The Blair Witch Project
|The Blair Witch Project|
Theatrical release poster
|Music by||Antonio Cora|
|Distributed by||Artisan Entertainment|
|Box office||$248.6 million|
The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 American found footage horror film written, directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez and produced by Haxan Films. The film relates the fictional story of three student filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard) 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 and that this "recovered footage" is the film the viewer is watching.
The film received unexpected acclaim 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 on Tuesday, October 26, 1999 and presented only in full-screen.
A sequel was released on October 27, 2000 titled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. 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, HEART OF LOVE. A trilogy of video games based on the films was released in 2000. The Blair Witch franchise has since expanded to include various novels, dossiers, comic books and additional merchandise.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Production
- 3 Reception
- 4 Cinematic and literary allusions
- 5 Soundtrack
- 6 Media tie-ins
- 7 Home media
- 8 Sequel
- 9 See also
- 10 Literature
- 11 References
- 12 External links
In October 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.
In the footage, 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 and promised to leave him alone if he murdered the children, but was hanged anyway.
The second day, the students explore the woods in north Burkittsville to look for evidence that the Blair Witch exists. Along the way, they meet two fisherman, one of whom warns them that the woods are haunted and recalls that in 1888, a young girl named Robin Weaver went missing, and when she returned three days later, she talked about "an old woman whose feet never touched the ground." His companion is, however, skeptical of the Blair Witch legend. The students hike to Coffin Rock, where five men were found ritualistically murdered in the 19th century, their bodies later disappearing, and then camp for the night. The next day they move deeper in 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 assume the noises are from animals or locals.
The third day, they attempt to return to their vehicle but cannot find their way. That night, they again hear crackling noises but cannot see anything. The next morning (their fourth), they find three cairns have been built around their tent during the night. Heather realizes her map is missing and Mike reveals he kicked it into a creek out of frustration the previous day. They realize they are now hopelessly lost and decide simply to "head south". They discover a multitude of humanoid stick figures suspended from trees. That night they hear 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, starting their fifth day. Upon returning to their tent they find that their possessions have been rifled through and Josh's equipment is covered with a peculiar translucent slime. Later, they pass a log over a stream that was identical to the one they had passed earlier despite having traveled directly south all day, seemingly going in circles.
The sixth morning, Heather and Mike awaken to find that Josh has disappeared. After trying in vain to find him, they slowly move on. That night, they hear Josh screaming in the darkness but are not able to find him. The seventh morning, Heather finds a bundle of sticks and fabric outside their tent. As she searches through it, she finds it to contain blood-soaked scraps of Josh's shirt, as well as teeth, hair, and possibly a tongue, but though thoroughly distraught by the discovery, she does not mention this to Mike. As night falls, Heather films herself apologizing to the co-producers of her project as well as their families and breaks down crying and hyperventilates, understanding that something terrible is hunting her and Mike and will eventually take them. Later that night, they again hear Josh's agonized cries for help, and discover a derelict, abandoned house in the woods, which contains runic symbols and children's handprints on the walls. 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 enters the basement screaming in fear while her camera catches a glimpse of Mike facing the corner. Something unseen is heard hitting Heather, causing her to drop her camera violently to the floor and the footage ends.
The Blair Witch Project was developed during 1993 by the filmmakers. The script began with a 35-page outline, with the dialogue to be improvised. Accordingly, the directors advertised in Backstage 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 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. The final scenes were filmed at the historic Griggs House in Granite, Maryland. 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.
According to Heather Donahue, auditions for the film were held at Musical Theater Works in New York City, and ads were placed in the weekly Backstage for an open audition. The advertisement noted an "entirely improvised feature film" shot in a "wooded location." Donahue described the audition as Myrick and Sanchez posing her the question: "You've served seven years of a nine year sentence. Why should we let you out on parole?" to which Donahue was required to improvise a response.
Joshua Leonard, also in response to audition calls through Back Stage, claimed he was cast in the film due to his knowledge of how to run a camera, as there was not an omniscient camera filming the scenes.
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 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 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 device, 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.
Film critic Michael Dodd has argued that the film is an embodiment of horror "modernizing its ability to be all-encompassing in expressing the fears of American society", acknowledging its status as the archetypal modern found footage feature, he noted that "In an age where anyone can film whatever they like, horror needn’t be a cinematic expression of what terrifies the cinema-goer, it can simply be the medium through which terrors captured by the average American can be showcased". 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 the actors using hand-held cameras, much of the footage is shaky, especially the final sequence in which a character is running down a set of stairs with the camera. Some audience members experienced motion sickness and even vomiting as a result.
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. These augmented the movie's found footage device to spark debates across the internet over whether the movie was a real-life documentary or a work of fiction. During screenings of the movie, the filmmakers made advertising efforts to perpetuate the events in the film as factual, including the distribution of flyers at festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival, asking viewers to come forward with any information about the "missing" students. The IMDb page also listed the actors as "missing, presumed dead" in the first year of the film's availability. The film's website contained materials of actors posing as police and investigators giving testimony about their casework, and shared childhood photos of the actors to add a sense of realism.
Awards and nominations
The Blair Witch Project was nominated for, and won, the following awards.
|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, The Omen and Benjamin Christensen's 1922 silent documentary Häxan, after which the producers named their production company, Haxan Films. 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 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.
- The Blair Witch Files 1 – The Witch's Daughter
- The Blair Witch Files 2 – The Dark Room
- The Blair Witch Files 3 – The Drowning Ghost
- The Blair Witch Files 4 – Blood Nightmare
- The Blair Witch Files 5 – The Death Card
- The Blair Witch Files 6 – The Prisoner
- The Blair Witch Files 7 – The Night Shifters
- The 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 that the game was scarier than the movie. The following volumes were less well-received, with PC Gamer saying that 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.
A sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, was released in the autumn of 2000, but was poorly received by most critics. A third installment announced that same year did not materialize. Eduardo Sanchez has revealed that he is still planning Blair Witch 3 and that the film is "inevitable", but added that there is nothing to officially announce as of now.
An unofficial spin-off was released in 2011 titled Doc. 33', an Italian found footage horror film. The film starts by describing the events that occur in The Blair Witch Project; it then follows by describing a similar incident that occurred in Wirgen, Austria. The film revolves around a group of filmmakers in 1998 who investigate an orphanage in the woods were dozens of children were murdered by nuns. The nuns took part in occult practices which dubbed the Mother Superior of the orphanage "the Witch of Wirgen woods."
- List of ghost films
- Found footage (pseudo-documentary)
- The Bogus Witch Project, a direct-to-video parody.
- Schreier, Margrit (2004): Please Help Me; All I Want to Know Is: Is It Real or Not? How Recipients View the Reality Status of The Blair Witch Project. In: Poetics Today, Vol. 25, Nr. 2, pp. 305–334 (full text, qualitative content analysis on the movie´s reception)
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- Official website
- The Blair Witch Project at the Internet Movie Database
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- The Blair Witch Project at Box Office Mojo
- The Blair Witch Project at Rotten Tomatoes