I am questioned every year, from other horror fans, on why I watch The Blair Witch Project. They say it is “stupid” and “not scary.” I think that all depends on when and where you watched it for the first time.
I was fourteen years old when the film came out. It was all over the news that this footage had been found from three missing hikers in the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland. Their names were Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard. These three were film students making a documentary on the Blair Witch, a local legend in the town. They entered the woods in search of the home of Rustin Parr, a man who had lured children to their death supposedly under the spell of the Blair Witch. The hike was only supposed to be two days but they never came back. One year later, their footage was found.
With this story plastered on the news, in the papers and magazines and commercials for the film everywhere claiming it to be a true story, I was terrified. This film was apparently proving the existence of the supernatural. There were missing signs with their faces on them plastered on the newspapers. I couldn’t avoid it. I needed to see this film.
I wasn’t old enough, or brave enough, to see the film in the theater so a friend of a friend’s dad brought us over a bootleg to watch. I know, I know, bootlegs are bad but we didn’t make it so he’s the butt, not me.
So there my friend and I were, snuggled up together on a single computer chair under a blanket, in the dark, watching the film on her computer. We were absolutely terrified. We were watching three real people get lost in the woods, disappear and die. I had the worst nightmares for days. I stayed away from the woods at all costs. I was a wreck of a child.
A month or so later, I was watching the MTV Movie Awards and who walks out? Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard. My jaw was on the floor. I had been had. I felt like the most gullible person in the world. Here I was, never doubting the truth to the story because it was on the news! This is where I learned two very important things: A) the news stations are a bunch of liars. B) Film can be deceiving. I have carried these lessons with me ever since.
The Blair Witch Project ushered in my least favorite trend with horror films — the found footage. As with any genre within the genre, there are some exceptions. I did enjoy REC and its American remake Quarantine. The first Paranormal Activity was pretty good and I did like Cloverfield mainly because I enjoy monster movies.
The Blair Witch Project held so much power because it was the first. They were able to fool the masses because it simply had not been done before. There was no reason not to believe their story. They had proof in the footage. Any found footage film after felt flat with me because I wasn’t going to fall for it again. Besides, how many found footage exorcism movies really need to exist?
No film will ever terrify me in the same way as The Blair Witch did. Whether or not people still find the film to be scary today, my experience gave it a different meaning. It gave me fear down into my core. That, my friends, is why I watch it every year, because, to me, it always will be scary.