Heather Donahue as... er, Heather Donahue takes on the Blair Witch Independent's Day: The Blair Witch Project
A first look at the new independent film which is already being called the most frightening movie ever...

A Shivers feature by James Abery
selected from Shivers #68

Most Horror movies create a buzz of interest, but no Horror film in recent memory has had the advance word of The Blair Witch Project. When a film is called ‘the most frightening film to come out of America in 20 years’, and was received with rapturous applause at an out-of-competition midnight screening at the prestigious Sundance Independent Film Festival, then you tend to sit up and take notice.

The directors have gone on record to cite their favourite films as The Exorcist and The Omen, where lasting horrors are unravelled from a look or a subliminal sound, a far cry from the overblown and really rather unfrightening excesses of The Mummy or Species.

The Blair Witch Project is a work of fiction, but the film-makers have gone to great lengths to create the appearance and affecting immediacy of a documentary – using improvized dialogue and hand-held cameras operated by the actors themselves.

The premise is simple. Three college students go into the woods to research a local legend. They disappear, and no trace is found of them until a year later when their cameras are found. The footage is assembled – and the fragments of film tell a story of pure Horror… The cameras have recorded the students’ mental and physical disorientation in the isolation of the woods. They have recorded the terrifying nightly hauntings that assail the students – the sickening noises and half-seen ‘things’ in the dark. The film is thus about cold, unremitting fear. It is about spiritual deterioration, panic, fear of hunger and the horror of never getting back to civilisation.

The Blair Witch Project was created by five film buffs from Orlando Florida who collectively call themselves Haxan films: Directors Eduardo Sanchez and Dan Myrick, producers Gregg Hale, Rob Cowie and Mike Monello. Most of the dialogue for The Blair Witch Project was improvized, but to the directors’ meticulous schedules, which in many instances were timed down to the hour. The actors were actually sent into the woods for an eight-day shoot. They were given Global Positioning Devices – and daily ‘orders’ of what was going to happen to them...

For the length of the shoot, the three cast members did not have any contact with the production team. To further increase the tension of the later scenes, when the characters were supposed to be running out of food, the actors’ food rations were decreased also, although with their full co-operation. It nevertheless added a real edge to the proceedings.

Part of the attraction of the film is the intricate and highly convincing back-story that Sanchez and Myrick created, termed the ‘Blair Witch Legend’, and in order to add realism to a 200-year old witch, they used that powerful piece of modern magic, the Internet. When the Legend was unveiled on the Blair Witch website, (www.blairwitch.com) it proved terrifically popular – the line between reality and fiction was convincingly blurred.

Since August of last year, the five creators of the film have been regularly posting newsletters or updates on the film, particularly its success at the Sundance Festival. “Fans want to get all the details down” says Sanchez, “so we do our part by expanding the mythology, adding more evidence and clues.”

The film-makers will continue to contribute background data to the Blair Witch Website. In addition, they have documented every step of the highly unusual production and are currently editing a video project on the making of the film. A book expanding the Blair Witch mythology is also underway.

Excerpts from The History of the Blair Witch

The township of Blair was situated in North Central Maryland, two hours from Washington DC. In February 1785, several children accused Elly Kedward of luring them into her home to draw blood from them. Kedward was found guilty of witchcraft, banished from the village during a particularly harsh winter and presumed dead.

In November of the following year, all of Kedward’s accusers, along with half of the children in the village, mysteriously vanished. Fearing a curse, the townsfolk fled Blair and vowed never to speak Elly Kedward’s name again.

In November of 1809, The Blair Witch Cult was published. This rare book, commonly considered fiction, told of an entire town cursed by an outcast witch...

...on October 20th 1994, three Montgomery College Students - Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams - arrived in Burkittsville to interview the locals about the legend of the Blair Witch for a class project. Heather interviewed Mary Brown, an old and clearly insane woman who has lived in the area all her life. Mary claims once to have seen the Blair Witch near Tappy Creek in the form of a hairy, half-human, half-animal creature.

The following day, October 21st 1994, Heather interviewed two fishermen who informed them that Coffin Rock is less than 20 minutes from town and easily accessible by an old logging trail. The film-makers hiked into the Black Hills Forest and were never seen again...
Read the full feature in Shivers #68

To order this issue of Shivers or subscribe, click here