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"I just want to apologize to Mike's mom, and Josh's mom, and my mom. I am sorry, everyone. I was very naive. I am so, so sorry. For everything that has happened. Because in spite of what Mike says now, it is my fault. Because it was my project... Everything had to be my way. And this is where we've ended up. And it's all because of me that we're here now. Hungry, cold, and hunted..."
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The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 horror movie, shot entirely in the style of a documentary gone horribly wrong. It became one of the most successful independent films of all time, and is also commonly credited as the Trope Codifier/Genre Popularizer of the found footage subgenre of horror, a trend that became so frequent in the decades following that it was driven into the ground over time.

It revolves around three college students in 1994 — Heather, Mike, and Josh — who decide to make a documentary about the fabled "The Blair Witch", which is said to haunt the forest near the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland. After interviewing the locals about several creepy and macabre incidents in the area, the trio eventually decide to journey into the forest where the legend is supposed to have started. Things ultimately take a turn for the worse.

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Apart from its revolutionary format, what it's also notable for is having one of the best Viral Marketing campaigns ever, and certainly one of the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of Internet advertising. Fake online documents, footage, published dossiers, interviews, and even a couple of professional-looking television documentaries blurred the line between truth and fiction like few other campaigns had done before or have since. Many were convinced that the movie was based on a true story, or even consisted of actual footage. Even more were convinced that the "Blair Witch" was a real legend, as opposed to something the filmmakers made up themselves.


The success of the film gave way to a multimedia franchise, which currently consists of:

Films

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Comic Books

  • The Blair Witch Project (2000)
  • The Blair Witch Chronicles (2000)
  • Blair Witch: Dark Testaments (2000)

Literature

  • The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier (1999)
  • Blair Witch: The Secret Confession of Rustin Parr (2000)
  • Blair Witch: Book of Shadows (2000)
  • The Blair Witch Files (2000-2001)
    • The Blair Witch Files 1 – The Witch's Daughter
    • The Blair Witch Files 2 – The Dark Room
    • The Blair Witch Files 3 – The Drowning Ghost
    • The Blair Witch Files 4 – Blood Nightmare
    • The Blair Witch Files 5 – The Death Card
    • The Blair Witch Files 6 – The Prisoner
    • The Blair Witch Files 7 – The Night Shifters
    • The Blair Witch Files 8 – The Obsession
  • Blair Witch: Graveyard Shift (2004)

Mockumentaries

  • Curse of the Blair Witch (1999)
  • Sticks and Stones: An Exploration of the Blair Witch Legend (1999)
  • The Massacre of The Burkittsville 7: The Blair Witch Legacy (2000)
  • Shadow of the Blair Witch (2000)

Video Games

  • Blair Witch Volume I: Rustin Parr (2000)
  • Blair Witch Volume II: The Legend of Coffin Rock (2000)
  • Blair Witch Volume III: The Elly Kedward Tale (2000)
  • Blair Witch (2019)

The Blair Witch Project contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film's plot is set in 1994, five years before its release.
  • All There in the Manual: The tie-in materials flesh out the Blair Witch legend and the back story, which makes the movie ten times creepier once you realize what a lot of things mean. Among the highlights relevant to the film:
    • The three odd piles of stones they find around their tent one morning early on in their trip? Rustin Parr kidnapped kids to his house in the woods, murdered them, and buried them in the basement before making their graves with piles of stones.
    • Heather was keeping a journal (visible in-film briefly at the start) that chronicles her declining mental state. Among its revelations is that she cut down one of the stick figures to take with her (which was actually a deleted scene), likely triggering further wrath from the Witch.
    • Search parties were indeed out and searching for the trio within the timeframe they were still filming. One organizer of the parties swore they covered the same territory as the kids and should've found them....
    • The house at the end is identified as corresponding to that of Rustin Parr's. The catch? The house was burned down by the vengeful townspeople shortly after Rustin was arrested in 1941...
      • Similarly, the recovered footage was found by an archaeological team buried in the foundations of a Civil War-era house, which was noted to be so naturally undistributed that the lead professor was unable to explain how they got there, unless they were actually buried within the foundation when it was built over a century ago...
  • Alternate Continuity: The consistency of the various expanded universe. and tie-in material, is that the events of this movie or its lore has taken place. That all being said, there doesn't appear to be any continuity tied between these materials.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Burkittsville, MD is a real town with a population of less than 200. It was flooded with tourists after the film's release, angering its residents.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Downplayed. The beginning of the film notes that Mike, Heather, and Josh are currently missing, and the ending of the film implies that something or someone managed to incapacitate the trio although it isn't clear what exactly happened.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The whole film is a video documentation of three filmmakers who grow increasingly hopeless as it becomes more and more apparent that they are lost and being hounded by a mysterious foe. Things only continue to go From Bad to Worse, especially at the end when Mike and Heather are lured into a creepy old house in hopes of finding Josh, but are never seen again. Obviously, their footage would be found.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Despite never even seeing the Blair Witch herself, or whatever the antagonist was, the way the film ends makes it obvious that she had won.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The group essentially wanted to dabble in the Blair Witch legend themselves, and wanted to find research regarding the eponymous Eldritch Abomination. Too bad the Blair Witch herself wishes to give them the cold, hard facts that they've been looking for, firsthand. The tie-in material The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier includes excerpts from Heather's journal, revealing that she secretly strongly identified with Elly Kedward, the historical figure who inspired the legend, and had been deliberately trying to invoke her and summon her for the film. Worked a bit too well.
  • Big Bad: The witch.
  • Bloody Handprint: They could be ink or paint, but it's hard to tell.
  • Break the Haughty: Though friendly and reasonable, Heather is also a very overconfident and egotistical person in the beginning. As soon as she begins losing control and getting scared she is on her way to a Despair Event Horizon.
  • Breaking Speech: Josh delivers a savage one to Heather when it becomes clear how hopeless their situation is.
    I wanna make movies, Heather. Isn't that what we came here to do? Just make some movies? Let's make some movies. Okay, here's your motivation. You're lost, you're angry in the woods. There's no one here to help you. There's a witch, and she keeps leaving shit outside your door. There's no one here to help you! She left little trinkets, you took one of them, she ran after us! There's no one here to help you! We walked for fifteen hours today and ended up in the same place! There's no one here to help you! That's your motivation! THAT'S YOUR MOTIVATION! ... You gonna write us a happy ending, Heather?
  • Butt-Monkey: Josh. Everything bad happens after he accidentally knocks over a pile of rocks while filming at night. For the rest of the film, he in particular is targeted by what's after them.
  • Call-Back: Rustin Parr would take a pair of kidnapped children into his basement, then force one to stand in a corner facing the wall while he killed the other one. When Heather follows Mike into the basement of Parr's house, just before she screams and drops the camera, you see a shot of Mike standing in the corner, facing the wall.
  • Captain Obvious: "Mike? There's something out here."
  • Chewing the Scenery: Heather Donahue's apology scene. She acted so hard that you could practically see the bite marks in the camera. She sobs, screams, and shakes so realistically that her acting convinced some people it was a true life account. Her scuffles with the other two were also unscripted, as was the entire infamous apology scene.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Due mainly to the improvised script. It's not Casino levels of bad, but you can tell it's the favorite word of the movie.
  • Covered in Gunge: Their equipment gets mysteriously slimed near the end of the movie.
  • Creepy Child: The crew hear some little kids giggling out in the woods late at night.
  • Creepy Doll: The group encounters mysterious stick-dolls hanging from trees.
  • Creepypasta: The Viral Marketing for the film may well be the Ur-Example, building up a legend about the ghost of a witch through the power of the '90s internet.
  • Daylight Horror: While most of the more overt scares take place at night, the daytime has plenty of tension to go around.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: We spend a lot of time with Heather, Josh and Mike and getting to know their personalities, despite the fact that the premise of the film is that they all vanished in the woods and are presumed dead.
  • Dizzy Cam: The Trope Codifier, since the cameras are often handled by panicking users.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: Just to make it worse, once you go into the woods, you can't leave.
  • Downer Ending: The main characters remain trapped in the woods, and given the last shot of the movie they won't live long enough to regret their decisions.
  • Eerily Out-of-Place Object: The house where the end of the movie takes place is smack in the middle of the woods. If anything, this makes it even creepier that the forest itself.
    • If you look closely as Heather turns away from the open bag fashioned out of Josh's shirt, containing his teeth, hair and blood while breathing hysterically, she pauses for three-odd seconds looking at a stick carefully placed behind her horizontally upon two small plants. Not a METER away. Definitely not there when she walked behind the tent.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The witch could be this.
  • Eldritch Location: The normal laws of reality do not apply in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland. The best example of this being when Mike and Heather spend an entire day walking south, using a compass, only to end up right back where they started.
  • Expanded Universe: Tie-in short films, books, comics, even computer games... Also a soundtrack album. The album is billed as being a copy of the mixed tape the police found in the tape deck in Josh's car. Is goth music, industrial, and post punk. The fact that they were able to sell a soundtrack for a movie that has no music shows the marketing power of this flick.
  • Fatal Forced March: Over time, the journey gradually morphs into this as the three students lose their map, their route, and all hope of escaping the area alive; in the end, they've no choice but to keep walking.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Everyone dies. This is, in fact, the premise of the movie.
  • Foreshadowing: "We'll all look back on this and laugh heartily." At one point, Heather says: "If I die without ever walking across another stream on a log again, I'll die a happy girl". That is the last log-over-stream she crosses in her life.
  • Found Footage Films: The Trope Codifier for the genre, especially as far as horror is concerned. It's the most popular movie to use this format before Paranormal Activity.
  • From Bad to Worse: The terror starts off fairly mundane, ghost stories from the townsfolk and creepy burial mounds. Then the three students start hearing noises in the distance at night. From there, they encounter things like similar mounds of rocks outside their tent in the morning and human effigies made from sticks decorating the trees. They realize they're lost and start breaking down. Then they realize there seems to be no way out, no matter what they do. And whatever is in the woods starts coming after them.
  • Gainax Ending: Although it does fulfill more or less everything we heard previously about the witch, the final scene reveals a house that was supposed to burn down over fifty years ago.
  • Genius Loci: One theory is that there's no witch and that the forest itself may be sentient, and responsible for all those people's disappearances.
  • Ghost Story: The whole movie (especially the ending) is like a scary campfire story put to film.
  • Going in Circles: It's the SAME LOG!
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: The witch. Though there's been action figures, described by Cracked as looking "like Treebeard got it on with Swamp Thing".
  • Horror Struck: Although the characters are this before they actually see whatever form the witch takes due to getting lost, they cross over into this in a huge way once they find the house.
  • A House Divided: Josh and Heather don't get on particularly well when it starts, and they aren't friends with Mike. Once they get lost, it gets so much worse.
  • Improv: The actors were given no more than a 35-page outline of the mythology behind the plot before shooting began. When filming began, they were for the most part only given deliberatly vague instructions on what to; such as trying to track down the other actors that had been planted amongst the Burkittsville citizens. All lines were improvised and nearly all the events in the film were unknown to the three actors beforehand, and were often on-camera surprises to them all.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Heather's tearful confession to the camera is a totally broken sob-fest.
  • It's All My Fault: Heather calls this on herself in the apology scene for getting Josh and Mike into their predicament.
  • Jitter Cam: Helped popularize it alongside Saving Private Ryan, yet used it to such extremes that frequent cases of motion sickness were seen with viewers of the movie.
  • Kill 'Em All: A Foregone Conclusion is that they all disappear, Josh's teeth and hair is found early, and then Heather and Mike seem to die.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In a deleted scene, Josh suggests that there is no witch; rather, he suspects that the townspeople or possibly the Blair Witch cult, which lived in the woods, are the true culprits behind the strange events. Other than that, the film overall is rather ambiguous on the witch's existence as none of the group's cameras ever catch the culprit in question, be it a supernatural witch or human stalkers.
    • One theory suggests that Mike and Josh killed Heather and used the legend of the Blair Witch to cover their tracks.
  • Mind Screw: Who was hunting them? Was it really a witch? What was that ending all about? We'll never know. (Unless we take a look at the extended universe.)
  • Minimalist Cast: Aside from the interviews with the locals at the beginning, the only characters to be shown on-screen for the vast majority of the film are Heather, Mike and Josh.
  • Mockumentary: And several Mockumentaries were made about the mockumentary.
  • Mood Whiplash
    • Happens a few times, the biggest example being the transition from a shot of Mike eating a dry leaf and Heather laughing at him to Heather's famous apology scene.
    • Or cutting from Mike and Josh sarcastically singing the national anthem together to the three coming across the log in the stream that they had already crossed hours before.
    • Heather complaining about her shoes being wet while she and the others are all lost in the woods gets them all to have an awkward but relieving laugh. They immediately stop laughing when Mike confesses he kicked the map into the river.
  • Nostril Shot: The apology scene. Heather aims her camera on her nose and eyes. Funnily enough, in spite of how famous and iconic that image wound up being, the DVD Commentary reveals the actress thought she was filming her entire face.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The entire movie is made of this trope. We can only see what the camera sees, so in places where the characters freak out like when running from the shaking tent to whatever gets Heather in the finale, we are only left to imagine.
  • Only Sane Man: Josh is the only one of the three main characters that doesn't actively do anything to worsen their predicament.
    • Then again, were it not for one simple mistake he made, it's possible none of what they went through may have happened. See Unwitting Instigator of Doom below.
  • Parallel Porn Titles: The Bare Wench Project and The Erotic Witch Project, etc. Both of which had more sequels than the film they're spoofing.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Arguably one of the reasons why they get lost in the woods in the first place.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "FUCK!! YOU!!! LOG!!!!" A little easy to miss, but an underappreciated gem. The line, according to the feature-length commentary on the DVD, is actually "FUCK! YOU! GOD!"
  • Regularly Scheduled Evil: Though not operating on as tight a schedule as some other supernatural woods creatures, the Blair Witch likes to pull some freaky shit every fifty or sixty years or so.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Mike, when he tells Heather and Josh that throwing the map away was no great loss because it had been doing nothing for them. It didn't matter whether or not Heather was reading it correctly — the moment the curse took hold, they were never going to find their way out.
  • Say My Name: JOOOOOOOOSH!
  • Shout-Out:
  • Social Media Before Reason: Of the "why don't they just drop the camera and run?" variety, and notably given a surprisingly nuanced justification. Heather keeps filming because the camera's screen distracts her from the fact that she's lost in the woods, and she would hit her Despair Event Horizon if she had to actually confront her predicament.
    • It's hinted... and stated outright in the deleted scenes... that once Heather has actually hit the Despair Event Horizon, she keeps filming because she doesn't believe they'll make it out alive, and she wants to leave some kind of record behind.
  • Stepford Smiler: Heather maintains her cheerful documentarian attitude at first, but the others conclude this is her coping with an incredibly stressful situation.
  • Tempting Fate: When the group gets lost, Heather says that in the future they will look back at this moment as a funny misadventure. Their situation immediately gets worse that night after knocking over a rock cairn.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Mike kicks the map into the river out of sheer frustration when they get lost. Not that it matters, since the witch can manipulate the woods to prevent them from leaving.
  • Trope Codifier: The film is this for Found Footage Films although it was not the first of its kind note . However, as noted in Unbuilt Trope, it does things quite differently from its successors in the genre.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: After Josh goes missing and they can't seem to find him, Mike has begins to break down and cradles up in a fetal position, rocking himself. Heather goes to comfort him.
  • Tuneless Song of Madness: Heather's insistence that it's impossible to stay lost in America prompts Mike start sarcastically singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," growing steadily louder and angrier as time goes on. For good measure, the next scene features him and Josh still warbling the song.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • When creating The Blair Witch Project, the directors wanted the found footage to have an amateur aesthetic for realism since the film's protagonists were supposed to be student filmmakers with cheap recording equipment, hence the film's minuscule budget, real location, and rambling, unscripted nature. This movie later spawned plenty of imitators, especially in the late 2000s (Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, The Last Exorcism, and Unaware). However, those films all had pretty high budgets, slick editing, and plenty of scary CG monster/alien/whatever effects and also utilized professional film lighting and sound design, so The Blair Witch Project comes across as a grounded deconstruction of the very films it influenced.
    • The titular witch is never seen; instead, her presence is hinted through the wooden dolls and the rock cairns found by the protagonists. Because the camera never catches the witch's presence, it is ambiguous whether or not a supernatural being was truly haunting the group. This creative decision by the directors was partially due to the The Blair Witch Project's aforementioned low funding; on the other hand, later found-footage films would have enough money for special effects to put their monsters on screen.
    • Heather's insistence upon filming everything even when logic suggests she put the camera down for once, a staple of found-footage horror movies, is suggested by Josh to be her way of coping with the fact that she's lost in the woods — the screen on the camcorder all makes it feel less real. This also causes a rift between her and the rest of the group, with Mike and Josh telling her several times to turn the camera off and even attacking her over it.
  • Unnaturally Looping Location: When you walk by the compass and still end up at the same place...
  • The Unreveal: During the final sequence, Heather is heavily implied to have seen the antagonist, but drops her camera before she can get a shot of it. We never find out the meaning behind... well, much of anything, really.
  • Unseen Evil: It is hinted that the Blair Witch is responsible for the strange events in Burkittsville's history, and none of the group's cameras ever catch her.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: It is heavily implied that the three are being haunted because Josh accidentally knocked over one of the seven cairns they find in the woodland cemetery. Things only started getting spooky later that night and nothing happened when they camped the night before that. This never occurs to the trio, of course, since they are preoccupied with their current situation.
    • In a greater sense, Heather. Were it not for her project and her eagerness to take things further well after the situation had escalated beyond her control, as well as going into the woods with no real plan or preparation in mind if something went wrong, she and the others would not have ended up as the Blair Witch's latest victims. Even she owns up to her own naiveté near the end.
  • Wandering Walk of Madness: Combined with Fatal Forced March; after getting lost, losing their map, being stalked by an unseen threat and finding themselves Going in Circles, the three filmmakers quickly lose all hope of ever escaping the woods. However, despite pretty much hitting the Despair Event Horizon and later losing Josh as well, they continue walking and filming - not because they still plan on getting out alive, but because there's absolutely nothing else to do.
  • Wicked Witch: The titular witch has killed children, been responsible for the disappearance of many different people through history, and tortures, torments, and kills the protagonists.

Alternative Title(s): Blair Witch Volume I Rustin Parr, Blair Witch Volume II The Legend Of Coffin Rock, Blair Witch Volume III The Elly Kedward Tale

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