Was The Blair Witch Project the first found footage film as so many people believe? I can tell you that, no, it was not. That title goes to Italian “filmmaker” Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, but because Ruggero is an animal abusing piece of shit who doesn’t even deserve to be linked to from IMDb…I personally consider The Blair Witch Project to be the first found footage film that catapulted the genre to its current popular status.
The Blair Witch Project has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score for a film that was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Picture. The film polarised opinions back in 1999 and does even more so now, 18 years later. I believe this is mostly due to how horror films have evolved over the years, they are less about building tension and more about jump scares, CGI, and monsters. I find modern horror films quite disappointing because of this and I think many people agree there has been a decline in quality over the last decade in the horror genre. There are only so many jump scares you can watch before the trope becomes tired and redundant. This is probably why I am such a huge fan of Asian horror films; the suspense is usually masterfully crafted.
I believe I first watched The Blair Witch Project around 2001-2002, I was so frightened by it that I couldn’t sleep and had nightmares for days. I remember vowing never to go camping again. It’s very rare that I would go back and watch a film that scared me when I was young and find I’m still scared by it. Except “The Giant Mouse of Minsk” from An American Tail (1986), that shit is terrifying. So, upon watching it again, I found myself declaring, even as an avid camper, that if I ever go hiking/trekking again I will definitely not be setting up camp in a wood.
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, with an estimated budget of $60,000 and being completely ad-libbed, The Blair Witch Project was a stroke of genius. Few filmmakers have gone to the lengths Myrick and Sánchez did to reach such a level of authenticity. Actors Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams were all under the illusion that the Blair Witch was a real legend of Maryland. They believed they were interviewing real townsfolk for the films first half. All three were genuinely scared throughout most of the filming process as for most key moments in the film, the actors were completely unaware they would be occurring.
Michael Williams: What are some of your favorite things to do?
Heather Donahue: Well, on Sundays I used to like to go hiking, but now…
Initially the audience was intended to get a glimpse of the Blair Witch, in the scene where the group flee from their tent you hear Heather shout “Oh my God, what the fuck is that? What the fuck is that?”. Josh was meant to pan to show a figure amongst the trees but in the heat of the moment he forgot. Myrick and Sánchez decided against doing another take as the tent scene was unknown to the actors and what we see is genuine fear. I feel this was to the benefit of the film, same goes for the alterations that they made for the films finale, ensuring an ambiguity over whether the culprit was of human or supernatural origin.
The house we see at the end of the film, according to the films lore, belonged to Rustin Parr, but as it was claimed to have been destroyed long before, the question of why the house was in the final scenes resulted in thousands of fans discussing the history and mythology of the Blair Witch for many years after the film’s release. The film ignited such a buzz in its fans that they invaded the town of Burkittsville and were a general nuisance for the townsfolk for quite some time. This film sparked the imaginations of horror fans all over because of its realism. Groups of people camped in the Burkittsville woods to create their own documentaries on the Blair Witch. Many people believed the film to be real or at least based on true events due the films ground-breaking viral marketing campaign. Very few independent films have created such a hype. Few films have done so much with so little.
Heather Donahue: I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.
So, if you find yourself bored of the same modern horror cliché, if you enjoy being scared, and if for some reason you haven’t seen this masterpiece, I highly recommend you check it out. I fucking love this film and even after 18 years I believe The Blair Witch Project stands the test of time.
Looking for more low budget brilliance? You can look forward to my review of Coherence (2013) in one of our future Friday’s Favourites.