The Blair Witch really only works so well because of the internet boom in the mid to late 90s (you can still see much of the original site at http://www.blairwitch.com/). But along with that blessing came a curse. In this case, many people had noticed some similarities in the Blair Witch and a lesser-known straight-to-video release called The Last Broadcast. And while there are some similarities, the differences are vast.
The story is of Jim Suerd, imprisoned for the murder of at least two men, Rein Clackin and Locus Wheeler, and possibly a third, Steven Avkast, although Steven’s body was never discovered. The maker of the documentary, David Leigh, believes it highly possible Suerd had been wrongfully accused.
Avkast and Wheeler are the hosts of a campy low-budget cable TV program titled “Fact or Fiction.” Enlisting the help of Clackin, a soundman, and Suerd, a psychic, the four head in to the “Pine Barrens,” a large forested area in New Jersey, investigating an urban legend known as “The Jersey Devil.” Suerd is the only one to return from the expedition. The film goes on to examine all aspects of the murder, sometimes interlacing bits of footage from the unaired episode.
The set up for the film is well executed. The documentary looks believable (with the exception of interviews with Suerd’s psychologist, who sits behind a very informal desk with his legs propped up, spilling the beans as if there is no such beast as doctor/patient confidentiality). The acting is much better than one would expect for a straight-to-video film. Those two aspects help make the mystery of an unsolved mystery intriguing enough. However, in the end, the faults of the movie are just a little too much to overcome.
Just as in the Blair Witch, there isn’t enough meat here. Certain points of the murders are visited, and visited again, and then revisited, just to flesh out the film’s running time. You get tired of hearing from peripheral characters that don’t even seem to have a point in the film. For instance, Sam Woods is introduced as a former television soap director who is hired to direct the live show they are doing from the Pine Barrens. But he isn’t there during the filming. So what’s his point in the film? He has none. Yet they continue to interlace interviews with him.
The filmmakers should have either fleshed out the story, or simply made the film shorter. Whereas the Blair Witch could get away with this to a degree since the footage was “raw,” The Last Broadcast can’t afford itself the same comfort, and it really bogs the film down.
Another glaring problem with a film repeatedly hinting that the antagonist is the “Jersey Devil,” is we are given absolutely no background on the legend. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. The entire faux-documentary is based around four guys focusing an entire show about a legend we, as the viewer, are never told ANYTHING about. Is it a creature? A monster? A zombie? A wild animal? A serial killer? Has it ever supposedly killed somebody? Have people gone ever gone missing in the woods? None of these questions are even posed, much less answered.
Worst of all, when what really happened in the forest is finally revealed you can only be angry at the filmmakers, trying so hard to surprise they forgot the best twist endings at least make sense.
There is a scene in the Blair Witch when Heather turns on the camera in the pitch dark of night and starts blathering hysterically in to it. The scene is claustrophobic and unsettling in illustrating her complete lack of hope. This is an iconic moment, if not in film, at the very least in the genre. All the internet rumors about stolen ideas seem to boil down to a sort of jealousy. Internet geeks wanting to say they saw a similar film before it was “cool,” filmmakers wanting to say they made a similar film that was never recognized. Ideas are always shared and taken and embellished upon. Did the two filmmakers of Blair Witch borrow a few ideas from The Last Broadcast? It’s possible, but in the end what really matters is they simply made a better film. Sometimes it’s hard to look past your own creation to realize the truth.
Written by Ryan Venson