90’s Horror Throwback: “The Blair Witch Project”

In October 1994, film students Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard set out to produce a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch. They travel to Burkittsville, Maryland, formerly Blair, and interview locals about the legend of the Blair Witch. The locals tell them of Rustin Parr, a hermit who kidnapped seven children in the 1940s and brought them to his house in the woods, where he tortured and murdered them. Parr brought the children into his home’s basement in pairs. Parr forced the first child to face the corner and listen to their companion’s screams as he murdered the second child. Parr would then murder the first child. Eventually turning himself in to the police, Parr later pleaded insanity, saying that the spirit of Elly Kedward, a witch hanged in the 18th century, had been terrorizing him for some time and promised to leave him alone if he murdered the children. The trio also interviews Mary Brown, a local eccentric who tells them that she had encountered the Blair Witch as a child.

The second day, the students begin to explore the woods in north Burkittsville to look for evidence of the Blair Witch. Along the way, a fisherman warns them that the woods are haunted, and recalls a time that he had seen strange mist rising from the water. The students hike to Coffin Rock, where five men were found ritualistically murdered in the 19th century, and then camp for the night. The next day they move deeper into the woods, despite being uncertain of their exact location on the map. They eventually locate what appears to be an old cemetery with seven small cairns. They set up camp nearby and then return to the cemetery after dark. Josh accidentally disturbs a cairn, and Heather hastily repairs it. Later, they hear crackling sounds in the darkness that seem to be coming from all directions and assume the noises are from animals or locals following them.

The following day they attempt to return to their vehicle, but cannot find their way; they try until nightfall, when they are forced to set camp. That night, they again hear crackling noises, but cannot see anything. The next morning they find three cairns have been built around their tent during the night. As they continue trying to find their way out of the woods, Heather realizes that her map is missing, and Mike later reveals that he kicked it into a creek out of frustration the previous day. Josh and Heather attack Mike in a fit of intense rage. They then realize they are now hopelessly lost, and decide to simply “head south”. Soon, they discover a multitude of humanoid stick figures suspended from trees. That night, they hear more strange noises, including the sounds of children and bizarre “morphing” sounds. When an unknown force shakes the tent, they flee in a panic and hide in the woods until dawn. Upon returning to their tent, they find that their possessions have been rifled through, and Josh’s equipment is covered with slime, causing them to question why only his belongings were affected. As the day wears on, they pass a log over a stream that was identical to the one they had passed earlier, despite having traveled directly south all day, and again set camp, completely demoralized at having wasted the entire day seemingly going in circles. After this night, none of them will be the same again.

When “Blair Witch Project” opened in July 1999, little did anyone in the entertainment business realize that it would change the horror genre forever. The $30,000 little indie that could grossed an astonishing $141 million at the domestic box office and another $100 million overseas to become the most successful film of all time (budget to gross ratio). This little film had an entire nation believing that the events that took place actually happened. It was the first film to use the internet as a form of viral marketing from a website with little known “facts” about the “whereabouts” of the cast. It helped that “Blair Witch Project” was a damn good movie. The ending is scary as well and its hard to believe how far the “found footage” subgenre has come since the making of this film. It isn’t perfect (the leads can be a bit annoying and the scares are a bit repetitive towards the end) but it is a one of a kind movie that won’t soon be forgotten.

To buy “The Blair Witch Project”: The Blair Witch Project [Blu-ray]