Horror Movie: The Blair Witch Project (R; 1999; 81 min.)

Let me start off by declaring this (again) as one of my top three scary movies of all time. For someone who lives surrounded by trees, this cuts a little too close to home. It’s amazing how many horror movies are set in or near the woods, because they truly can be a haunting, creepy, imagination-spurring place, especially in the Fall!

The Blair Witch Project is a low-budget movie shot entirely by hand-held cameras (one color, one black and white), but its effect is entirely big-time. Set in October of 1994 in Burkittesville, Maryland, three college students named Heather, Josh, and Mike, are on-location filming Heather’s student documentary about the Blair Witch (the town used to be called Blair). What we see is the footage they shot, which was found a year later, after their disappearance.

First, the trio interview a few locals about the Blair Witch lore, providing some background info. Apparently, long ago seven children went missing. Since then, many others have gone missing as well. The woods near Burkkittesville seem to be inhabited by a witch whose feet never touch the ground, according to one local. Others tell stories of men found bound at Castle Rock, along a nearby river.

Because they are know-it-all college kids, and because they scoff at these locals’ stories, the trio head on into the woods for a day or two (ha!) to film a cemetery which is located there. As the story unfolds, they discover strange rock formations on the ground, dangling stick figures in the trees, and chilling noises surrounding them at night as they try to sleep in their tent. The noises and creepy discoveries escalate as the three realize they are hopelessly lost in these woods, walking in circles, unable to find their way out. One morning, one of them finds blue-green slime all over his backpack and belongings, and the horror takes a new turn. He disappears during the night, and eventually the other two meet their spine-tingling end as well.

So what’s so scary about such a simple story? First, the hand-held shots and doc style make it seem quite real, not movie-like. We see the events as they unfold, picking up bits of info here and there without really realizing it. The disbelief of the trio as they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into is almost touchable it’s so enveloping. Also, the stick figures they discover in the woods are crude and basic enough to be quite believable. The characters themselves are very well-played and we can recognize the naiveté the trio possesses as something we would possess too for such a “simple walk in the woods.” Finally, what makes The Blair Witch Project the scariest is the lack of super special effects – we rely on our imaginations to supply images and to pull the story together (especially at the very end).

  • Top Scare: End or a scene during the night as they run through the woods
  • Heartbeats: 4 1/2 out of 5
  • Gore Factor: 1 out of 5
  • Suspense Factor: 4 1/2 out of 5
  • Recommended for: 16 and up, simply because it’s so scary and for copious cussing

Next up: The Exorcist

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