When The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, it broke all sorts of molds. The creepy faux-documentary, about three student filmmakers who get lost in the woods, was the first to leverage the “found footage” idea into a full-length, mainstream horror movie.
The film also employed new digital age promotion techniques, using fake websites and viral marketing strategies to build buzz. By some accounts, it's still the single most profitable movie ever made, earning $240 million worldwide off a $50,000 production budget.
Blair Witch co-director Eduardo Sanchez is back this week with the home video release of LOVELY MOLLY, available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download.
The gist: Recovering addict Molly Reynolds (newcomer Getchen Lodge) has just moved back into her childhood home with her new husband, Tim, and her tenuous sobriety. When Tim has to leave for several days for his truck driving job, Molly must confront her demons — figurative and otherwise.
It soon becomes clear that Molly's childhood in the house was not a happy one, and dark allusions are made about her abusive father, her mother's death and some disturbing artifacts in the basement.
Lovely Molly takes elements of the haunted house story and the demonic possession story, then elevates them with the intriguing addiction angle and an absolutely fearless performance by Gretchen Lodge. Horror movies traditionally feature imagery of their lead actress, bloodied and frantic, usually in a sleeveless shirt. But Sanchez and Lodge go one better — Molly is totally naked in several key scenes. These sequences are about vulnerability, not sex, and the good news (I suppose) is that the blood Molly's splattered with isn't hers.
Lodge's fierce performance really carries Lovely Molly, which is otherwise a skillful but unremarkable scary movie. Sanchez nods to his Blair Witch pedigree by inserting some found-footage elements as Molly videotapes the eerie phenomena unfolding around her.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray packages come with a suite of extras that explore the back story of Molly, her parents, and the haunted house. These mini-docs are a fake-out within a fake-out, presented as one of those ghost hunter shows you see on basic cable.
It seems strange to say, but my advice is: If you watch Lovely Molly and like it, skip the extras. The film has a nice, understated ambiguity that the ghost hunter nonsense totally obliterates. It's as if Sanchez had a checklist of haunted house cliches — Cults! Psychopaths! Indian burial grounds! — and tossed them all at the back story script.
If you're in the market for a calmer, stranger, more stylized scary movie experience, consider the delightfully goofy H.P. Lovecraft adaptation THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, now available on DVD.
Produced by the dedicated geeks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS), Whisperer is a true indie film project and labor of love. Based on one of Lovecraft's pulpiest short stories, Whisperer is shot in black-and-white, and very much in the style of Universal Studio monster movies of the 1930s. (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon).
It can be hard to explain the appeal of Lovecraft to the uninitiated. His stories, dense with purple prose, tell of men driven mad by forbidden knowledge and cosmic horror. The effect is at once ridiculous and genuinely unsettling, and Whisperer does a great job capturing that elusive Lovecraft vibe of New England gothic horror and B-movie sci-fi thrills.
The folks at HPLHS have produced several film and radio dramas of Lovecraft stories, actually. Their motto: Ludo Fore Putavimus ("We thought it would be fun"). You'll definitely want to check out the DVD extras here, to see how they pulled it all off.
Also New This Week:
One of the great privileges of parenthood is imposing your random pop culture obsessions on the kids. New to DVD and Blu-ray this week, LOONEY TUNES: THE CHUCK JONES COLLECTION MOUSE CHRONICLES is a good one to put into heavy household rotation. Jones was the best of all the classic Looney Toones directors, IMHO, and his distinctive style is all over this two-disc collection, starring diabolical cat tormentors Hubie and Bertie (“Yeah, yeah, sure, sure”)
Another good family pick, THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS is the latest stop-motion “claymation” feature from Britain's Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit).
This will require careful planning: HBO's BOARDWALK EMPIRE and AMC's THE WALKING DEAD have both released their Season Two collections this week. Too much good TV, that's the problem.
Plus: Foreign film Oscar nominee Monsieur Lazhar; Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline in Darling Companion; yet another Nicholas Sparks adaptation with The Lucky One; and more TV-on-DVD from Homeland, Sons of Anarchy and the very fun Once Upon a Time.