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THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT: The O.G. of Found Footage

By Sheri White  March 15, 2024

In 1999, a new kind of horror movie was unleashed, and the world hasn’t been the same. The Blair Witch Project insinuated itself everywhere—TV, magazines, books, and a few places online. 

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Before the movie was released to theaters, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez made a “documentary” for the movie called Curse of the Blair Witch that aired on the SyFy Channel (then known as Sci-Fi). We learned that three college filmmakers, Heather, Josh, and Mike, disappeared in the woods while looking for the Blair Witch in Burkittsville, MD. There was no levity, no sense that the documentary wasn’t real; it was serious and creepy. And while I watched it, I realized I lived only about ten minutes away from Burkittsville.


I was completely freaked out since I had been to that town and seen the cemetery and other places of interest from the movie. Was there really something to this?
At that time, the internet was in its infancy for home users, and not as accessible and popular as it is now. Google didn’t exist yet, and the search engines that did exist didn’t have much to look for. So even though I was 34 years old, I was completely fooled. 


Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one.

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The town of Burkittsville was overrun with fans who believed the movie was true and wanted to get a look at the places in the movie, and ghost lovers wanted to hunt for the elusive Blair Witch. The mayor at the time, Joyce Brown, hated that the town was depicted in such a way. The witch-searching tourists didn’t help angry residents by trampling on private property, videotaping residents, and defacing the town with graffiti such as spray painting a pentagram on the church.
However, some residents embraced their new notoriety, selling stick figures copied from the movie, rocks from their yards, and t-shirts. The worst part of all of this for the town was that their Welcome to the Historic Village of Burkittsville kept getting stolen, prompting Mayor Brown to lock up the extra signs. The gates to the cemetery were also padlocked to keep souvenir hunters out at night.


But a lot of witch-seekers and souvenir hunters would ultimately be disappointed when they didn’t find the forest or Rustin Parr’s cabin since those things don’t exist in Burkittsville. Rather, those scenes were shot in Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County, MD; about 45 minutes or so from Burkittsville. The cabin was torn down not long after the movie was shot.
The movie itself was controversial in that some thought it was terrifying (count me as one), while others thought it was over-hyped and not scary at all. I admit I was disappointed at first when I saw Mike standing in the corner at the end of the movie. That was the end? It seemed anti-climatic until I was driving home and I realized why Mike was in that position.

 

It sent chills down my spine, and it was a long drive home through those rural backroads. I was able to find some chatrooms and message boards to discuss the movie with like-minded people and go down some rabbit holes about the witch’s legend.. I collected books and magazines having to do with the movie’s lore.

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After a few weeks, the movie was determined to be just that—a movie. The hype died down, and so did excursions to Burkittsville.
In the summer of 2023, the current Burkittsville mayor, Michael J. Robinson, hosted a small festival to celebrate the movie. Vendors, horror writers, and fans descended upon the town Ruritan, where for a few hours trinkets, books, and food and drinks were sold. Stick figures were given away for free. The Maryland chapter of the Horror Writers Association was among the vendors.
Once it got dark, Mayor Robinson showed the movie on an outdoor screen by the fields. It was a fun day and a spooky evening.

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July 14th, 2024 will be the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release in the United States. Once again, Mayor Robinson will host a festival celebrating the movie and the town, only this year he is hoping to make it bigger.
The Blair Witch Project was a phenomenon that can never be repeated, nor could it have been made today with the internet such a part of everyday life. Many found-footage movies were made after Blair Witch, but none have come close to the hysteria so many of us shared back in 1999.

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Sheri White’s stories have been published in many anthologies and zines, including an essay in the Notable Works for the Horror Writers Association Mental Health Initiative, an essay in JAKE Magazine, Halldark Holidays (edited by Gabino Iglesias), The Monsters Next Door published by Critical Blast, and The Horror Writers Association’s Don’t Turn Out the Lights (edited by Jonathan Maberry). Recent publications include Crab Apple Literary, Litmora, voidspace zine, and Broken Antler Magazine.

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