20 Years Later and ‘The Blair Witch Project’ Still Scares Me
As a huge fan of horror movies, there's two films that have really shaken me to my core; The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project. Both films are on completely different sides of the horror spectrum. While The Exorcist is beloved by many, The Blair Witch Project is very polarizing; you either love it or you hate it. I love it.
Launching the "found footage" genre, writer-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez hoped that, at best, their pseudo-documentary would get a cable TV release. But when released at Sundance in January of 1999, it all changed. Rights to the film were immediately bought. The movie launched the first online marketing campaign for a film and aired a special on SyFy (Sci-Fi Channel at the time). When the independent flick hit theaters in July of '99, people truly believed that three student filmmakers died in the woods in Burkitsville, Maryland, including ten year old me!
In October of 1999, when The Blair Witch Project was released on home video, my older sister bought it, not knowing exactly what she was getting. We were getting ready to spend the weekend in our cabin in the woods of Cloudcroft, NM. and were in need of some new flicks to watch. Once settled into the cabin that evening, nestled in with the fireplace as the only source of light in the living room and some fresh popcorn, my sister pushed the VHS into the VCR.
Ten year old me watched as the title faded and revealed the text that would set the tone for the entire movie:
“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.”
That was all it took for ten year old me to believe that everything I was about to see was real. I watched as Heather, Josh and Mike traveled to a small town, much like Cloudcroft. I watched as one local explained how children disappeared into the woods, never to be seen again. I watched as the three student filmmakers entered the woods, woods that very much resembled the woods that were currently surrounding our cabin. I watched as their tent was attacked by something unseen and unknown. I watched as Heather's confessional fogged up the camera. I watched it all.
I didn't sleep that night. I unsuccessfully tried to sleep in my parents room. I left the light on in my room, scared to get out of the bed. Somehow, when you're in the woods, the quiet is intense. I could hear my heart beating loudly. Every time the fireplace cackled I jumped. My entire family blissfully sleeping in their rooms while I'm having a panic attack thinking I'm about to be the Blair Witch's next victim. The panic settled when I saw a bit of sunlight peeking through the curtains. It was a long weekend.
I was probably twelve when I accepted that the Blair Witch wasn't real. Mainly I had to accept that I was bamboozled At 30, I can appreciate the film's clever marketing and the blueprint it left for the films that followed. But, every now and then, when I get the chance to see The Blair Witch Project, I'm taken back to 1999, to being ten years old. It scared me but it also intrigued me and opened up a world of horror films for me. While many try to recapture the success, nothing has scared me like that since, but I'm still watching and anticipating.