JUST TWO months ago, moviegoers were lining up around the block to see Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez's "The Blair Witch Project." Last weekend, however, attendance dipped to $800 per theater; the movie is on its way to bargain theaters.
Artisan Entertainment, which doesn't want the picture's momentum to disappear completely, has announced that it will release the video version Oct. 22. The tape sells for $23; the DVD, which includes the fake documentary "Curse of the Blair Witch," will go for $30.
"Curse," which was first shown on the Sci-Fi Channel, is also available as a separate $15 tape. Both the tape and the disc will include "never-before-seen footage," and several Internet sites are already promising the same thing.
Ordinarily it takes a first-run movie several months to hit the video shelves, but "Blair Witch" is being rushed into the market. It's also making its debut on a Friday. Most videos are released on Tuesday. Artisan has decided to push up the date (from Oct. 26) to make it more available as a Halloween release.
The creators of "Blair Witch" have been accused of plagiarism because other movies have used its "mockumentary" format, most notably Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos' 1997 film "The Last Broadcast," which Wavelength Releasing and Amazon.com have released as a $20 cassette. (A DVD version is in the works.)
Both movies deal with three documentary filmmakers who explore the woods in search of a mythical creature, leaving only their footage behind. In "The Last Broadcast," which was shot for $900 (several thousand less than "Blair Witch"), they're cable-access producers. Weiler and Avalos think it's a coincidence (both movies were in production around the same time), and they're happy to ride on the more popular picture's coattails.
Also cashing in on the "Blair Witch" phenomenon are the creators of a couple of classic low-budget horror movies that made a fortune when they were first released. Anchor Bay Entertainment has given face-lifts to John Carpenter's 1978 thriller "Halloween," which was made for $300,000 and became the most successful independent film of the 1970s, and to George A. Romero's 1968 zombie epic "Night of the Living Dead," which was shot for $114,000 and grossed at least $50 million.
Available this week on both tape and DVD, "Halloween" comes in several variations, ranging from a $15 wide-screen tape to a $44 two-disc DVD set that includes both the 35mm stereo restoration of the original movie and the edited-for-television version -- which features 12 minutes that weren't seen in theaters.
Each tape and disc has a documentary made up of interviews with Carpenter, producer Debra Hill, Nick Castle (a movie director who played the masked killer) and Jamie Lee Curtis, who thought she would be fired during the first day of filmmaking: "I s---ed." Carpenter called her that night and assured her that she didn't.
Carpenter also discusses the origins of the deliberately monotonous music he wrote for the picture (could it have been the inspiration for "Eyes Wide Shut's" score?), the word-of-mouth nature of its success, and his justification for the ending: "Evil never dies. You can't kill it."
Anchor Bay's 30th-anniversary "restoration" of "Night of the Living Dead" ($20) has proved more controversial, and with good reason. The credits now claim that John A. Russo, who wrote the script, was the movie's chief creator, apparently because this version includes 15 minutes of lame, unnecessary new footage, which he recently shot. Romero approved the changes, but they add nothing essential while removing about the same amount of footage from the 96-minute original.
Fortunately, Romero's 1968 cut is still available. Perhaps the best version is Anchor Bay's 4-year-old double cassette box, which includes the original film's trailers plus Kevin O'Brien's amusing parody, "Night of the Living Bread," in which slices of white bread immobilize the human victims. Plastic sandwich bags are used to counterattack, and the film concludes with a credit for a "bread wrangler."
On Sept. 21, MPI Home Video is releasing a two-hour "Dark Shadows: Video Scrapbook" ($20) that does a fairly good job of telling the story of ABC-TV's 1970s answer to low-budget theatrical horror hits.
Dan Curtis, who produced the show, talks about how it failed to find an audience until his children told him to "make it scary." He introduced a vampire, reminiscent of the darkly romantic heroes of "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre," then couldn't get rid of him because the ratings kept going up.
Color and black-and-white clips from the show look as cheesy (and slow) as they did nearly 30 years ago, but the commentaries keep the tape interesting. So do the many extra features, including a section on location shooting, a long montage of nightmare sequences from the show, clips from the big-screen spinoffs ("Night of Dark Shadows," "House of Dark Shadows") and trailers for Curtis' television productions of "Dorian Gray," "Dracula" and "The Turn of the Screw."