News dropped this week that The Blair Witch Project, the impossibly successful late 90s indie found-footage film that revolutionized the genre of horror, will be made into a TV show from Lionsgate’s newly branded Studio L. No word yet on when the series will premiere. This announcement, of course, begs the question: How on earth are they going to do it?
I don’t know how to explain my undying love and devotion to The Blair Witch Project. I was fortunate enough to finally meet Will Rogers of 'The Haunted Sponge,' a friend of ‘Hunt A Killer’ (and mine) who does live unboxing videos for us, among other things. I met up with Will and his wife Allie during a HaK party in Baltimore, and the first thing I said to them was, ‘So, what are you guys doing tomorrow?’ I had been planning to ask them if they would want to drive the hour and a half to Burkittsville, Maryland, the town from the movie where Heather, Josh, and Mike interview those who might know something about the legend of the Blair Witch. Before I could ask, Will told me of their plans to head to Burkittsville the next day. Talk about kindred spirits. So they let me tag along.
We drove the long, desolate road, brown-golden fields in every direction, beautiful Northeastern light, and the thin woods that came to define the look of The Blair Witch Project. When we saw the sign for Burkittsville, we were excited as kids, and it was nice to be there with that someone who understands why I love this film so much. It is constantly parodied, made fun of, considered a “bad” horror movie. This has always confused me, as I find it to be a perfect piece of art. We even searched the cemetery for longer than we should have in order to recreate this shot:
I was 11 when the commercials started airing for The Blair Witch Project, and my parents and friends started talking about it. If you were old enough at that time, you will remember the way the film was marketed. It was real. Three college students set out to make a documentary for a class and were never seen again, but their footage was recovered sometime later. The news reports said it was real, the actors were kept out of the spotlight, never giving any interviews, never appearing at festivals. A website was made with a timeline of their disappearance, information about the missing three, police photos, and news reports. They even handed out flyers at film festivals asking for any information about the missing students. Remember, this was the late 90s, so the internet looked a lot different, in fact, here is the original site, still preserved in all its simplistic glory. There was no social media, at least nothing like what we have today. It was easy to pull a fast one on the nation, and pull a fast one they did.
I genuinely believed that the film was real for about two months of my life. Maybe you did too. And that alone is a phenomenon. It seriously changed the way I thought about reality, and that’s more than any horror movie, or any film in general, has ever done for me. For better or for worse, I couldn't tell you. But because I was a kid, it had a profound effect on my personality.
Here’s part of the reason why. It wasn’t just the marketing; it was the film itself. People say that the acting is bad, and that is absolutely confusing to me. In fact, much of what we see in the film is only half-acting, because the three actors, who went by their real names in the film, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard, didn’t actually know what was coming next. Heather learned to operate a camera specifically for the movie. Some of the Burkittsville residents interviewed in the beginning of the film were actual community members, others were actors planted by the directors, and they didn’t know who was who. When they were in the woods, they would hike to different points on a map that the directors had designated and find crates of supplies and information, just the briefest notes about the plot, and the rest was improvised. The crew followed them in the night, made frightening sounds in the distance, left all the creepy rock piles and stick dolls along their path, as well as the famous bundle of (real) human teeth. Sometimes the actors would miss these set-ups, and the crew would have to direct them back. They wanted authentic fear, and I think they got it. These actors were college students, and the directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, were in film school at the time, working on a budget of just $35,000. The film grossed a quarter of a billion dollars, making it one of the highest grossing, lowest budget film of all time. They had over 24 hours of raw footage, and they edited it down to a concise hour and 45 minutes.
The sequels that were to follow took different routes, because they had to. Fool America once, right? Joe Berlinger’s Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was a meta-film, similar to the Scream series, in that it was a film about a film, a film about the lasting legacy of the market of the Blair Witch on the town of Burkittsville (a real issue I just contributed to). It was a poorly received film, that I honestly kind of liked. However, it seemed to cause the possible franchise to dry up, that is, until us millennials got old enough for them to re-market the story to in the name of 90s nostalgia. Blair Witch premiered in 2016, and it was, well, not very good. Directed by Adam Wingardand and written by Simon Barrett, the original directors were not involved. It was a fine film, forgettable but fun, but it did not capture the lore of the Blair Witch, which was probably my favorite part of the original.
But it looks like Eduardo Sánchez is back. Though it isn’t confirmed, it does seem that he will be taking on the project. He said in late 2017 on the Diminishing Returns podcast that he is hoping to “bring in a whole bunch of interesting directors to direct episodes.”
He also hinted at its structure: "I think that the idea of a Blair Witch anthology has always been very–just a really interesting thing...The more you think about it, you're like 'That might be the perfect TV show. You know?' So, we'll see what happens, but I think that’s the next big thing for Blair Witch. Probably TV."
So, are we looking at a Black Mirror or Are you Afraid of the Dark? type series where each episode is separate from the next? Could they tell us many different stories of interactions with the Blair Witch? I think that could be interesting, especially if they dive into the legends around Elly Kedward, the woman killed for witchcraft in the 1700s, Rustin Parr, the child killer who kidnapped eight children in the 40s, as well as the ritual murders at Coffin Rock. The Blair Witch Project was full of little pieces of information found in old books and through stories passed down in the town of Burkittsville, and that was part of what made it so real. Especially before the internet catalogued virtually everything that ever happened or maybe ever happened, the fragmentation of a subject, especially a mystery, was more common. Because of this, of the cobbling together of pieces of a bigger mystery, The Blair Witch Project felt authentic. Three students were working to piece together the lore of town’s dark history, and only finding the thinnest strands to follow.
They could also do a long-form version of a single story having to do with the Blair Witch. Will it be like the Blair Witch 2, a commentary on the original film, more young people marching into the woods to confront what they believe to be a fake evil, only to meet their deaths through a terrifying series of supernatural events? I trust Eduardo Sánchez, and we can only hope that Studio L is smart enough to realize they need him, and need him desperately, as none of the other attempts have been successful in capturing the original spirit that captivated the nation.
Whatever they choose, I’m interested. The Blair Witch Project revolutionized horror, popularizing (and yes, not starting) the found-footage trend. And my 11-year-old self is still quietly mesmerized by a story I once believed to be true. I still can’t shake that feeling, and that is a pretty incredible thing.