In 1999, Lloyd Rose of the Washington Post opened his review of The Blair Witch Project by saying, "The Blair Witch Project is the scariest movie I've ever seen. Not the goriest, the grossest, the weirdest, the eeriest, the sickest, the creepiest or the slimiest. Not the most haunting, most disturbing, most horrific, most violent, most beautiful, most dreamlike or most vile. Just flat out the scariest." He said it surpassed even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Carrie, and Jaws. Whether you agree that Blair Witch Project is scarier than Massacre is subjective, but the little indie's place in film history is not — because just like those other horror classics, when Blair Witch Project came out, no one had ever seen anything like it before.

In a genre that sustains itself by recycling tropes and stereotypes, Blair Witch Project took viewers somewhere they had never been, through its use of found footage. There was a vaguely similar approach used in 1980's Cannibal Holocaust, as well as in Man Bites Dog and Ghostwatch from 1992, but the handicam aesthetic pioneered by Blair Witch Project filmmakers Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick was a first of its kind. Rose concluded his review by comparing the movie to Orson Welles's War of the Worlds radio broadcast that fooled America into thinking it was actually under siege by aliens. "Like that youthfully impetuous near-hoax, Myrick and Sanchez's movie is a work that plays — with form, technical possibilities, audience expectations and the idea of a show as a magic trick."

And as with any good cinematic magic trick, it spawned a generation of scary movies employing the same sleight of hand. The 1990s lacked the kind of distinct cinematic DNA that was clearly traceable in previous decades. In the post–WWII era there were creature features that played to America's fear of the Other, like The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) and Them! (1954). The late 1960s through the 1970s saw boundary-pushing exploitation cinema like The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) emerge, and the 1980s were defined by the slasher. The '90s produced plenty of great horror, but it didn't have a clear through-line. Then Blair Witch Project happened and found-footage horror exploded, utilizing newly accessible compact-video technology for the first time.

Now it's 2016, and we have the direct sequel to Blair Witch Project, just called The Blair Witch. Over the past 17 years, dozens of movies have come out that have followed in the original film's footsteps, with some managing to refine the found-footage form and create new takes on a heavily used, and sometimes abused, form of filmmaking. Before Tangerine was being shot on an iPhone, Blair Witch Project was being recorded with cameras anyone could buy at a RadioShack. Here is a look at the legacy of Blair Witch Project and the evolution of the cinematic style it perpetuated.

The Curse (2005)

Japanese director Kôji Shiraishi put a gruesome J-Horror stamp on found footage with The Curse. He maintained the basic documentary format — the protagonist is literally making a documentary, in this case about a series of supernatural occurrences that all tie back to a demon called "Kagutaba," and not just documenting the events around him. But where Shiraishi innovated is by expanding the scope beyond the bottle-movie confines of Witch with more characters and "mixed media" elements like archival footage of TV shows.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Behind the Mask updated the serial-killer mockumentary construct of Man Bites Dog, an approach that was also loosely applied in the meta found-footage film The Last Horror Movie, from 2003. Mask follows the maturation of an aspiring serial killer as he prepares to slaughter a group of teenagers, and it blends the self-awareness of Scream with the handicam style of Blair Witch Project. The found-footage subgenre was still gaining new elements, but it was still mostly anchored to the documentary format. Until…

Paranormal Activity (2007)

The next watershed moment in found footage came in the form of the most profitable movie of all time, as the first Paranormal cost $15,000 to make and brought in more than $193 million worldwide. It launched a franchise worth almost a billion dollars as well as the career of horror super-producer Jason Blum, who has been among the most powerful forces in shaping horror cinema over the past ten years. (Saw maestro James Wan would be high on that list, too.) Paranormal also launched horror's first found-footage series, just as Hollywood was diving headlong into the sequel/expanded-universe game. It was also notable for breaking from the literal documentary format and moving toward a more panic-based documentation style: These weren't people making movies that they then lost. The protagonists were filming themselves while being terrorized.

[REC] (2007)

The year 2007 was major for found footage. Paranormal catalyzed a massive appetite for tightly contained, tiny-budget horror that would form the basis of the Blumhouse business model, and Spanish directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza put out the first chapter of another prolific found-footage horror franchise, [REC], which blended zombies and contagion horror with handicam style in a masterful way. In it, a journalist and her cameraman go to an apartment building where a woman is reportedly trapped by a fire, and end up stuck themselves in a hellhouse filled with an increasing number of ultra-aggressive infected.

It brought back the frantic urgency of Blair Witch Project but added more story, plus actual visible villains. (Although it didn't deal with the undead or the infected, 2014's As Above So Below would go on to re-create this same claustrophobic, anxiety-fueled style.) George A. Romero submitted his own entry into this mashup genre with Diary of the Dead in 2008, the same year the highly scary American adaptation of [REC], called Quarantine, came out.The Bay, from 2012, was also a strong entry into the contagion bracket. [REC] marked the further evolution of found-footage films by making a conventional containment horror film in a new way: No character in [REC] had set out to capture footage of the paranormal. They just happened to have a camera on hand in the middle of an outbreak, which meant the characters and audience alike were equally unprepared for the terror to unfold.

Cloverfield (2008)

What gestated for a long time as an untitled J.J. Abrams project turned out to be the biggest, shiniest found-footage movie of them all. It was Godzilla, but with shaky cams. If there was anyone left who still considered found footage to be a nascent form, that ended after Cloverfield turned into the breakout film of Abrams's career and the first massive score for his production company, Bad Robot. So, you basically have The Blair Witch Project to thank for the reignited Star Wars universe and the blockbuster-level career of Chris Pine. Facts are facts.

Trollhunter (2010)

The most creatively delightful product of the Blair Witch legacy is this Norwegian folk horror about hunting trolls. It's a return to the actual documentary format, and where thrills in movies like Paranormal and Witch were rendered in the negative space — the demons you couldn't see —Trollhunter shows you the fantastical creatures in all their weird, wonderful glory. Fortunately, this one didn't get franchised to death. It's just a tiny anomalous satellite floating around Planet Horror.

The Last Exorcism (2010)

Another drift into new territory for the DIY style. Having established that found footage worked for creature features, zombie movies, ghost stories, and contagion chronicles, The Last Exorcism proved to be a sneaky good entry into the overcrowded class of possession movies. One of the most affecting elements of any possession movie is the gnarly body choreography of the victim, and it turns out the physically repulsive sight of a body popping into a human knot is especially retch-worthy when shot like a home video. Despite the found-footage format having matured and exorcism stories already being well-trod ground, the lo-fi aesthetic of Last Exorcism made both types of movie feel fresh again. You weren't watching a stylized narrative about some poor girl being overwhelmed by a demon spirit — you were being invited in to actually experience the event yourself. As you heard her screams and watched her contort there wasn't anything to remind you "It's just a movie," because it was a home movie. It was just the right sort of intimate perspective for an incredibly intimate kind of fear.

V/H/S (2012)

By the time V/H/S was released, found-footage movies had become considerably shinier thanks to their popularity with studios; meanwhile, the low-budget space was starting to feel tired. This anthology collection put a jolt back into the genre, resurrecting the same grittiness that made Blair Witch Project feel so real and terrifying back in 1999. It provided the same feeling as Project — that you were watching relatable people experience atrocities. It was stark and violent like the horror of the last 1970s with the subtle, convincing effects made possible by inexpensive digital filming technology. V/H/S also repopularized the anthology format, spawning two sequels of its own and giving way to collections like The ABCs of Death (2012), this year's Southbound, and the forthcoming all-female directed XX.

The Den (2013)

Although the webcam-based found-footage style really broke out with Unfriended in 2014, it was first employed in The Den one year earlier. One of the great accomplishments of Blair Witch Project was integrating new technology into filming, and The Den trading a shaky cam for a static computer webcam was the next step in that evolution. Internet horror had been around since the early 1990s with movies like Lawnmower Man, and it was a perfect avenue to showcase the range of a genre that had lost the element of surprise that comes with being brand-new. Obviously, you can't go around making webcam movies all the time; it is an inherently fixed-location style, after all. But The Den did lay the groundwork for a new format barrier-buster that came out earlier this year, the Snapchat-native Sickhouse, which has a plot pulled straight from the Blair Witch Project guide to moviemaking: A group of young friends sets out into the woods to find a haunted house, and they film their (mis)adventures on their handheld, readily accessible recording devices.

Creep (2014)

Creep was the first time an established auteur, Mark Duplass, went into the micro-budget found-footage space. The mumblecore pioneer produced this stressful, streamlined, old-fashioned man vs. man horror movie, which he starred in and co-wrote with the director Patrick Brice. In a very tough and competitive independent film market, Creep premiered on Netflix and was a perfect example of story and execution prevailing over the need for massive budgets and A-list cast. It stuck with the lo-fi sensibility of Blair Witch Project, trimmed out the high-concept approaches of found-footage movies like Cloverfield and Chronicle, and opted out of the novelty appeal provided by movies like The Den and Unfriended. It was just textbook good filmmaking — characters you could empathize with, a simple but effective premise — with a strong horror sensibility behind it and an excellent use of modern technology to subvert a locked-down mainstream entertainment industry. For pure horror — no supernatural elements, no special effects, no science fiction, no gimmicks — it is the platonic ideal of the form.

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