In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary.
A year later their footage was found.
So begins one of the most puzzling horror hits of the 90s. So effective was its marketing campaign that it had many convinced that they were watching a documentary even after the closing credits. Actress Heather Donahue later revealed that her mother received condolensce cards from frends who honestly believed that her daughter was genuinely missing and presumed dead. The Blair Witch craze was so strange and so devisive that it managed to earn an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature Film and a Razzie nomination for Worst Feature Film.
With over 15 years of hindsight, it’s all too easy to take The Blair Witch for granted. Within months of its release, the impact of some scenes had been diluted by way too many Blair Witch spoofs. The film’s unexpected success went on to inspire so many imitators that Sean recently called for an end to the “found footage genre”. To be 17 though, as I was, when the movie first hit theaters was a truly terrifying experience that took me days to recover from. Watching it today, its barely lost even a bit of its initial impact.
For those who haven’t seen it, The Blair Witch Project follows three student filmmakers who spend a weekend in the woods to make a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch, who supposedly haunts the area. The poor kids soon find themselves hopelessly lost in the woods and stalked and psychologically tormented by unseen forces (presumably the Witch). Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez rely entirely on the hand-held “documentary” footage to capture the horror.
In fact, Myrick and Sánchez really did rely on their trio of actors to be their camera operators. Spending eight days in the woods alone, the actors improvised almost all of their dialogue and rarely knew what the unseen crew would throw at them next. The unorthodox approach pays off. The three lead perofrmances were convincing enough to fool so many audiences into thinking they were watching a real doc, after all. The Blair Witch may not be real the the tears and fear often are. It would even be compeelling just as a story of three students lost in the woods. Of course, it’s their tormenter who makes The Blair Witch Project a horror classic. Unseen by the audience, we have only the reactions of the tormented and our own worst nightmares to rely on. The Blair Witch is whoever you want her to be, whoever you are most afraid that she is. The film works every bit as well as your own imagination does.
I remember when this film came out. Like it was last week;)!!
I know, Hard to believe it’s been 16 years since the summer of The Matrix, Blair Witch, The Sixth Sense, and American Pie.
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Lol what a combination
Wow, what a summer…er. I remember this one vividly too. Well, not the movie so much as attending the movie. Great review, Matt.
Great review. What a great movie too. It’s the be all end all of found footage. I totally agree with how your imagination terrifies you most. Blair Witch relied on this and embellished it to stellar effect. I also enjoyed how you talked about the behind the scenes actors filming approach and how so many people thought this was a real documentary. This is probably the most shocking and scariest horror breakthrough since Exorcist.
I fondly remember when this came out. I saw it in early sneak preview before the hype machine and worked at Silvercity theatre, where I announced it to a standing ovation. Check my Boobs, Blood & The Beast article for more.
I will have to check that out. I thought your comparison to The Exorcist were strong words but completely justified. In the quarter century between the two movies, it’s hard to think of another movie that messed with so many heads.
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Audiences fainted and threw up in both movies. Haha. And they each crossed over into the mainstream.
That always cracks me up, the motion sickness that so many reported when they saw The Blair Witch Project. Hand-held camera work has gotten so much worse since.
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A brilliant film and probably my favourite horror just because of how terrified I was when I first watched this – and how it stayed with me for days afterwards.
Oh I know, I was 16 and I couldn’t sleep for like three nights because I kept getting up to make sure the door was closed properly and there was nothing in my closet or under the bed. Very few movies have done that to me.
Looking back this movie was pure genius at the time.