When Found Footage Found Me: Revisiting The Blair Witch Project, Twenty Years Later
Camping is an activity that I do once every few years. I’ve learned that I love my comforts, and that includes things like air conditioning and beds, so camping is generally reserved for special occasions (birthdays, bachelor parties, etc). Thankfully, I almost always have a pleasant time, even though I’m ready for my own bed by the end of it. Regardless of all of that, however, is the fact that every single time I go camping, certain scenes from a certain movie dominate my brain. That movie, of course, is The Blair Witch Project, the famous horror movie that I first watched about ten years ago during my senior year of high school. Since that fateful night, the film has remained one of my absolute favorite horror movie experiences.
This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the seminal found footage movie, and it just felt right to revisit my experience with the film that essentially created its own subgenre and spawned countless copycats, both good and bad.
There are very few instances in my life that I wished I was older than I actually was, but I really do wish I could have experienced the cultural chaos of Blair Witch at a proper age. In 1999, I would’ve only been eight years old, and still many years away from actually enjoying scary things. Despite missing that aspect of the film, I’ve always loved reading all about the guerilla marketing behind the film and the fact that yes, many people did think they were actually watching a documentary involving real death. It’s so difficult to imagine something that insane happening in 2019.
Let me take you back in time for a second. Ten years ago, to be exact, when I was living in the middle of nowhere in Georgia, out in the boonies (shout out to the city of Monroe, pronounced MUN-roe). Monroe wasn’t exactly known for its variety of things to do, although there was a Wal-Mart and a Blockbuster about a twenty minute drive from our house. I probably would have been around seventeen at the time, and so I began what would become a weekly cycle of making that drive to Blockbuster, renting a couple movies, and rinse, wash, repeat, etc etc. I have so many distinct memories of roaming those aisles, just browsing and taking way too much time to pick something out. It’s a curse of mine.
Having never previously been a fan of horror movies, or even anything remotely scary, I very slowly began to work up the courage to rent something from the dreaded horror section of that Blockbuster. Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and rent a scary movie, despite my brain telling me we wouldn’t sleep for weeks. I’d heard the basics of The Blair Witch Project from one of my older brothers, because he was a big horror buff, so I went with that one. Since I’m a sucker for a great movie watching experience, I turned off all the lights in my room, took a deep breath, and began what would be the first of many viewings of Blair Witch. I don’t think I breathed again for the entirety of its hour and a half runtime, but in the best way. It was so exhilarating. And it felt so REAL. Of course, I knew it wasn’t, but still, there was something so punk rock about it. The shaky camera. The improvisational vibe. The building of the tension. The horrifying final ten minutes. All of it. I went on to try and convince anyone that would listen to watch it. Only a brave few took me up on the offer.
During those two years I lived out in Monroe, I couldn’t tell you exactly how many movies I watched, but it was … a lot. Like I said, there wasn’t much out there. Despite all that, I can’t say a single one affected me as much as Blair Witch. It opened my eyes to a whole genre of movies that I hadn’t given a chance. I quickly began to work my way through the admittedly understocked horror section at Blockbuster until I had watched all of them. I learned just how many BAD horror films existed, but also found a good amount of unique and creative stories that I still love to this day. Not to mention all the goofy 80’s horror and Hitchcock classics that I grew to appreciate and enjoy.
I credit my time in Monroe as a big reason that film is such a huge passion of mine. That’s not a sentence I ever could have imagined typing out ten years ago, mostly because I truly hated living out there. Looking back, though, I found a passion while I was in Monroe, and I have to be eternally grateful for that.
I imagine I’ve watched The Blair Witch Project probably ten times or so since then, and it continues to be such an enjoyable watch for me, particularly if I’m watching it with someone who hasn’t previously seen it. Nowadays, there are few things as enjoyable (and rare) as watching a truly unique horror film. They’re out there, for sure, but sometimes ya gotta dig a little deeper to find the good ones.
There are only a select few films in life that make an impact like that, and I’m excited to continue thinking I’m safe when I go camping, despite my brain doing its best to convince me there’s a witch right outside my tent. So, thanks Blair Witch Project.
(for real, though) ...