The end of the century saw a return to downright ghost stories and urban legends evidenced most effectively in The Blair Witch Project. Paving the way for a new wave of horror, Blair Witch redefined the genre.
Before reality television dominated media so heavily Blair Witch used the illusion of reality to creep out its audiences. The documentary style horror film has been explored ad nausem since Blair Witch but none have matched its effectiveness, Paranormal Activity (2007) perhaps came closest. Predicting and inspiring a new generation of horror fans Blair Witch had an effect on all media including both fictional and documentary films and television. Without Blair Witch’s shaky camera, shows such as Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures would have never had a chance to exist.
For those unaware, the plot of the film has to do with three film students, Heather, Michael and Joshua, who are producing a documentary about the mythical Blair Witch. The footage of this documentary is found and put together to create the film. The Witch hails from Burkittsville, Maryland and the students interview various townsfolk to gather information about her. A yarn is spun about Rustin Parr, the town crazy, who had tortured and killed seven children in his house in the woods. Parr killed the children in pairs, making one face the wall of his basement while the other was murdered. When captured, Parr claims that he was ordered to kill the children by the ghost of Elly Kedward, 18th century witch. Another local speaks of her childhood encounter with the ghost of the witch. Of course, the young kids ignore the warnings of wise old souls and investigate the woods surrounding Burkittsville only to find that all of the stories about the Blair Witch are true.
Similar approaches had been taken in horror films before, most notably in the 1980 gorefest Cannibal Holocaust. The combination of a ghostly antagonist and a realistic approach made The Blair Witch Project incredibly fresh and an amazing alternative to self-deprecating slashers such as Scream (1996). Blair Witch made horror films sincere again, genuine in their intention to scare, titillate and enliven high school lunchroom conversations.
Utilizing an amateur cast and gung ho, guerilla shooting schedules Blair Witch created a real sense of danger and immediacy. The actors were unaware of which scenes were going to take place and most of the dialogue was improvised. This approach provided audiences with frighteningly real performances from stars Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams.
The Blair Witch Project is the manifestation of every scary childhood story and urban legend. The film’s rough edges made it seem entirely plausible and yet still fantastic. A pop culture phenomenon that inspired an entire generation of filmgoers, The Blair Witch Project will be fondly remembered for quite a long time. In addition, the film is a triumph of American Independent cinema, having been produced for about $750,000 and grossing $248,639,099 making it one of the most profitable films ever made.
Directors & Writers: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard
Release Date: 22 October 1999 (UK)