181. The Blair Witch Project


Movie: The Blair Witch Project

Release Date: July 14, 1999

Director: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez.

Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard.

Tag Lines: “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.”

“The scariest movie of all time is a true story.”

“Scarier than The Exorcist!”

‘Scary as hell.”

“Everything you’ve heard is true.”

Relevance: For me, the summer of 1999 was all about the Blair Witch. I started hearing rumblings about a scary “documentary” movie in the Spring of that year. As the summer approached, the marketing machine for ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was in full effect, and as a huge fan of the horror genre, I was more than intrigued.

This film was the first, at least that I was aware, to primarily utilize the internet for its marketing campaign. There was an official website which showcased the “factual” story of the Blair Witch and the missing student filmmakers. It was backed up by police reports, news reel footage and stories about the legend of the Blair Witch near Burkittsville, Maryland. In early July, the SciFi Channel aired a documentary about the upcoming film called ‘Curse of the Blair Witch.’ Even though this term didn’t start for a decade later, the Blair Witch went completely viral. Everyone was talking about it, sparking debates across the internet over whether the film was a real-life documentary or just a work of fiction. I was completely obsessed.

By time the movie finally opened at the end of July, I was more than infatuated with the story. I had seen the documentary and read everything I could about Burkitsville and the Blair Witch. I talked about it non-stop and loved hearing everyone’e opinion on the story, whether it was fact or fiction. I never really committed to either side of the argument, but secretly I wanted it to be true. If it were true, it made it even more scary than what it was. I could not wait to see the film and went its opening weekend. Little did I know that what I was about to witness would stay with me forever.

I went to the movie with the person I was living with at the time. He was not a fan of the horror genre, but went with me begrudgingly. The movie was unlike anything I had witnessed before. The “found footage” technique had not yet been used to my knowledge and was most effective. The film, made out to be a documentary, only used hand held cameras. It was dark and jumpy and unfocused, all adding to the suspense and horror of the film. Sometimes not seeing something is scarier than actually seeing something. The movie succeeded with that notion. The packed audience jumped, and shrieked and looked away from the screen more so than any other movie I went to before. This was not my first horror movie, but it was the first time that a climax and ending to one left me shocked and chilled to the bone.

The drive home from the theater to where we were living at the time was very wooded. It was a forty-five minute drive in the dark with very little talking. It was probably one of the scariest car rides I was ever on, simply because I could not get the images from the movie out of my head. That, and we were surrounded by trees on both sides. When we finally made it home, I knew I needed to “break the ice” and get our minds off of the film. But before I did so, I played a prank on my partner. I ran into the house first and went upstairs to our bedroom and stood face first into the corner of the room. (To those of you that saw the film, yes, I can be an asshole at times.) A scream, a shriek and an “I hate you” triggered my knowledge of partner’s entrance into the room. He was mad. But it was worth it. The rest of the night we watched “The Golden Girls” and barely slept a wink.

Eventually it was revealed that ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was indeed a work of fiction. But by that time, it didn’t matter. It was a huge success. The film was a sleeper hit, the tenth highest grossing film of 1999 and one of the most successful independent films of all time. My love for the movie did not end. I owned it on both VHS and DVD and was even a fan of its sequel that was released in 2000. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was more than just a movie, it was an ongoing event that made me realize two things. One, a great marketing campaign really makes a difference. Two, I still get scared.

Today’s Thoughts: Although I do own the DVD, I probably have not watched ‘The Blair Witch Project’ in at least over a decade. I was definitely overdue. I was ready to revisit Burkitsville and catch up with my old friend Blair.

The movie is not as scary as I remember it being in the darkened movie theater in 1999, but it still does produce some really great chills. The actors, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard, are all very effective as the lost in the woods filmmakers. You feel their anger, frustration and fear as things become more bleak for them. The “less you see is more” idea of the film still works and that last scene is still as powerful as it was the first time. Unfortunately I watched the film alone, so no pranks were played today.

‘The Blair Witch Project’ is truly an innovative, creative and chilling movie to watch. As tired as many of the “found footage” movies got to be after awhile, one must tip its hat to the originator. If you are a fan of horror or a student of film, this is definitely a must “highly recommended” watch.

Awards: Film Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature – Under $500,000 (winner), PGA Award for Most Promising Producer in Theatrical Motion Pictures, Robin Cowie, Gregg Hale (winner).

Ways to Watch: YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, DVD Availability.


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