The Blair Witch Project

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.

Year of Release: 1999
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
Running Time: 81 minutes (1:21)
Director: Daniel Myrick/Eduardo Sanchez


Heather Donahue ... Heather Donahue
Joshua Leonard ... Joshua 'Josh' Leonard
Michael C. Williams ... Michael 'Mike' Williams


In October 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary... A year later their footage was found.

Now prepare for a motion picture experience unlike anything you've ever seen, heard or feared before. The Blair Witch Project follows a trio of filmmakers on what should have been a simple walk in the woods... but quickly becomes an excursion into heart-stopping terror. As the three become inexplicably lost, morale deteriorates. Hunger sets in. Accusations fly. By night, unseen evil stirs beyond their campfire's light. By day, chilling ritualistic figures are discovered nearby. As the end of their journey approaches, they realize that what they are filming now is not a legend... but their own descent into unimaginable horror.


The Blair Witch Project, remindin' us that you find out who your real friends are when the cigarette supply begins to dwindle.

And speakin' of butts litterin' the woods, I gotta admit that when this flick came out back in '99 I didn't understand what all the fuss was about seeins how you could stake out a spot on the hill up above the Woozy Canary Mine and watch stupid college kids get lost in the woods on any given weekend. I guess it didn't occur to me until later that not everybody enjoys the same benefits we have here in Chickawalka County, and that the novelty of watchin' twenty-somethins lose their minds when a loose boulder comes rollin' off the mountain towards their campfire was still new to some folks.

I've warmed up to Blair Witch over time, but I think part of that's 'cause every time I think back on its premise I always associate it with those drama students from EOU who drove over to film their own version based on the Chickawalka Stalka. Their footage was also found, but only about a half hour later once Billy Hilliard, Cleave Furguson, Duke Tankersley and I recovered from simultaneous fits of uncontrollable laughter brought on by exposure to hysterical bladder dysfunction.

And before ya go lecturin' me on the immorality of singlin' out agriculturally ignorant tourists for blood pressure testing, you should probably know that that whole thing was Billy's idea, so if you wanna lodge a formal complaint he's the 300lb black man over on Maple Street who stands roughly 6'9". Billy's been interested in the Stalka since first grade and prolly knows more about it than any man alive and, well... I guess the idea of foreigners comin' into his backyard and tryna pull a cryptid grift didn't sit well.

I consider myself a student of human behavioral psychology and a fairly astute guy, and given the way he tore the tailgate offa Sty Sullivan's Dodge Sweptline and wrapped it around the light pole in front of Berenstain Beers when I showed 'im the flyer they were handin' out tryna find technical advisers, I could tell he was upset. Didn't see 'im for a coupla days afterwards, but by the time he tracked Cleave and me down at the Arcadia Pinball Palace he looked like he'd been hooked up to an IV drip fulla Surge for about a month, and he handed me a bullet-pointed Word Perfect presentation that included instructions, a topographical map that went down to the square yard, and a few storyboards he'd sketched out detailin' his plan to sabotage said filmmakers' attempt to document what he felt was his discovery. He was pretty insistent that I not call it a "manifesto," but you get the idea.

Anyway, accordin' to Billy's plan, I was to volunteer as a production assistant and guide who would lead the troupe to areas where the Stalka had been reported, while Billy, Cleave, and Duke would... actually, maybe I oughta just tell ya what happened.

"Why've we gotta park so far away?" the cameraman whined.

"Well, if you'd done your research instead of spendin' all your time in AOL chat rooms tryna hook up with bald fat guys pretendin' to be teenage girls, you'd know that the Stalka was hit by a combine 11 years ago not far from here, and has since developed an instinctive fear of motor vehicles," I explained.

"He's right," the director confirmed.

"Alright, how about this, smartass - if you're the production assistant, how come we're carryin' all the gear?!" the on-screen personality and designated pantywaist complained.

"'Cause I'm busy shouldering the burden of your unfocused and unprepared project. Seriously, your plan was to just show up at the chamber of commerce buildin' and ask for a pamphlet detailin' the whereabouts of a creature previously unseen by anyone with a blood alcohol level south of 'flammable'?" I asked.

That observation pretty well killed the conversation long enough for me to get 'em situated at the coordinates Billy'd assigned just as it was startin' to get dark, and the approaching darkness afforded me the alibi of goin' in search of kindlin' in order to confer with my accomplices who gave me the green light to proceed.

"See that rock jack there?" I pointed as the kids nibbled at their uncooked bricks of Ramen noodles.

"Back in 1971, Arvin Spickle came peelin' into town in his Packard swearin' he saw somethin' with the body of a gila monster, the antlers of a moose, and the legs of an ostrich havin' sexual relations with that very detergent container wedged in the center," I told 'em.

"Was the report substantiated?" the director queried.

"I woulda been in my crib at the time, but the police report said that when Deputy Arbuckle arrived on the scene whatever it was'd gone, but that the jug -- that jug -- appeared to've been violated and filled with a cloudy, pink substance with the consistency of Wite-Out," I replied.

"Set up the lights and get some footage of that jug; we can dub the sound in later," the director instructed.

"Did anyone take a sample of the... specimen?" the cameraman asked.

"Would you do that?" I retorted with disgust.

"Yes, I w--" he started sayin'.

"Guess it's not much different than cleanin' off your computer monitor, maybe you would have," I shrugged.

Once they were set up and'd started rollin' I stomped my pop can and gave the signal for Duke to proceed with Phase 2 and, per Billy's instructions, he attached a kazoo to their tire stems and began slowly lettin' the air out.

"What the hell is that?!" the narrator gasped.

"He's here," I whispered.

"Come on! Get this on tape!" the director shouted, commanding us to hoof it toward the noise.

Duke only managed to deflate two of their tires before havin' to split to avoid detection, but while we headed toward their Jeep, Cleave snuck into camp and doused our fire with Pepto Bismol.

I took the scenic route back, attributing my confusion to the recently extinguished campfire, but the buildup was worth the occasional badger hole.

"If you still want that sample..." I motioned to the DP.

"I wanna go home now," the narrator repeated to 'imself in a hushed tone.

"Look, it left a trail!" the director noted, precisely as planned. "That way! Come on you pussies!" he ordered.

Now, before I tell ya this last part, I'd like to reiterate the fact that, had those tools done their research into the phenomenon, they probably woulda suspected where we were at the time in spite of the cold weather havin' caused alla our noses to run and taken away their ability to make that deduction in real-time.

The Pepto trail led to an old lean-to outhouse, and when the director finally built up the courage to grab the knob, Billy (adorned with elk antlers and covered in swaths of orange spray paint that, in combination with his skin tone, presented a fairly convincing portrait of a Gila torso) flung the door open, howled like a banshee, and charged.

He lost a little speed tryna keep the antlers in place, but catching them was never his intention, and fortunately, the cameraman dropped his equipment in terror before they all plunged into the icy sewage lagoon. We held it together long enough to make sure they didn't drown, and once we saw the Jeep's headlights kick on we all lost it.

Billy mailed the camcorder back anonymously, but we kept the tape and pull it out every year around this time to reminisce and to give thanks to the two enterprising young directors who inspired a generation of chunkheads to ascend to new heights of public humiliation. So if you're readin', Dan, Eduardo - you guys're aces in our book.

I tell ya - the look on the narrator's face right before the director comes down on top of 'im and dunked 'im - that's never gonna stop bein' hilarious. Edgar says I'm not allowed to run the tape at The Videodome anymore ever since Crystal Lemus threw up a buncha Reeses Cups all over the cardboard cutout of Freddy Kruger a few years ago, but I still screen Blair Witch every October just to prove that I'm not completely opposed to modern horror. Another reason I like it so much is that it's supposed to be a documentary but literally everything a person stands to learn from it is completely unintentional.

I think everybody has their favorites and really there're no bad takeaways, but I'ma share a few that I found particularly interestin' and then I promise I'll start takin' this whole film reviewin' thing seriously. First, the value of art always appreciates in value when the artist dies; exponentially so when they die while in the process of creatin' it. Second, contrary to conventional wisdom, it is possible to conduct a videotaped interview on the steps of a trailer house that doesn't result in jail time and a guest shot on COPS. And third, the unwelcome pitching of tents is likely to result in ghosting.

The movie begins with three film school students (Heather, Josh, and Mike) testin' out the video equipment they're plannin' to use for a graduate thesis on motion sickness cleverly disguised as a documentary chronicling a local legend Leonard Nimoy never got around to searchin' for known as the Blair Witch. Once they figure out which end of the camera they're supposed to be lookin' into they haul on over to the neighboring town of Burkittsville that used to be called Blair until they changed it to avoid any association with Roller Boogie, and swap over to the black and white film stock so the people who run Sundance'll sit up and take notice. Then they start interviewin' locals who relay stories about serial murder hermits until this gal who's a coupla cans short of a six-pack tells 'em she actually saw the witch on a fishin' trip, and describes 'er as a flasher with an all-over beaver pelt. The kids're skeptical because the woman lives in a trailer that appears to have sustained moderate damage from a meth lab explosion and claims to be the next in line for the Throne of the Lizard Queen, but they take 'er statement anyway figurin' they can still sell the footage to The Travel Channel if the documentary turns out to be a bust. The next mornin' they head out into the woods to a place called Coffin Rock where the witch supposedly lures horny losers from Craigslist with promises of supernatural gangbangs, only to link 'em together like brook trout on a chain stringer and make haggis casserole outta their caca conveyers.

Next thing, they go lookin' for an old cemetery but it's real slow goin' 'cause they hafta stop every coupla miles to argue about where they are and who forgot to pack toilet paper until they come across a buncha tiny stone cairns built by forest gnomes to honor their dead and the whole thing's so creepy that they all get a case of the colon quakes. Eventually night falls and they make camp, but somethin's out in the woods practicin' its gymnastics floor routine, so by the time mornin' rolls around everybody's got their heebies in a jeebie and between that, the rain, and the increasing likelihood that they all end up becoming the brides of bigfoot, things've become a tad tense. Unable to locate their car or any source of food that hadn't already undergone heavy processing by local wildlife they're forced to camp again, only now there's a whole herd of insomnielk crashin' through the forest in much closer proximity to their tent than the night before, and by the time it's light enough to go outside they discover they've been visited in the night by woodland rock jack sprites. Then Josh starts havin' a topographical meltdown when they realize their map's gone missin' until Mike starts showin' signs of the boonie loonies and reveals he dumped the map in the creek the day before, at which point the fan gets so clogged with shit that the motor burns out. Suffice to say, the aforementioned setbacks've started to suck the life outta the project, and when the group wanders into a grove fulla Wiccan voodoo iconography they decide they'd better beat cheeks outta there before the Jersey Devil catches 'em rootin' around in his illegal pot grow. They again make camp, 'cept this time they start hearin' noises like the mutant babies from The Brood're outside the tent burpin' up applesauce all over their supper bibs until somethin' starts pawin' at the walls and they all absorb paranormal laxatives via osmosis simultaneously and hafta run out into the woods and pray for Tom Bombadil to come rescue 'em.

Eventually dawn breaks and they return to camp to find it lookin' like a sorority house dresser after a panty raid, 'cept that just reminds 'em that even if they do get out alive that they're gonna be stuck writin' "I will not dishonor the cinematic contributions of Garrett Brown" on the blackboard 1000 times and it makes 'em so depressed that the guys start singin' patriotic medleys. Josh's pretty well punched his ticket on the ole Crazy Train by this point, and when the sunlight starts creepin' into the tent the next day Heather and Mike awaken to find an increase in leg room and a significant drop in the PPM reading for urine content in the oxygen, the cause of which becomes immediately apparent after realizin' they're now Joshless. They search the area but give up pretty quickly when they realize the Firmuda Triangle ain't givin' up its secrets, and finding themselves circling both forest and drain, decide to go East since the wicked witch residing in that direction's threat level has been significantly reduced due to a recent structural collapse. That night they hear Josh screamin' in the woods like a drunk trapped inside a house of mirrors, and when Heather wakes up the next mornin' she finds a kindlin' wrapped keepsake outside the tent containing shreds of Josh's flannel shirt and most of his sensory organs. The survivors soldier on, stopping periodically to impersonate rocking chairs and film selfie-cam confessionals until nightfall when they again hear Josh's screams - the sound of which eventually leads 'em to an old abandoned building that looks like a halfway house for vampire hobos. This's about as far's I can go without spoilin' the ending, and I know not one of ya's ever seen this one or used the internet before so I wouldn't dream of doin' that, but -- and maybe I'm just bein' paranoid here -- I think it might be a mistake to go in that house.

Alrighty, so, this one's undergone a fundamental shift in perception for me, and it's interesting because that shift has nothin' to do with me or the movie, but the evolution of cinematography over the last coupla decades. People either loved or hated this flick when it came out in '99, and often, the deciding factor came down to whether or not a person was able to tolerate the hand-held camera work. Some thought it was new and innovative while others blasted it as unprofessional and nauseating, but either way, the gimmick often took center stage to the point that the movie itself got lost in the argument, and it's interesting because after twenty-plus years of movies and TV series adopting (albeit to a lesser degree) this style of freehand cinematography designed to make the viewer feel immersed in the action - the shaky-cam is really no longer a consideration when judging the film. I'm not saying The Blair Witch Project had anything to do with show-runners changing their approach to cinematography, that's just coincidence. The point is that it's so commonplace now that the flick, due to an unusual twist of fate, has a second chance to win over the people who refused to give it the time of day upon its initial release.

Even if it's not your thing you can't fault the flick's inspirations, 'cause it essentially merges the docudrama feel of another film that went into the woods pursuing a local legend, and an ill-fated journey into the Amazon jungle in search of the planet's last surviving cannibal tribes, and the Legend of Boggy Creek/Cannibal Holocaust mash-up, somehow, produced a product greater than the sum of those parts. Some have also speculated that The Last Broadcast served as an inspiration for the film, but just to be clear, Blair Witch was in production several months before The Last Broadcast's limited release. The Blair Witch Project may not've invented the found footage concept, but, much as it pains me to say it - it definitely perfected it, and to the tune of roughly $250 million bucks off a budget of $60,000. Fortunately for the producers, when they went around promoting the movie footage as authentic, they weren't hauled into court like Ruggero Deodato and forced to prove that they weren't peddling a snuff film. One can't help but think that even P.T. Barnum woulda been impressed with the disinformation campaign that led to thousands of people glued to their seats, believing that what they had seen was real even as the credits of those responsible for its production rolled in front of them. And again, whatever else you may think of the picture, you've gotta love an ad campaign that gets certain portions of the public buying into the idea that a movie was either genuinely real, or that it was based very precisely on a real event that never happened, 'cause we hadn't had anything like that since Faces of Death, Snuff, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre back in the '70s. I guess the bottom line is that, whether ya like the movie or not, it was a cinematic phenomenon upon release, and a rare example of a culturally significant horror film from the '90s that changed the shape of things to come - for good or ill.

Okay, so it's a watershed title in the genre, fair enough, right? But how good could the production values be on a film shot for half the value of a two-bedroom house over the course of eight days? Well, let's cross that rotten log and see if it holds up or dumps our collective hinders in the creek. The plot is simultaneously revolutionary and incredibly simple. To compare it to a conventional film kinda misses the point because you know how it ends one minute in after absorbing the contents of the opening text, and its structuring is incongruent with anything you've ever seen before. Initially the producers had planned to include footage of news agencies presenting the story and locating the footage, but that idea was eventually scrapped and, consequently, the pseudo-documentary footage makes up 100% of the movie. No epilogue, no final thought with Jerry Springer, nothin'. This approach was probably pretty frustrating for some folks because the movie refuses to conform to the audience's expectations, and at the end of the day, is actually a bit repetitive in the sense that it can be boiled down to people wandering the woods gettin' exponentially more lost during the day, and being harassed by supernatural forces at night. So the presentation is fresh and new, but the story is, in and of itself, nothing special. There are those who would argue that Heather's continued desire to film, even as it becomes more and more apparent that they may not get out alive is unrealistic, but I actually buy the explanation that the camera provides a psychological barrier that helps her believe things aren't as bad as they seem when seen through the lens of the camera as opposed to facing reality. I see where the detractors are coming from, but I feel that, as a species, we've become pretty good at ignoring what's in front of us for the sake of our personal sanity. My only complaint is that there's no way that 16mm film survived out in the woods of Maryland for a year without turnin' into skank fungus from exposure to the elements.

The acting is the make-or-break element of the movie because, with such a simple plot, minimal special effects, and literally no soundtrack to speak of, the relationship between the doomed filmmakers as their minds slowly unravel and they begin to realize that they may not be going home, accounts for the vast majority of the film's runtime. Now, just in case that wasn't pressure enough, because all the dialogue is intended to come across as candid, the directors were only giving the actors an overview of the big picture from scene to scene and asking them to fill in the specifics on their own. This is why all the dialogue comes across as authentically as it does, and it really speaks to the improvisational skills of everyone involved, because the odds of having actors come up with their own dialogue on the spot, with no rehearsal, and continually produce a conversation that comes across as both sensical and natural is, honestly, unrealistic. They should have never been asked to do this because 99 times out of 100 you're gonna end up with a result that looks either phony or amateurish, and it's absolutely astonishing that the editor was able to make everyone look as good as they did while working under these conditions. The three leads are all excellent, but Heather Donahue is phenomenal as the increasingly guilt-ridden director trying to hold it together as tensions build and the group's odds of survival continue to deteriorate as the days pass. We see the events unfold from her perspective and identify with her as the situation gradually goes from suck to blow, and her fear, remorse, and haggard determination carries the flick even in scenes that aren't especially significant or particularly tense. Or, to put it another way - she's the star of a horror film and we actually care about what happens to her.

Here's who matters and why: Heather Donahue (The Morgue, Manticore), Joshua Leonard (Depraved, Unsane, The Ghost Experiment, The Town That Dreaded Sundown 2014, Shark Night, Bitter Feast, Prom Night 2008, Hatchet, Madhouse 2004), Michael C. Williams (Satanic Hispanics, Altered).

The special effects, due to the film's narrative structuring seeking to strike a balance between unnatural events taking place in the natural world, are more or less an afterthought. Grisly, elaborate effects would be out of place in a movie with this kind of production design, and consequently, the only time we see anything even remotely gooey is the scene in which the bundle of sticks containing indistinct bits of viscera appear outside the tent. The scene is fairly shocking given that there had been nothing in the way of gore up to that point, and the pieces themselves are too out-of-focus to evaluate or even identify. The crew had set up a scene where the witch was supposed to appear, but evidently, while haulin' hinder through the woods, the camera operator neglected to turn and face it, and by the time anyone realized it the film was already in the can. I'm not even sure if it woulda improved the flick given that it's built entirely around the unseen, but you'd think that either the DP would realize their mistake and do another take, or that the director would have checked to confirm. Honestly, considering how much of the information surrounding the flick is known to be propaganda released by the producers it's hard to say whether stories like that are even true, but it does jibe when you look at the scene, hear Heather scream "what the hell is that?!" and find yourself confused when "that" never makes an appearance on screen. In light of this, you'd probably have to say the special effects are the weakest aspect of the film just for the fact that you know you were probably supposed to see something that never materialized, and yet, given the flick's budget, it might a blessing that the witch wasn't captured on film.

The shooting locations might be considered unincredible if the film wasn't trying to pass itself off as a real event, the reason being that most of the scenes filmed in the forest aren't especially unique or photogenic. However, because the filmmakers had hyped it up as being an authentic piece of film, the fact that the specific expanse of wilderness they opted to film in looks like it could have taken place just about anywhere actually works in its favor, as the audience is able to liken it to a place they've actually been. It also seems likely that the use of Anywhere Forest, U.S.A. contributed to the countless bands of 20-somethings going into the woods to produce their own homages and mockeries. The Wiccan voodoo idols constructed and hung in the trees are great, and the early scenes of interviews taken with supposed locals also reinforce the idea that the forest is huge and seemingly endless when contrasted against the tiny town of Burkittsville, so while there's nothing breathtakingly beautiful about the backdrop, the locations actually make the film even more effective despite being somewhat drab. And for the record, I'm not implying this was some ingenious decision that the filmmakers made and mapped out in advance, but the fact that it's probably incidental doesn't make it any less true.

The soundtrack is nature. That's it. Running water, rain, the crunching of fallen tree branches, and the occasional devil baby cryin' somewhere in the darkness. And again - because of the film's premise, the presence of a soundtrack would be out of place and destroy its found footage theme. You've really gotta hand it to the writer/directors, 'cause they were able to come up with a concept where the very idea of elaborate special effects and a soundtrack composition would be so alien to their vision that not only do they not have to expend their limited resources to pay for them, but their very presence would be so out of place that the audience actually comes to embrace their absence. Furthermore, the lack of music adds to that gritty, clinical perspective presented by the 16mm and hand-held camcorders and manages to give it a little of that Texas Chain Saw Massacre magic. The only piece of music aside from the radio playing in the background when the kids are testing their equipment early on, plays during the closing credits and coincidentally (or perhaps not), has that same bleak, hopeless feel about it that reinforces what the audience is already feeling after a decidedly unpleasant ending.

Overall, Blair Witch is a flick that you either love or hate, and if you hated it on release and haven't watched it since I'd recommend giving it another try to make sure it wasn't just the presentation that pissed ya off. It may turn out that the gimmick had nothin' to do with your dislike, but at least you'll know for certain, and either way, there's no denying the film's significance to the genre as a whole. Honestly, I think it kinda opened the floodgates to a lotta low budget filmmakers who lack the talent and quality actors that Myrick and Sanchez had, which, unfortunately, resulted in a fair number of low-quality imitations. Myrick and Sanchez caught lightning in a bottle and made something unique during what was a pretty serious dry spell for the genre, and for that, they should be praised. The downside is that a lotta other people saw the movie and realized they *also* had bottles.

Rating: 91%