The Blair Witch Project is easily – easily – the scariest film I’ve ever seen. That opinion either makes sense or is laughable to you, likely depending on how old you are or what year you’re reading this (Hi people from the future!!!).
In 1999, thinking The Blair Witch Project is horror genius still got you some odd looks, but the pulsating popularity of this cinematic phenomenon deafened those that were already in the non-fan club. As the years rolled on and the found-footage genre the movie popularized swelled to its own varying degrees of success, it became commonplace to refer to Blair Witch as a “That Movie,” often declared with the kind of disdain typically held for embarrassing flash-in-the-pans or Lycos. As quickly and suddenly as the story of three young-adults getting lost in the thick Maryland woods arrived, it jolted in the haters direction in a matter of months. A lot of that had to due with home-video and the burgeoning DVD format. Though the movie is by no means a visual juggernaut screaming for IMAX levels of presentation, cramming it onto small screens, and yes circa 2000 screens were about half the size of most modern televisions, and letting Heather, Josh and Mike hang about with sunny windows blaring in only diminished the spell the filmmakers had cast.
Halloween 1999 springs immediately to mind. A friend’s house, nicely remote as those in St. Mary’s County can tend to be, was the host to a fresh and, to many, first showing of Blair Witch. The spooks began quickly, as we decorated the steep, entirely dirt driveway with stick-men inspired by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s movie. Crisp air, endless trees that hid slivers of sunshine and a buzz from those entirely new to the tale brought excitement. Then the tv turned on, all twenty-some-inches of it, in a room full of more than two-dozen teenagers in costumes, cramped onto one couch and strewn through out the floor. It was less than ideal viewing and was responded with a shrug from the newbies.
It’s a shame for those folks, for the hoopla of seeing it in theatres remains an unmatched moment of my life. The initial endeavor to get into it didn’t even work, as a long-line also came with a sign stating that the movie was sold out until Saturday night. With it being about noon on a Friday, this seemed especially unusual. Adding to that feeling was the exiting crown from the initial rounds, as people staggered out into the sunny, sweaty Maryland humidity as if they’d either witnessed a ghost or been punched in the back of the head. One patron stormed over to our line, where we remained to purchase those 24-hour plus early tickets, and lectured us all on why it would be dumb to waste our money on The Blair Witch Project. This tactic only had the opposite effect.
When the time finally came, the showing was, as expected, packed. What number of people believed the movie to be the legit final days of a trio of students and what portion just wanted a jolt, I have no idea. As for myself, I wanted the latter but could feel the tingle of allure from the former. I got more than a jolt though. Terror latched onto my veins, the movie clutching me tighter with each second. The Blair Witch Project has a rhythm to it that is kind of genius, as night has to come. Our protagonists only have so many hours in the day to try and escape the maze that is the dense forest. The sun will fall beyond the horizon and each passing dusk only grows in its horrors. At its simplest core, Myrick and Sanchez made a movie that is about the basest fear all kids have; be afraid of the dark.
That’s what clung to my brain for literally years after my first go-around. I don’t know what’s beyond the light. I don’t know what sits in the pitch black. Living in, well, not bumfuck nowhere, but adjacent to it, didn’t help matters. After the wave of EEEEEEEEEEEEEEP ended, my friend and I left the good old Waldorf, Maryland theatre to our cars. The parking lot had plenty of streetlamps to guide the way, but boy it felt like we needed several dozen more for that one-minute walk to the car. Agreement was had; that movie was unnerving. We made our 45-minute trek back home to, yes this is real, California, Maryland. Living in an area literally called Wildewood, my buddy dropped me off in the driveway aka the driveway surrounded by endless trees. Agreement was had, he would come inside. Living only a two-minute drive away, he was too scared to drive home alone. Said man was past high-school, I was 17. The guest room it would be then. Until noises. Some fucking noises outside in countless branches and, probably not actually, howling win. Agreement was had, he’d use a sleeping bag and slumber in the same room I did.
In the morning he left. Sunlight was required.
The third film in The Blair Witch Project series is out soon. It might reignite the fire of fandom for the average moviegoer. For me, that ember has never been below a bountiful, crackling flame. There are out-and-out better horror films, with richer plots or themes. None. None will ever hit me like 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Ever.