aesthetics of the film, the influence of non-fiction filmmaking and how identification is created to evoke fear in contemporary audiences. He asserts that while the subjective camerawork echoed that of earlier slasher films, it was significantly different as it increased identification with victims, not killers. The writer also draws fascinating parallels with news reporting from the First World War and how subjective camerawork was deployed to elicit empathy in viewers. Cited are influences both obvious (Cannibal Holocaust, Orson Welles’ radio play War of the Worlds, documentary/non-fiction filmmaking) and not-so-obvious (early 20th century ‘ghost photography’ and epistolary novels), while Turner also touches upon the controversy surrounding the uncanny similarities with The Last Broadcast, a film released just prior.

A pleasurable read, the author’s style is clean and unfussy and, while his love for the film abounds, he’s careful to ensure arguments and assertions are well balanced throughout. This is not only another welcome instalment of the Devil’s Advocate series, but a fascinating insight into how a deceptively simple horror film with a minuscule budget and cast of unknowns, made such an overwhelming impact on the landscape of cinematic terror. Highly recommended.

The Curse of Frankenstein (Devil’s Advocates)


REVIEW Lloyd Haynes

The Curse of FrankensteinThe cultural and cinematic importance of Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein has been documented so extensively for several decades now — from David Pirie’s groundbreaking A Heritage of Horror (1973) through to works by Peter Hutchings (Hammer and Beyond, 1993) and Jonathan Rigby (English Gothic, 2000), among others — that it’s refreshing to find an analysis of this milestone in the history of the horror genre that is relevant, readable and illuminating.

Author Marcus K. Harmes examines the film’s relationship to its cinematic past, its literary source material (Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein) and the adaptations of Shelley’s book which preceded it (Thomas Edison’s 1910 FrankensteinLife Without Soul, directed by Joseph W. Smiley in 1915; Eugenio Testa’s Italian-made Il mostro di Frankenstein, 1920; and Universal and James Whale’s classic 1931 Frankenstein).

Offered is a close analysis of Jimmy Sangster’s script and the major differences between film and book; Shelley’s novel was used as the starting point but the film deviates from its source material in a radical fashion with characters, plot and dialogue either condensed or ignored entirely (an economical trick performed by Sangster again the following year for Dracula). The film’s lack of textual fidelity, argues Harmes, marks it out as a ‘transgressive’ adaptation.

Interestingly, the author considers The Curse of Frankenstein to be as much of a Gainsborough-style period drama as a horror movie, and examines the close connections between Hammer and Gainsborough: both were small-scale production outfits who employed a repertory company of technicians and actors and even shared some recurring thematic concerns (aristocratic villainy, for example). Also focused on is the film’s production history and its key creative personnel. The use of Eastman Colour added an essential garishness to Britain’s first colour horror film, and the modest £64,000 budget looks considerably more thanks to the ingenuity of the production team. And, no monograph on The Curse of Frankenstein would be complete without covering the savage overreaction by the British press when the film was released in the spring of 1957, which only helped to increase the picture’s commercial fortunes.

Well-written and thoroughly researched, Marcus K. Harmes’ excellent study is a testament to the enduring appeal and enthusiasm for The Curse of Frankenstein, and leaves room for other individual examinations of Hammer’s classic output from the late 1950s and early 1960s.


Win: Housebound

HouseboundKylie Bucknell is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. Her punishment is made worse by the fact she has to live there with her mother Miriam who’s convinced that the house is haunted. Kylie dismisses Miriam’s superstitions. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers and strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she’s inherited her overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit.

Housebound is available on DVD now. To win a copy, enter details below.