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The Blair Witch Project

. "The Last Broadcast"

This mock thriller purports to be a predecessor to and blueprint for "The Blair Witch Project," released in 1999. The implication is that it inspired that highly successful stunner, but the publicists for this 1998 mockumentary (originally released in 2000 on DVD, now being released as a Special Edition DVD) shouldn't lean too heavily on that as a claim to fame for their own project. "The Last Broadcast" has its moments and does build a mystical mystery, but what might have played better as a 30-minute short feels overplayed and overextended in feature length. If it really did give the "Blair" team some ideas, those folks found a way to pull mock horror drama off more convincingly, grippingly and better, and may indeed have returned any favors by paving a road in the commercial universe for the entire genre.

Which is not to say this doesn't stand on its own. The premise is that it's David Leigh's (David Beard) investigation of the murders of two broadcast entrepreneurs, Steven Avkast (Stefan Avalos) and Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler) who, armed with digital cameras, full dedication and the latter's volubility, set out into the New Jersey Pine Barrens to search for the "Jersey Devil," an east coast take on Bigfoot with a vicious appetite.

To record the events for a documentary of the quest is cameraman Rein Clackin (Rein Clabbers) who is credited not only for his highly jiggled (and steadily mounted) camerawork, but for the inventory of cameras he devotedly made available for the production. With them, much was recorded.

Rounding out the team is Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), brought in as a "psychic" guide who turns bizarre and wears out his welcome. When challenged about his peculiar behavior as possibly being that of a "psycho" rather than the original concept, he attacks his kidder and goes off in a threatening rage. Later, when he becomes the sole survivor of the expedition, almost all fingers point to him as the killer. The purpose of Leigh's film about the misadventure, then, is to disprove this assumption.

Brought into the investigative framework are participants of the case, Suerd's shrink, a videographer or two, officials of law enforcement, etc. To avoid a non-conclusion because the true killer isn't found nor proven, and so as to imply there is a "Jersey Devil," a twist ending is provided that reads to me as a save-face, save-grace, never-give-up gimmick.

Having pointed out the bad with the good, both of which this production can claim, it's a not-uninteresting bit of contrived horror in a no-budget package of somewhat capable technique. It builds tension when it's not dampening it with overstatement and repetition. One can sympathize. If you want to get into the feature world, you have to come up with at least 87 minutes worth of footage. Bottom line, I patiently, and with interest, watched all of it.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner
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