The film was hailed as a brilliant publicity stunt and a terrifying reason to never go into the woods by many. Some simply couldn’t get behind the idea of a horror movie consisting solely of found footage. Little did these naysayers know that this little independent film would leave an indelible mark on the genre and cinema history forever. Today, on the seventeen-year anniversary of the film’s release, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is firmly entrenched as a cult classic.
Written and directed by Daniel Myrick, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT tells the story of three aspiring filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard) and leads all the way up to their terrifying demise. The team of three head deep into the woods in search of the legendary Blair Witch, who is allegedly a woman named Elly Kedward, a blemish on the Blair Township who was ostracized from the town and accused of witchcraft in the 1700’s. The group gets far more than they ever could have hoped for when all of the folklore and wives tales are discovered to be true and there literally is no way out of the woods alive.
This seventy-nine minute film is cobbled together completely from found footage allegedly found in a video camera discovered in the woods after the three adults were pronounced missing while navigating the Black Hills of Maryland in 1994.
The film was premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and gobbled up by Artisan Studios fairly quickly. After months of incredibly choreographed publicity and generating a ton of buzz as a “real incident” via the Internet (which was still a relatively unknown commodity when it came to advertising at the time), the film destroyed box offices across the country to the tune of nearly $250 million.
Arguably the most successful independent film of all time, THE BLAIR WITCH script was penned in 1988. After several attempts at pitching the film and finally collecting the perfect trio of actors, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was finally underway. The shooting schedule for the film was absolutely bonkers, stretching over a ridiculously short period of eight days in October of 1998.
What makes THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT such an incredible piece of film? It would be cheating if I said ‘everything’, wouldn’t it?
But that’s just it – everything in this film works. Donahue, who carries the camera for most of the film had actually never handled a video camera before this film. So all of the fumbling, muffled speaker moments and shaky close-ups aren’t acting – they are genuine moments that just seep into the unsettling mood of the film. When the tension mounts and the three friends are literally running for their lives, the spastic camera work can literally roll a viewer’s stomach at times.
Actors Donahue, Leonard and Williams were just as clueless as their characters in the film. In interviews, the three cast members have discussed being tossed into the woods with little food and resources, only to be tormented by the inclement weather and unsettling noises at all hours of the night. The actors were notified of the next day’s filming schedule and location via messages that simply contained GPS coordinates and the crew went out of their way to make filming as unbearable as possible for the trio in order to achieve maximum genuine misery on film. Nineteen hours of film were ultimately pared down to the seventy-nine minute run time.
That world-famous scene of Donahue whimpering into the camera is one of the most recognized horror scenes in history and the ending pays off in an extraordinarily unnerving way. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is truly one of the few films to have genuinely given me nightmares. I can’t help but cringe at the final scene even to this day.
Then there’s that brilliant publicity plan! The internet was nowhere near the vehicle it is today, especially for entertainment, and I vividly remember hearing about the case of the Blair Witch and checking out the website a few times at a friend’s house. The site was filled with police reports, newspaper clippings and interviews that had me – and millions of others – truly believing the world had uncovered one of the most terrifying stories of all time. Unbeknownst to me and those millions, it was all fake. But damn, how could I be upset when it was done so well and the film was crafted so perfectly?
The film is regularly included in “Scariest movies of all time” lists and for good reason. While not everybody’s cup of tea, I can’t get enough of this film and will always love it.
Just last week at the San Diego Comic Con, the horror world was shaken off its axis when it was revealed that a film that had been known as THE WOODS was actually a sequel to the 1999 film. BLAIR WITCH, the actual title of the upcoming film, is directed by Adam Wingard (YOU’RE NEXT, V/H/S, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE) and written by Wingard’s right hand man, Simon Barrett. The latest chapter in the Blair Witch story is slated for a September 16th release.