First off, yes I know the movie was literally released before my second birthday so that’s not the point.
Now to reiterate what’s been said so far we’ve established that what makes the movie different is not just “incredibly unique” as I said before. The level of innovation within the constraints of their estimated $60,000 budget (higher than I expected but still dwarfed by other budgets.) The equally innovative marketing is an important thing to note for a few reasons.
I was unaware of the advertising of the film. I think that’s the main disconnect between people my age and those who were around to see it. Using wikipedia citations I found an article describing the movie as “Blair Witch became Hollywood’s first film with viral heat, cropping up on horror fan sites and discussion forums.” That’s basically the answer to the question, because it’s not just about the horror, its about the hype.
Essentially, what made the movie so suspenseful was the movie itself. From newspaper clippings to police investigation and even listing the actors as presumed dead on IMDb, they did everything they could to incorporate the narrative into the ads. which not only serves as advertisement, but exposition and begins to tell the story all at the same time.
We have an answer gentlemen, and it’s in the ads.