What's the big Internet debate these days concerning Blair Witch? The issue (and people have told me they've heard of a potential law suit) is whether co-directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick borrowed their "original" story from a 1979 Brazilian gorefest, Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust.
I confess to have shown Deodato's scandalous flesh feast in a course I taught in "Transgressive Cinema" at Boston University. Transgressive it is, and no film so repelled my students as this disgusting saga of a haughty American film crew who go into the Brazilian jungle in search of cannibals. Lo, they become rapists, pillagers, and plunderers themselves, with a My Lai mentality, until they are bloodily murdered and, of course, devoured raw by the pestered natives. You can read at length about Cannibal Holocaust in Mikita Brottman's 1997 Meat is Murder! An Illustrated Guide to Cannibal Culture. You can rent the tape at several of the more peculiar video stores about town. (I dare you to request it at Blockbuster!)
Are the Blair Witch boys familiar with it? You see, the four-person documentary crew in Cannibal Holocaust are missing in the jungle. We find out their fate when a search party locates the unedited film footage of their last days. What we see: the crew filming each other, joking before the camera, as they march deeper and deeper into the thickets and get lost, and finally killed. The shooting, as in Blair Witch, is handheld 16mm, and it gets crazier and foggier as the horrors take over the characters lives.
Did Sanchez and Myrick steal from Cannibal Holocaust? I watched the films back to back and I can't say with authority. It could all be coincidental, a smart idea thought of twice. In any case, the two films are so, so different (the earlier flooded with on-screen sex and violence, the second interestingly chaste and the terrors off camera) that I give The Blair Witch Project the benefit as an admirably original work.