BWI was 13 when I convinced my mom to take me to the theater located inside our local mall to see a movie she didn’t know anything about called THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Prior to seeing it, I would log on to AOL and reread the timeline on www.blairwitch.com so I would know a fictionalized history of Burkittsville, Maryland. The found footage genre was nothing revolutionary, but it felt fresh to mainstream audiences who had no idea what they were getting into when walking into the theater. Vague TV spots and trailers promised footage of three young filmmakers who disappeared in the woods while making a documentary about a local legend called the Blair Witch. I knew going in that it wasn’t real, but my mother had no clue. We had a crowded screening and remember the need for reassurance that the movie was indeed over after Heather’s camera was knocked down. My mom was quiet as got into her car, usually a clue that she was not in a good mood. I noticed we weren’t heading home, but actually to my grandma’s house. The silence was interrupted ten minutes in when my mom hesitantly asked “That wasn’t true, was it?”

The internet during this time wasn’t as accessible as it is today, anyone capable of researching anything in the palm of their hand. When I was a kid, we had to make sure no one was using the landline (that’s a house phone, millennials) in order to check emails or browse the web. A faux documentary could get away as factual due to someone really having to spend the time to know the truth. Who knows how the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY would have been perceived if it were released in the 90s, but a standard was set by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and mere copycats followed, often using the format as an excuse to create cop out endings (I’m looking at you THE DEVIL INSIDE).

The ending to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, however, isn’t as ambiguous as many think. Paying attention to the interviews Heather conducts with local residents early on, the story of Rustin Parr gives a pretty scary indication of what happens at the end of the film. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez deserve all the credit in terrifying audiences back in ’99, but for me it was the extensive history they imagined that drew me in. A cursed town, burned witches, and missing children all factor into the legend and the most genius marketing tools were utilized to help create that world. A TV special called THE CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH aired, posing as a true documentary after the events of the film and exploring the mythology. A dossier was released containing supposed police reports, fliers, and other documents related the events of the film. I was in horror heaven with these products and I collected all that I could get my hands on, including the young adult book series THE BLAIR WITCH FILES which revolved around Heather’s cousin investigating her disappearance. Three PC games were released, each set in a different period of the Blair Witch timeline, allowing players to interact with key players in the fictional history and it truly scared the shit out of me. I remember playing the first game as an investigator when my character goes to rest in their motel room and lighting struck revealing a creature inside my bathroom. I had loud speakers connected to the computer and literally screamed when this happened. Like most horror games, I avoided potentially scary areas like the woods behind the school.

The movie was fresh, had its share of haters, but no one can doubt the pop culture phenomenon it became. The three stars (who were marked as missing on IMDB) were instant celebrities appearing on talk shows and presenting at MTV award shows. Other acting opportunities quickly landed on their laps with Joshua Leonard not too long ago having a multi episode gig on BATES MOTEL. A sequel was ordered immediately and one year later we got BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2.

BOOK OF SHADOWS did away with the found footage premise and had a more traditional look. The exposure of the first film has created a huge fanbase and we follow a tourist group that ventures into the same woods, each with their own agendas. They wake up the next morning with their belongings trashed and a rival group slaughtered. They have no recollection of the night before and supernatural events ensue, leaving viewers unsure of what is actually happening up to the last minute.

The movie bombed at the box office so bad that it wasn’t in theaters long enough for me to see it. As soon as it was available to rent of VHS, I grabbed a copy andBW3 watched it multiple times, including the ESREVER bit after the credits that encouraged me to pay attention to certain details in the film to capture hidden images and words. What I’m curious about is if this was a home video exclusive or were these easter eggs that were still visible in the theatrical release. BOOK OF SHADOWS had its own share of faux documentaries and dossiers, but audiences had lost interest and reviews were not too kind to the meta sequel. I, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of the franchise, forcing everyone I know to watch the movies.

All the products available in the Blair Witch universe proved that the story could be told in so many different ways from multiple angles. A third film was often rumored for several years, but never came to realization until recently when THE WOODS was revealed to be a marketing trick and retitled as BLAIR WITCH, a direct sequel to the first from director Adam Wingard and write Simon Barrett. Genre fans are familiar with this team as they brought us instant favorites like the home invasion thriller YOU’RE NEXT and self aware homage THE GUEST. What they promise is a legit scary film experience and I believe them as their previous work shows off their film education, especially in horror. If you laugh during one of their movies, then they’re laughing right with you. They know you get the jokes and references and it’s no coincidence that Lionsgate have provided them with the responsibility on making sure you never go back to the woods again. I plan on keeping a close eye on the marketing around the film in hopes of similar promotional materials being released like the first two films. I’m going to dig into my mom’s basement and find all my books on everything Blair Witch and prepare myself again to revisit Burkittsville, Maryland.

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