So I had heard it said on the Internet–and you obviously have to consider the veracity of this statement because we are talking about the Internet–that the 1999 found footage classic The Blair Witch Project is not as innovative as once thought and was toootalllly ripping off a 1998 movie called The Last Broadcast.
A minute amount of Googling reveals this as untrue–while The Blair Witch Project came out a year after The Last Broadcast, the two films were being created right around the same time, and the fact that they are both very low-budget independent films shows that the similarities are coincidental. What are those similarities? Well, whereas The Blair Witch Project is found footage from 1994 of three college students making a documentary in the woods of Maryland, The Last Broadcast is found footage from 1995 of the crew of a public access television show making an episode in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Our protagonists in this case are four men, one of which had been convicted of murdering two of the other three (the third’s body was not found, so that charge was dropped) but whom then died under mysterious circumstances while in jail. Two of those guys, Steven Avkast and Locus Wheeler (played by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler) are the hosts of “Fact or Fiction”, a public access show that explores the unknown. According to the footage’s backstory, the show had been pretty popular for a while and had a strong following but in the months leading up to the murders, was getting stale and losing viewers. The show is noteworthy for its innovative use of live feedback via Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and it’s an anonymous suggestion about doing a show on the Jersey Devil that spurs their fateful trip.
The Jersey Devil, by the way, is not just the name of a hockey team that I don’t like (#letsgorangers), but is the name for a mythical sort of monster in the Garden State, something akin to the Mothman or Chupacabra or Bigfoot. And the idea of going to the Pine Barrens to look for it is so intriguing that they manage to create what would have been innovative for the day–a simulcast of the show on TV and the web. They take with them Rein Clackin (Rein Clabbers), a sound guy who supposedly has Ghost Hunters-esque “paranormal” sound equpiment; as well as Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), a reclusive Internet mole who is apparently a psychic and a magician.
Suerd is the one who is accused of the murders and his conviction and subsequent death is called into question by David Leigh (David Beard), who is making an investigative documentary that serves as our framing device. He interviews the police who investigated the murders, posits that maybe Avkast–who was way more passionate about the show than his goofy co-host and also a lot more volatile–actually committed the murders because his body was never found. He gets his hands on hours upon hours of tape and hires a data retrieval expert named Michelle Monarch (Michele Pulaski) to recover what she can. All the while, he goes from questioning whether or not Suerd killed the three men to believing he didn’t and trying to figure out who the real killer was.
I won’t spoil the ending, although I will say that as we get closer to revealing the identity of the killer, the filmmakers certainly did a good job at ratcheting up the tension, but that reveal is … well, I found it annoying, to be honest.
That being said, I see where this gets some recognition from fans of the genre because it not only is an early pioneer of found footage and mockumentary filmmaking, it could easily be remade today for about the same amount of money (its budget, according to IMDb, was $900). We not only have shows like Ghost Hunters and Finding Bigfoot on actual cable, but there is an entire generation of YouTube celebrities and influencers out there who would definitely do a live feed in the middle of the woods looking for the Jersey Devil. So I definitely have to give this credit for being innovative.
But is it a must-watch? Well, The Blair Witch Project is, hands down, a much better film. With or without its companion Sci-Fi Channel special “The Curse of the Blair Witch”, it’s better acted and more tightly presented as seeming real. The Last Broadcast does a good job of structuring the documentary part but it falls juuuuust short.
Buy, Rent, or Skip?
Skip, if you’re kind of a casual fan of these things.
Rent if you’ve heard of the movie and have been curious or if you want to see another piece of the origins of the found footage genre.