The Blair Witch Project
|The Blair Witch Project|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Eduardo Sánchez
|Produced by||Robin Cowie
|Written by||Daniel Myrick
Michael C. Williams
|Editing by||Daniel Myrick
|Distributed by||Artisan Entertainment|
|Running time||81 minutes|
The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 American horror film written and directed by Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick. The film was produced by the Haxan Films production company. Though fictional, it is presented as if it depicted real events, and popularized this style of horror movie. The film relates the story of three student filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams) who disappeared while hiking in the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland in 1994 to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. The viewers are told the three were never seen or heard from again, although their video and sound equipment (along with most of the footage they shot) was discovered a year later by the police department and that this "recovered footage" is the film the viewer is watching.
The film received enormously positive reception from critics and went on to gross over US$248 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent movies of all time. The DVD was released in December 1999 and presented only in full-screen.
A studio production film based on the theme of The Blair Witch Project was released on October 27, 2000 titled Book of Shadows. Another sequel was planned for the following year, but did not materialize. On September 2, 2009, it was announced that Sánchez and Myrick were pitching the third film. A trilogy of video games based on the film was released in 2000.
The film opens with the opening text stating that in October 1994 three filmmaking students disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later, their footage was found by police.
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 house's basement in pairs, forcing 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. He was hanged after being questioned by police and reporters.
The second day, the students begin to explore the woods in north Burkittsville to look for evidence to prove that the Blair Witch exists. Along the way, two fishermen warn them that the woods are haunted and recall a time that in 1888, Robin Weaver was missing and search parties were dispatched. When Robin returned, the search parties did not. 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, but they assume the noises are from animals or locals.
The following day they attempt to return to their vehicle but can't find their way. They try until nightfall, when they are forced to set camp. That night, they again hear crackling noises but can't 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 realize they are now hopelessly lost and decide to simply "head south". 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.
The next morning Josh has disappeared. After trying in vain to find him Mike and Heather eventually break camp and slowly move on. That night, they hear Josh screaming in the darkness but are not able to find him. The next morning Heather finds a bundle of sticks and fabric outside their tent. Later inspection reveals it contains blood-soaked scraps of Josh's shirt, as well as teeth and hair, but she does not mention this to Mike.
That day Heather films herself apologizing to the co-producers of her project as well as her family and breaks down crying and hyperventilating, understanding that something terrible is hunting her and Mike. Later, they again hear Josh's agonized cries for help, but this time they follow them and discover a derelict abandoned house in the woods. Mike races upstairs, following what sounds like Josh's voice, while Heather tries to follow. Mike then claims he hears Josh in the basement. He runs downstairs and after what seems to be a quick struggle goes silent and drops the camera. Heather shouts for Mike but gets no answer. She enters the basement screaming in fear while her camera catches a glimpse of Mike facing the corner, just as Parr's victims had been made to do. Heather then utters a final scream as she and her camera violently drop to the floor. There is only silence as the footage ends.
The Blair Witch Project was developed during 1994 by the filmmakers. The script began with a 68-page outline, with the dialogue to be improvised. Accordingly, the directors advertised in Back Stage magazine for actors with strong improvisational abilities. There was a very informal improvisational audition process to narrow the pool of 2,000 actors. In developing the mythology behind the movie, the filmmakers used many inspirations. Several character names are near-anagrams; Elly Kedward (The Blair Witch) is Edward Kelley, a 16th-century mystic. Rustin Parr, the fictional 1940s child-murderer, began as an anagram for Rasputin. In talks with investors, they presented an eight-minute documentary along with newspapers and news footage. This documentary, originally called The Blair Witch Project: The Story of Black Hills Disappearances was produced by Haxan Films.
Filming began in October 1997 and lasted eight days. Most of the movie was filmed in tiny Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County, Maryland, although a few scenes were filmed in the real town of Burkittsville. Some of the townspeople interviewed in the film were not actors, and some were planted actors, unknown to the main cast. Donahue had never operated a camera before, and spent two days in a "crash course". Donahue said she modeled her character after a director she once worked with, citing the character's self assuredness when everything went as planned, and confusion during crisis.
During filming, the actors were given clues as to their next location through messages given in milk crates found with Global Positioning Satellite systems. They were given individual instructions that they would use to help improvise the action of the day. Teeth were obtained from a Maryland dentist for use as human remains in the movie. Influenced by producer Gregg Hale's memories of his military training, in which "enemy soldiers" would hunt a trainee through wild terrain for three days, the directors moved the characters far during the day, harassing them by night and depriving them of food.
Almost 19 hours of usable footage was recorded which had to be edited down to 90 minutes. The editing in post production took more than eight months. Originally it was hoped that the movie would make it on to cable television, and the filmmakers did not anticipate wide release. The initial investment by the three University of Central Florida filmmakers was about US$35,000. Artisan acquired the film for US$1.1 million but spent US$25 million to market it. The actors signed a "small" agreement to receive some of the profits from the film's release.
A list of production budget figures have circulated over the years, appearing as low as $20,000. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Sánchez revealed that when principal photography first wrapped, approximately $20,000 to $25,000 had been spent. Other figures list a final budget ranging between $500,000 and $750,000.
The Blair Witch Project was shown at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and released by Artisan on 30 July 1999 after months of publicity, including a ground-breaking campaign by the studio to use the Internet and suggest that the movie was a record of real events. The distribution strategy for The Blair Witch Project was created and implemented by Artisan studio executive Steven Rothenberg.
The Blair Witch Project grossed $248,639,099 worldwide. After reshoots, a new sound mix, experiments with different endings, and other changes made by the studio, the film's final budget ended up between $500,000 and $750,000.
The movie has been widely acclaimed by critics. Rotten Tomatoes provides links to 133 reviews for the movie, with 87% of these reviews being favorable. Also, the film holds a score of 81/100 on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim". The film's "found footage" format received near-universal praise by critics and, though not the first in the found footage genre, the film has been declared a milestone in film history due to its critical and box office success. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film a total of 4 stars, calling it "an extraordinarily effective horror film". It was listed on Filmcritic.com as the 50th best movie ending of all time.
The Blair Witch Project is thought to be the first widely released movie marketed primarily by internet. The movie's official website featured fake police reports and 'newsreel-style' interviews. Due to this, some people initially thought it was an actual documentary about the 'missing' teenagers. These augmented the movie's found footage style to spark debates across the internet over whether the movie was a real-life documentary or a work of fiction. During 2008, Entertainment Weekly named The Blair Witch Project one of "the 100 best films from 1983 to 2008", ranking it at #99. In 2006, Chicago Film Critics Association listed it as one of the "Top 100 Scariest Movies", ranking it #12.
Because the filming was done by an inexperienced operator using a hand held camera, much of the footage is shaky, especially the final sequence in which the camera operator is running down a set of stairs with the camera. Some audience members experienced motion sickness and even vomiting as a result.
Awards and nominations
The Blair Witch Project was nominated for, and won, the following awards. Despite Donahue's award, her performance was praised nonetheless.
|Global Film Critics Award||Best Screenplay||Daniel Myrick||Nominated|
|Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award||Best Film||Won|
|Golden Raspberry Award||Worst Picture||Robin Cowie||Nominated|
|Worst Actress||Heather Donahue||Won|
|Stinkers Bad Movie Awards||Worst Picture||Robin Cowie||Nominated|
|Worst Actress||Heather Donahue||Nominated|
|Worst Screen Debut||Heather, Michael, Josh, the Stick People and the world's longest running batteries||Nominated|
Cinematic and literary allusions
In the movie, the Blair Witch is, according to legend, the ghost of Elly Kedward, a woman banished from the Blair Township (latter-day Burkittsville) for witchcraft in 1785. The directors incorporated that part of the legend, along with allusions to the Salem Witch Trials and The Crucible, to play on the themes of injustice done on those who were called witches. They were influenced by The Shining, Alien and The Omen. Jaws was an influence as well, presumably because the witch was hidden from the viewer for the entirety of the film, forcing suspense from the unknown.
None of the songs featured on Josh's Blair Witch Mix actually appear in the movie. However "The Cellar" is played during the credits and the DVD menu. This collection of mostly goth rock and industrial tracks is supposedly from a mix tape made by ill-fated film student Joshua Leonard. In the story, the tape was found in his car after his disappearance. Some of the songs featured on the soundtrack were released after 1994, after the events of the movie supposedly have taken place. Several of them feature dialogue from the movie as well.
- "Gloomy Sunday" – Lydia Lunch
- "The Order of Death" – Public Image Ltd.
- "Draining Faces" – Skinny Puppy
- "Kingdom's Coming" – Bauhaus
- "Don't Go to Sleep Without Me" – The Creatures
- "God Is God" – Laibach
- "Beware" – The Afghan Whigs
- "Laughing Pain" – Front Line Assembly
- "Haunted" – Type O Negative
- "She's Unreal" – Meat Beat Manifesto
- "Movement of Fear" – Tones on Tail
- "The Cellar" – Antonio Cora
In September 1999, D.A. Stern compiled The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier. Perpetuating the film's "true story" angle, the dossier consisted of fabricated police reports, pictures, interviews and newspaper articles presenting the movie's premise as fact, as well as further elaboration on the Elly Kedward and Rustin Parr legends (an additional "dossier" was created for Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2). Stern wrote the 2000 novel Blair Witch: The Secret Confessions of Rustin Parr and in 2004, revisited the franchise with the novel Blair Witch: Graveyard Shift, featuring all original characters and plot.
In May 1999, a Photonovel adaptation of The Blair Witch Project was written by Claire Forbes and was released by Fotonovel Publications.
The Blair Witch Files
A series of eight young adult books entitled The Blair Witch Files were released by Random subsidiary Bantam from 2000 to 2001. The books center on Cade Merill, a fictional cousin of Heather Donahue, who investigates phenomena related to the Blair Witch in attempt to discover what really happened to Heather, Mike and Josh.
- Blair Witch Files 1 – The Witch's Daughter
- Blair Witch Files 2 – The Dark Room
- Blair Witch Files 3 – The Drowning Ghost
- Blair Witch Files 4 – Blood Nightmare
- Blair Witch Files 5 – The Death Card
- Blair Witch Files 6 – The Prisoner
- Blair Witch Files 7 – The Night Shifters
- Blair Witch Files 8 – The Obsession
In August 1999, Oni Press released a one-shot comic promoting the film, simply titled The Blair Witch Project. Written by Jen Van Meter and drawn by Bernie Mireault, Guy Davis, and Tommy Lee Edwards, the comic featured three short stories elaborating on the mythology of the Blair Witch. In mid-2000, the same group worked on a four-issue series called The Blair Witch Chronicles.
In October 2000, coinciding with the release of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Image Comics released a one-shot called Blair Witch: Dark Testaments, drawn by Charlie Adlard and written by Ian Edginton.
In 2000, Gathering of Developers released a trilogy of computer games based on the film, which greatly expanded on the myths first suggested in the film. The graphics engine and characters were all derived from the producer's earlier game, Nocturne. Each game, developed by a different team, focused on different aspects of the Blair Witch mythology: Rustin Parr, Coffin Rock and Elly Kedward, respectively.
The trilogy received mixed reviews from critics, with most criticism being directed towards the very linear gameplay, clumsy controls and camera angles, and short length. The first volume, Rustin Parr, received the most praise, ranging from moderate to positive, with critics commending its storyline, graphics and atmosphere; some reviewers even claimed the game was scarier than the movie. The following volumes were less well-received, with PC Gamer saying Volume 2's only saving grace was its cheap price and calling Volume 3 "amazingly mediocre".
The Blair Witch Project was released on DVD on October 26, 1999, with VHS and laserdisc versions released around the same time. The DVD included a number of special features, including "The Curse of the Blair Witch" and "The Blair Witch Legacy" featurettes, newly discovered footage, director and producer commentary, production notes, cast & crew bios, and trailers.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Blair Witch Project.|
- Official website
- The Blair Witch Project at the Internet Movie Database
- The Blair Witch Project at allmovie
- The Blair Witch Project at Box Office Mojo
- The Blair Witch Project at Rotten Tomatoes
- Woods Movie - The Making of The Blair Witch Project