Blair Witch is officially back in theaters on September 16, 2016. And it may be the scariest movie ever. It’s a kind of sequel to the iconic 1999 film The Blair Witch Project. Filmed in secret in Canada, under the working title The Woods, it was first screened at Comic Con in July of 2016. Most who walked into the theater to see the film had no idea The Woods was really Blair Witch 2016. As Erik Abriss of complex.com said, he thought he was going to see an average low-budget horror film and a few minutes into the intense movie, he realized what was going on. That’s when the whole audience had a “holy sh*t” moment. And when he came out of the screening, The Woods was no more and the place was plastered with the eerie black and red Blair Witch posters. His comment? Blair Witch 2016 “won” Comic Con. The original 1999 film was a cult phenomena, making hundreds of millions from a $60,000 production budget. The story was simple: Three film students venture into the Maryland woods in search of the urban legend that is the Blair Witch, armed only with flashlights and hand held video cameras. It looked like a documentary; the “found footage” of the three students who had mysteriously disappeared in 1994. And the new movie kind of picks up from where the old one left off with James, the brother of one of the missing students, venturing into those woods to find her.
Here are 15 things about Blair Witch you probably didn’t know. It’s okay to read on. This is spoiler free.
15. The Last Thirty Minutes Of Blair Witch 2016 Will Totally Blow You Away
This contains no spoilers! The first hour of the film seems kind of predictable. It’s full of “jump scares”, sort of people jumping up and yelling “boo” kind of thing, together with bits of humor. It’s like James and his friends really haven’t fathomed what’s really going on. But as Adam Wingard has said, the 1999 film was about people being lost in the woods. And the new film is about them being chased, hunted in the woods. And his film comes alive, or dead, in the last half hour or so after James and company make it to the house where the 1999 film ended. At that point, the film becomes almost unbearably tense and downright scary. A big part of that comes from Adam Wingard’s use of sounds. Let’s just say that James’ group make it further in the Blair Witch’s world than even Heather did.
14. The Director And His Private Parts
Some say director Adam Wingard channels the dark and menacing vibe of horror masters, such as David Lynch. With Wingard’s films, you start with what looks like a standard horror film and then, wham, about halfway through he hits audiences with something nobody saw coming. His thing tends to be a fierce warrior women who jumps in and saves the day. Not content with the bare breasts that are common in schlock horror films, he has even used taboo phallic images. According to bloody-disgusting, he and writer Simon Barrett, are “brave souls”… “going as far as to display their own manhood on the screen”. Now that’s dedication. No content with being a mere director of 2016’s Blair Witch, Wingard also wrote the film’s musical score. Oh, yeah, of course it’s “R” Rated.
13. The Simply Bizarre Storyline
The story is simple. Bizarre, but simple: In 1994, three student filmmakers, who were really actors Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard, had gone into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, with cameras and flashlights to find out the truth about the Maryland’s Blair Witch. The whole thing was made up, including the witch part. But it got even more confusing, because the three so-called students actually used their own names. Then, poof, they totally disappeared. Then (surprise, surprise), their footage was (supposedly) found. It was the first “found footage” horror film. Bring it forward to 2016 and we see Heather’s little brother James, finding what he believes to be new footage of Heather on YouTube. Armed with “ear” cams, he and his friends head into those woods in search of her. They are not worried. We are.
12. In 1999, The Final Scene Was A Total Mindf**k
There are a whole lot of people who love (adore) the final scene of the 1999 movie. Heather is in the witch’s old house and running for her life, camera in hand. The footage flashes on walls, floors and then, once in the basement, on the back of… wait, is that her friend Mike? He is standing frozen, staring at a corner. The point? Earlier in the film, the students were told the story of a child serial killer who brought his victims in pairs to the basement. One child was made to stand facing the wall while the killer dispatched his first victim. Then it was the turn of the second child to die. So, Mike is like the second child. He was just standing there waiting to die? Then screams and Heather’s video camera falls… The End.
11. Insane Marketing 1999: Tell Them It’s Real
Part of the reason for all the buzz back in 1999 was the fact that some people actually believed it was real, that there had been three students who disappeared in the Maryland woods. It was before the rise of social media sites that give up constant global feedback to what is going on. You certainly wouldn’t get away with that kind of stunt these days. The filmmakers put out “Missing” posters with pictures of Heather, Mike and Josh. Stories were planted in the press that they had disappeared, but that their documentary footage had been found. So, people debated. Was it real? Was it fiction? And that was good for box office. But, as we shall see, it also triggered an angry backlash that hurt some associated with the movie.
10. Bizarre Marketing 2016: Keep It A Secret
The production company Lionsgate, had what one employee called CIA-level security in place and for three years, the only thing on the radar was a low budget, Blair Witch rip-off that was to be called The Woods. The actors expected a cheap rip-off and probably had their own “holy sh*t” moment when they rolled up to filming in Canada and were told the truth. Even the script supervisor was given a fake The Woods script. There was a little bit of buzz because of the fact that Adam Wingard was directing, but nobody got too excited. Then San Diego Comic Con and the big reveal, and the press and fans were falling all over themselves. Some have said that to do the reveal a mere two months before the film’s release was risky. Others called it brilliant. Time and box office will tell the tale.
9. The 2016 Trailer Channels The Shining
The trailer channels Adam Wingard’s favorite film, The Shining. It lulls you into a false sense of security and then wham, it hits you with shocker after shocker. The 1999 film left some wondering what had really happened to the three students. And, as we have said, the new movie picks up where the 1999 film left off, with a fresh search for Heather led by her little brother James. Pretty early on in the trailer, you realize that you are in Blair Witch territory, with hand held camera shots and documentary-like presentation. Shots from the final scene of the 1999 film flash on the screen. Heather, filming as she goes, runs for her life through the witch’s house and into the basement. There she films a man, standing immobile staring into a corner. Is it Mike waiting to die? Nearly seven million people have viewed the trailer. And that’s pretty good numbers in anybody’s book.
8. They Made How Much On A $60,000 Budget?
The original film was filmed on a $60,000 budget. Things were so tight that one of the hand held cameras used to film the footage was purchased at a Circuit City and then returned after the film was shot. It’s hard to imagine a world without Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. But when The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, people were just a whole lot less Internet savvy. And the world had never seen anything like it before. It caught on in a big way, with word of mouth buzz sending box office into the stratosphere. On a tiny budget of $60,000, it ended up grossing nearly $250 million. It became one of the most successful independent films of all time. It was the kind of film that people either loved or hated. Love it or hate it, the 1999 film ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the top box office ratio of any feature film. According to IMDb, each dollar spent on the film made $10,931.
7. In 1999 There Was No Script
The actors were given no more than a 35-page outline of the mythology behind the plot. There was no script. It was like, here’s your camera, flashlight and walkie talkie, just in case you need to get in touch. Now get out into those woods and make a movie. Everything is improvised. And because the “actors” appeared not to be acting, the story unfolded like a real-life documentary. Filmed with handheld cameras in lots of dark and shadowy places, we have things and people coming at us out of the darkness and brief shots of a face or body caught in the beam of a flashlight. And in 2016? Trust us, there was a killer script by long-time Wingard collaborator Simon Barrett, that develops the themes of the 1999 movie and takes us on a roller coaster ride into Blair Witch land. The real star? The mythology of the Blair Witch.
6. The “F” Word Marathon
There’s a good reason why the “F” word is uttered more than 150 times in The Blair Witch Project. Before filming of the 1999 film, the actors could not have imagined how tough it would be. See, the three were in the woods on their own. Heather Donahue took a knife with her, because she was afraid of sleeping in a tent with the two male actors. Nevermind both improvising and filming virtually all of the film, the actors were given less and less food over the eight day shoot, to make certain they were grumpy and at odds with one another. The trio got lost on several occasions and one night woke terrified when the filmmakers sneaked into the camp site and violently shook their tent. And the day they hiked 25 miles and ended up at the same spot they had set out from, the anger, frustration and “F” words, were all too real.
5. Found Footage 2016 Style
Walkie talkies and hand held video cameras just wouldn’t cut it in 2016. So, we have James and his friends heading into the woods to shoot their own documentary decked out with Blu-Ray ear pieces mounted with cameras. A hands free kind of Blair Witch. Then there is the footage shot by cameramen that had to be synched with the “ear” cams. Cue the drones mounted with cameras. Adam Wingard has said that getting all that to work together so that all the footage matches the ear cam shots sometimes resulted in many, many takes. While not pretending to be genuine found footage, the new film is presented in a way that is consistent with that approach. Is it the beginning of a new life for Blair Witch or the last stand of the found footage genre? Only time and box office will answer that question.
4. How A Hit Movie Ruined Her Career
Heather Donahue has gone on record many, many times, saying that The Blair Witch Project ruined her career. Why? Well it seems that Heather and her character Heather, were seen as the heart and soul of a movie that thrilled audiences, frightened fans and yes, totally p*ssed off many. And the reason for the anger? It was the deception that filmmakers used to market the film as real found footage. Some people were so mad that they got too up close and personal and threatening with Heather. While Josh and Mike had fairly solid TV/movie careers afterward, Heather has said that her association with The Blair Witch Project made finding work afterwards darn near impossible.
3. The Fresh Faces Of 2016
Some fans had hoped for a return of some of the original cast at some point in the new film. We’re not saying. But what we can tell you is that the movie sports four young, relatively unknown actors. When James (played by James Allen McCune), Ashley (Corbin Reid), Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) head into those woods, they are determined to find the truth about Heather. We (kind of) know what’s coming, but they don’t. And it was important to get actors that had not yet made a big name for themselves. Somebody like Jennifer Lawrence would just not have worked. It added to the “real” feel. McCune is probably the best known of the four main cast members, having done The Walking Dead and Shameless. The four friends are tech savvy and totally believable, but somehow we just don’t think it’s going to end all that well.
2. Movies Lit By Flashlight?
See, the 1999 film was all jerky handheld cameras, flashlights and a whole lot of dark where things could (and sometimes did) jump out at you. Some have criticized the fact that we never see the witch. But, she is there in the shadows waiting. That’s the whole point. And Adam Wingard has gone on record saying that he wanted to follow that same approach. So, no movie lights, but rather a film with a whole lot of flashlights, campfires and chinks of light creeping in. The dark surrounds James and his friends. And gradually, they get drawn deeper and deeper into those woods and the darkness, eventually stumbling onto the witch’s house and into the heart of the mystery of Heather’s disappearance. No spoilers here. But be prepared to be scared witless.
1. So What Do The Critics Think?
While the 1999 film divided fans, the critics almost universally praised it as innovative and ground-breaking. Fast forward to 2016 and we get more of the same. Fans seem divided, some loving the film and others saying that it has too many obvious jump scares. But the critics? Again, almost all of them seem to love the film, particularly the crafting of the first hour that lulls audiences into a sense of calm that gets totally shattered in the last half hour. Rotten Tomatoes gave it an astounding 100 percent. Like, as in perfect. And, perversely, the critics also love the genius of The Woods deception that some say spell marketing magic. Or, was it too little too late? Again, time will tell.