It’s been 22 years since The Blair Witch Project scared the pants off confused movie audiences who couldn’t decide if it was fact or fiction.
The ground-breaking film, released nationwide on July 30, 1999, was made by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez who came up with the idea for an old-fashioned scary movie while in film school together.
The Blair Witch Project told story of a group of documentarians who go into the woods looking for the legend of the Blair witch. The group disappears but the video they recorded is found a year later.
As discussed on Episode #21 of History of the 90s, The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first movie to use the found footage concept, but Myrick and Sanchez recognized that in the 90s there was a fresh appetite for the concept thanks to reality TV shows like COPS and the Real World.
Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams, three unknown actors were chosen for the movie which included mainly improvised dialogue. The actors were just given an outline of a situation and were told to fill in the rest.
To make it seem as real as possible, the movie crew tormented the actors at night by shaking their tents and playing a boom box with the creepy sounds of children crying and talking in the distance. In the morning the actors woke up to find spooky crosses and figures made out of sticks in the woods around the tent.
The whole time they were told to stay in character and react the way they would if it was real.
I remember being absolutely terrified by this movie because I lived in a really old house at the time and the basement had these unfinished stone walls and I could not go down there without thinking about the final scene from the movie.
I don’t remember if I thought it was real or not but A LOT of people were convinced it was actual found footage. And the filmmakers helped that along.
They paid college students to cover campuses with Missing posters of the Blair Cast and an hour-long TV special called Curse of the Blair witch with faux historical footage which dug into the made up myth aired on the Sci Fi channel just before the movie’s release date.
But most importantly the actors IMBD pages were changed so that they were listed as deceased. That’s right if you went online to check out Heather, Mike and Josh you would soon find out they were dead leading you to believe that the movie might actually be real.
Nothing like this had ever happened before and as a result The Blair Witch Project became a cultural phenomenon.
It was the must-see movie of the summer of 99 with Time Magazine calling it, “a rite of passage, fraternity hazing and haunted house trip rolled into 81 agitated minutes.”
The Blair Witch Project ended up making nearly $250 million dollars worldwide, an indie movie record at the time. Which is even more impressive because the total filming budget was $60,000 and Myrick and Sanchez made it with a handheld camcorder and a low tech Hi8 8mm camera.
Their success inspired a generation of filmmakers to pick up a camera and spawned countless imitators and spoofs, including 2009’s Paranormal Activity (which also terrified me!).
As for Blair Witch, the magic of the first movie was not able to be replicated. The direct sequel in 2000 and a third attempt in 2016 both flopped.
For more stories from the 1990s make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.