The Sci-Fi Channel scores a big coup with “Curse of the Blair Witch,” a unique television special made in conjunction with Artisan Entertainment. It’s no coincidence that Sci-Fi airs this special the same day Artisan releases what Roger Ebert has called the third most anticipated film of the summer, “The Blair Witch Project.”
“Curse,” as it turns out, is a cleverly devised primer for the film, but also works as a tantalizing mystery and a very savvy movie promotion.
Using footage from the film to lay the story’s foundation, writers Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick and Ben Rock, the brains behind the theatrical release, carefully construct the mystery of the Blair Witch in a realistic and captivating format, which this innovative group calls “method filmmaking.”
The elements of the story, as told here, involve three Montgomery College film students who disappear while making a documentary in the woods near Burkittsville, Md. The students, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams, trace the local lore of the Blair Witch, a ghostly old female figure said to haunt these parts.
“Curse,” made in traditional docu style, parades experts, witnesses and law enforcement agents in front of the camera to construct the mythology of the Blair Witch, beginning with the tale of Elly Kedward, an Irish immigrant living in Blair, the former name of Burkittsville, in 1785.
Kedward, accused of witchcraft, was tied to a tree in the forest and left to die in the middle of winter. A year later, her accusers and several children from the town disappeared. According to various Burkittsville representatives, something horrible happens in this community every 50 or 60 years.
Although the documentary-style approach to “Curse” isn’t exactly new, technology and recent innovations have propelled this form of filmmaking into territory that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. Add movie clips to the mix and the result is a mind game made by skilled hands.
Sanchez and company have broken the rules with this TV special, and with their movie, but to give away too much would spoil the fun. It is safe to say “Curse” bears the markings of great craftsmanship — or at least a very macabre sense of humor.
The success of this project lies in the complex details of the Blair Witch legend, and the producers push all of the right viewer buttons, incorporating stories that trigger the most intense emotional responses.
Technical credits, including titillating graphics and a haunting musical score, are impressive.