The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Some theatergoers experienced nausea from the handheld camera movements and actually had to leave to vomit. In some Toronto theatres, ushers asked patrons who were prone to motion sickness to sit in the aisle seat and to try not to "throw up on other people."
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Jump to: Spoilers (25)
(at around 46 mins) In a scene where the main actors are sleeping in a tent at night, the tent suddenly shakes violently and they all get scared. This was unscripted and the director shook the tent; the actors actually were scared.
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This film was in the Guinness Book of World Records for "Top Budget: Box Office Ratio" (for a mainstream feature film). The film cost $60,000 to make and made back $248 million, a ratio of $1 spent for every $10,931 made.
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Heather Donahue's mother received sympathy cards from people who believed that her daughter was actually dead or missing.
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The directors kept in touch with actors Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard via walkie-talkies, to ensure the three would not become lost during their trek. Reportedly, they got lost at least three times.
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One of the video cameras used by the actors was bought at Circuit City. After filming was completed, the producers returned the camera for a refund, making their budget money go even further.
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It took eight days to shoot this film.
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(at around 46 mins) The Blair Witch was supposed to be seen in the movie. As the characters were running out of their tent, Heather yells, "Oh my God, what the f*** is that? What the f*** is that?", the cameraman was supposed to pan to the left where the audience would briefly see a woman wearing a white gown in the distance. But the cameraman forgot to pan to the left and the scene was not reshot.
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To promote discord between actors, the directors deliberately gave them less food each day of shooting.
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The three leads believed the Blair Witch was a real legend during filming, though, of course, they knew the film was going to be fake. Only after the film's release did they discover that the entire mythology was made up by the film's creators.
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Numerous fans were so convinced of the Blair Witch's existence that they flocked to Maryland in hopes of discovering the legend. They apparently did not read the closing credits of the film.
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The final day of shooting took place on Halloween night. The crew had planned on wrapping one day before, but the camera had run out of batteries due to the camera light, requiring an additional day of shooting.
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The sounds of children heard at night was taken from kids playing around the house of director Eduardo Sánchez's mother. The tape was played over boomboxes in the forest. According to Michael C. Williams, he found it the scariest scene to shoot in the film.
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It took eight days to shoot the film, but eight months to edit it.
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To maintain the film's fear factor, the three main actors agreed to stay in character for the entire eight days of filming. Periodically, if an actor had to break from character, then the remaining two actors also had to break from character, but only after collectively reciting their safety word "taco."
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Heather Donahue faced a considerable backlash as a result of her role, including threatening encounters and difficulty finding other employment. She retired from acting in 2008 to pursue a career in medical cannabis.
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The crackling sounds in the woods were made by the directors and their assistants walking up to the camp's perimeter, breaking sticks, and then tossing them in various directions.
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The actors were requested to interview the townspeople, who often, unbeknownst to the actors, were planted by the directors. As a result, the expressions on the actors' faces were unrehearsed.
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The actors were given no more than a 35-page outline of the mythology behind the plot, before shooting began. All lines were improvised and nearly all the events in the film were unknown to the three actors beforehand, and they were often on-camera surprises to them all.
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Heather Donahue also told Fangoria Magazine that the final scene was so terrifying for her, she kept hyperventilating and crying long after the shoot was over.
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The filmmakers placed flyers around Cannes for the film festival that were "Missing" posters, stating that the cast was missing. All the flyers were taken down by the next day. It turned out that a television executive had been kidnapped just prior, and the flyers were taken down out of respect. The executive was recovered safely.
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(at around 53 mins) The reactions from Heather, Mike and Josh, when they discover they have walked south all day and ended up in the same spot, are real; they were genuinely upset that they had walked all day for nothing.
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(at around 4 mins) The sign seen for Burkittsville at the beginning of the movie has been stolen three times, one of those times being opening night of the movie.
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Heather Donahue wrote her own monologue for the initial scenes in her documentary.
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Heather, Mike and Josh were under strict instructions to follow trails and directions given to them by the movie crew, to ensure they would reach each designated site to camp in for the night.
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Although having been given a brief crash course on using the 16mm camera, Joshua Leonard struggled to focus using it for the first few days of filming. This is why the interview with Mary Brown is of such poor focus and incredibly grainy.
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Josh's shouts in the final scene were pre-recorded and played through speakers hidden away in the woods.
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In the movie, Heather and Mike share a somewhat antagonistic attitude towards each other. In the commentary, the directors revealed it was Heather and Joshua who were arguing most of the time (and more heatedly). Almost all of the footage of their arguments was taken from the final cut, after the filmmakers decided it seemed like both men were "ganging up" on Heather.
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The directors put up posters at a local college in an attempt to recruit students to help work on this low-budget production. Only one person responded to the recruitment ad, Patricia DeCou, who not only portrayed Mary Brown, but also helped with the art department.
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The three principal actors, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams, shot nearly all of the completed film.
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Each of the three leads were required to sign a release granting the production permission to "mess with your head". The most powerful example of this would probably be the late-night tent attack. Neither of the three actors knew it was coming and their terror, confusion, and fight-or-flight response was genuine.
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The 1999-2000 hunting season suffered badly due to this film. The movie was so popular that fans all over the country were hiking into the wilderness to shoot their own Blair Witch-style documentaries. As a result, they kept most of the wildlife scared away from hunting areas.
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One of the first theatrical features to make use of a large-scale viral marketing campaign, which claimed that the three main characters had really gone on a trip to shoot a documentary and were never seen again, save for the footage they shot being found a year after their disappearances. A website debuted on the Internet one year prior to the release, in order to set up the premise of the documentary, complete with detailed reports of the search, the recovery of the trio's footage within an old cabin, reactions from their families, and expert opinions. The three actors were instructed to refrain from making public appearances. The myth wasn't debunked until after the movie's premiere, but positive word of mouth had already popularized the movie to the extent that its success completely overshadowed that of the almost simultaneously released big-budget horror movie The Haunting (1999).
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The woman on the street telling her account of the Blair Witch and the events in Burkittsville was just a random woman the actors came across on the street. She made up the entire story on the spot. After filming, the directors tried with no success to find the woman to get her to sign a release form.
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Apparently, Heather Donahue brought a knife into the forest while filming was taking place because she didn't like the idea of sleeping with two guys.
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The slime on Josh's backpack was actually KY jelly.
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Many of the Futhark runes seen in the old house are reversed, which has a special meaning. A reversed rune implies a dark or negative fate for the person who reads them.
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At 85%, this has the highest score on Rotten Tomatoes of any film that was nominated for the Razzie Award for Worst Picture.
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The real town of Burkittsville where the film is set found itself awash with fans. The town sign was stolen and desecrations in the graveyard made the mayor instigate extra police protection. The local cinema decided not to screen the film.
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The film was originally planned to include both the story of the missing students as well as the aftermath of their disappearance. The found footage of the trio would be framed by newscasts about the search for them, as well as interviews with family members and experts. Most of this material was cut out during editing for feeling contrived and too scripted, in favor of focusing completely on the story of the three students. However, much of the deleted material could later be used in the viral marketing of the film.
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The first cut of the movie to be screened was 2.5 hours, nearly twice the final cut length.
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In the initial draft, Josh was intended to have a strong romantic interest in Heather. In several of the scene instructions given to the actors on the callback auditions, it was instructed that Josh take note of how attractive Heather was, and how dejected he should be that she seemed oblivious to this. Eventually the idea was scrapped as fear the movie would become too cliché. A similar plot element does appear in the 2016 sequel, however.
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Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick wanted Heather Donahue to have a sort of Captain Ahab quality (obsessively documenting everything). Mike's function in the film is to say the things the audience is probably thinking. And Josh (for a time) is the team peacemaker.
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When promoting the film, the producers claimed it was real footage. Some people either have at one point or still believe it, or at the very least, believe that it is a re-enactment of a true story.
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The house used as the "Rustin Parr house" for the ending scenes was the Griggs House which was located in Patapsco Valley State Park, some 50 miles east of Burkittsville. Built sometime in the mid 1800s and renovated in the early 20th c, the house had been left abandoned, vandalized, and decaying for several decades as the surrounding woods had grown around it. After it's use in Blair Witch, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced in 1999 that the house was to be demolished as a public nuisance and safety hazard. Blair Witch fans launched a fundraiser campaign and petition to save the house and the state agreed to grant the Griggs House a reprieve pending further evaluation. However, the reprieve was short-lived as the state did in fact demolish the house, without public announcement, in 2000. The decision was likely prompted by rampant trespassing in the house by ghost hunter teams, thrill-seekers, and souvenir collectors.
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An early idea for the ending would have revealed that either the fisherman or his son-in-law would have been pranking the main characters all along, but this was rejected for sounding too similar to Scooby-Doo. Three months after the film's wide release, Cartoon Network premiered the parodic TV special The Scooby-Doo Project (1999). The spoof, in turn, hints at a typical Scooby-Doo franchise ending... until the real monster shows up.
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Miramax passed on the opportunity to acquire and distribute the movie. The decision was made by executive Jason Blum who didn't think the movie would be a hit. Blum later became famous for producing another extremely profitable found-footage horror film, Paranormal Activity (2007).
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During the woods shooting, the actors were mostly out of contact with the directors and crew, although they were always close by. The cast was given a walkie-talkie to contact them in an emergency and a GPS device which was used to locate a pre-positioned crate, with a red bicycle safety flag attached. The crate contained instructions for the day's shoot, notes from the directors, fresh film cans as well as snacks, water, and other supplies. They deposited their day's footage in the crate so the directors could view the dailies. The crew also set up the tent for them at the next location. The directors pinged the GPS with the new location when it was time for them to move on.
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One of the dropped messages to the actors revealed to Mike that he was the one who was to destroy the map. He improvised on the spot to kick it into the river and thought Heather and Josh had seen him do it. Mike carried this information to himself for much of that day's filming before finding the right moment to reveal it to the other two.
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The 16mm camera used to shoot the black-and-white documentary footage was sold on eBay following production.
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Despite what the filmmakers had planned for Mike and Heather being constantly antagonistic towards each other, with Josh as mediator, it was Heather and Josh who fought almost constantly during filming. The directors found it incredibly difficult to piece together a version of the movie that felt cohesive enough for the audience to believe the storyline that Heather and Josh were actually friends who would work together on a project. Director Daniel Myrick stated in an interview that at one point in particular, Josh was quite venomous towards Heather (quote: "he was really laying into her"), and that he and co-director Eduardo Sánchez (with whom he had been observing the three from a distance, unknown to the actors), had to break the rules about not interfering to stop the argument before it escalated.
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A storm moved into the area on the third day of the woods shoot, some scenes capture the downpour as they trudge through the woods. After filming, the actors returned to their campsite only to discover their tent had leaked and all of their belongings and bedding were soaked. They tried to contact the crew on their radio for help (none of the actors were permitted to carry cellphones) but they could not get a signal, possibly being out of range. Their GPS had been pre-programmed with emergency escape routes out of the woods in case they were lost (which happened thrice) and they found a nearby home which took them in. After using the homeowner's phone to contact the directors, they were picked up and taken to a local motel so they could shower and get a decent meal and a warm bed. The next day, after the crew had cleaned and dried out their camping site (as well as waterproof the tent), they resumed the shoot.
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The audition process was quite rigorous because the directors wanted actors with significant improvisational talents. Typically, the candidate entering the audition room would immediately be presented with a description like "you've just served 10 years of a 25-year prison sentence. Tell us why you should be due for parole". If the candidate hesitated too long, the audition would be over. Heather Donahue's response was "I don't think you should."
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When the movie was released, the town of Burkittsville did some of its own marketing in the hopes of making at least some profit from the film. During the annual summer carnival, the local Ruritan Club featured the "Bur-Witch" sandwich: country fried ham and a fried egg on top of a cheeseburger, nestled in a sesame seed bun, doused with horseradish. The sandwich was the most popular selling item on the menu two years in a row.
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Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick admitted they had to tone down some of the outbursts from Heather, Mike and Josh. They instead allowed them to accumulate in smaller doses.
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Heather Donahue mentioned to Fangoria Magazine that her first question she asked the director, upon arriving on the set, was if he was planning on making a snuff film.
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Although Heather, Mike and Josh had to pitch and take down the tent they slept in, they did not have to carry it from location to location for them as this was done for them by the movie crew who would do so out of sight.
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The production company, Haxan Films, borrowed its name from Benjamin Christensen's witchcraft documentary, Häxan (1922), a source of inspiration for the film. "Häxan" (pronounced HEKS-ahn) is Swedish for "the witch".
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The story was originally intended to be three male filmmakers lost in the woods. However, Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick were so impressed with Heather's audition for the role they decided to cast her as the lead filmmaker with two male assistants.
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According to the directors, the scene where Heather, Josh and Mike were in the motel room was the longest piece of film that the three had shot. The scene reportedly went on for at least ninety minutes and involved Josh and Mike reading poetry followed by some drunken arguing between Josh and Heather.
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The movie inspired a short-lived series of young-adult horror novels, written by an author under the name "Cade Merrill," who claimed to have been Heather's cousin and a longtime Burkittsville resident.
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The first title for the movie was The Blair Witch Tapes.
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More money was spent on the movie afterwards than before its completion. The directors estimated the initial production budget of the movie to be around $20,000 and $25,000, but this rose to somewhere between $500,000 and $750,000 (over 20 times the original budget) after the studio did some additional post-production. The studio had acquired the movie rights for $1.1 million (over 40 times the original budget); they spent an additional $25 million to market it (over 1000 times the original budget). Even while taking into account these additional costs, with a worldwide box office of almost $250 million, the movie earned more than 9 times its final budget.
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(at around 46 mins) When the three are running through the woods and Heather yells, "What the f*ck is that?" at something off-camera, she is really reacting to art director Ricardo Moreno dressed in white long-johns, white stockings, and white pantyhose pulled over his head running alongside them.
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The runic lettering in the old house are a mixture of two different alphabets, Hebraic and Futhark. Hebraic runes went on to become Ancient Hebrew. Futhark runes are proto-European, dating from the first millennium B.C.
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(at around 1h 5 mins) During the scene where Heather finds the bundle of tied sticks, production designer Ben Rock was looking on to see her reaction when she looked inside. She didn't open the bundle but instead threw it away. Rock conveyed this back to the production team who stepped in and to tell her to go back and look inside. The teeth inside the bundle are from Eduardo Sánchez's dentist and from casting's Lisa Dane. The hair is really Joshua Leonard's hair.
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Held the record for the highest-grossing independent movie of all time until October 2002, when it was surpassed by My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).
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The 16-millimeter camera was broken during filming; Joshua Leonard (who had the camera in his pack) rolled down a hill, causing the lens to pop off the camera.
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The film's creators were so diligent with creating and maintaining the illusion that the Blair Witch was a genuine local legend--mainly through clever advance promotion and viral marketing--that the town of Burkittsville, MD, had to increase its police force and impose a temporary curfew even before the film's release. This was due to the ordinarily quiet town getting quickly overrun with fans, occultists, and paranormal enthusiasts who believed the film was real. Even though the visitors created problems such as vandalism, graveyard desecration, and stealing the town's sign, many local businesses gladly welcomed the new customers. Word gradually spread via internet fan sites, message boards, and the MSM that the Blair Witch was only imaginary and enthusiasm for Burkittsville rapidly receded.
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This film uses the word "fuck" 154 times.
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The Blair Witch was named for Blair High School, the school that Eduardo Sánchez's sister once attended.
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(at around 49 mins) When Mike tries to force Heather to put down the camera, she actually bit him to get him away from her.
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(at around 24 mins) The scene with the three sitting around the campfire is probably the most expensive few seconds in the film, as the production had to get the rights for Josh to sing the Gilligan's Island (1964) theme.
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(at around 12 mins) The two fishermen were father- and son-in-law. Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick toyed with the idea that one of them was playing a prank on the kids, like something out of Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (1969). They didn't follow through with it because it seemed a cheesy reason for all the spooky goings on.
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(at around 1 min) Heather calling Josh (Joshua Leonard) 'Mr Punctuality' on the first day was meant to be a sarcastic jab. Leonard had actually shown up extremely late that day.
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The DVD version of the movie showed sections of film previously never seen on the VHS.
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(at around 11 mins) At one point, Heather asks "Do we have any weed?" When Heather Donahue left acting, she became a legal grower of medicinal cannabis.
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The nighttime shot of Heather running through the woods (a prominent image in the trailers) had to be filmed twice because of logistical problems.
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After the first thirteen minutes, no characters other than Heather, Josh and Mike are seen in the film.
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The film premiered in the midnight movie section at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.
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In a 2018 interview, director Daniel Myrick said that base camp for the film was a house in Germantown, MD, some 33 miles from Burkitsville, which Eduardo Sánchez shared with his girlfriend. "There were 10 to 15 of us there for six weeks, sleeping on couches and on the floor. The shoot took eight days and was a 24/7 operation."
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The production put out fliers at a local community college looking for interns. Patricia DeCou, who plays Mary Brown, was the only person to sign up. She's referred on the commentary as the "world's oldest college student," the scene was actually shot at her home, and no production design was done to it. The make-shift wooden gate was already there.
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When Joshua Leonard and Heather Donahue picked up Michael C. Williams, they were originally listening to the song "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by The Animals on the radio. However, Haxan Films couldn't get the rights to keep it in the film.
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Although the concept of a movie consisting of people's recovered video recordings is not new (with Cannibal Holocaust (1980) as a notable early example), The Blair Witch Project managed to reinvigorate the "found footage" style of filming for several decades to come, inspiring other horror movies like Paranormal Activity (2007), REC (2007), and The Last Exorcism (2010), but also non-horror productions such as Cloverfield (2008), Chronicle (2012) and Project X (2012).
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Throughout the production in the woods, the directors would leave drops for the actors with notes and directions where to head next. On the third day, the actors completely missed their drop, went the wrong way, and ended up at someone's house. That night, the directors let the actors stay at a nearby hotel and restarted the next morning to reshoot the "third day." The weather was drastically different, rainy the first time, sunny and windy the second, so much of the footage used is from the first run-through. On the "third night" the directors had to wait for the actors to go to sleep before sneaking up to build the rock piles. This didn't work, and the actors heard them. The production team yelled the set code word "taco" which meant to break scenario and not to come out of the tent.
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There was an hour and a half worth of footage shot in the hotel when the actors are getting drunk. They really are drunk by the end of the scene, and each person's real characteristics came to light. Among the footage that was cut includes Mike and Josh reciting poetry and a scene of the three at a diner. This latter scene is included on the VHS version of the film.
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The actors immediately found themselves lost in the woods. In the shot where they are walking away from their car, they are already going the wrong direction and ended up being lost for roughly an hour. "I just figured at that time we are so boned. They got lost off of a road. We're just screwed," says Daniel Myrick.
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Whilst in hospital, recovering from a near fatal car crash, Stephen King's son brought him a VHS tape of the movie to watch. He told his son to turn it off halfway through and said "it was too freaky".
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The entire team had to wear safety goggles, as it was completely dark and they could have been injured from all the dry branches. During filming the first night's scene, Heather Donahue began yelling at the other two actors berating them for not wanting to go out to investigate. It was one of the only times the directors stepped in to address the actors while in the woods.
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On the set of Pulp Fiction (1994), actor Bruce Willis somewhat predicted the success of this movie five years prior to its release: "Some day in the next five years, someone's gonna take one of these and make a feature film with it. They almost did it with, uh, Bob Roberts (1992). Some kid, some 17-year-old kid, is gonna make this killer, drop-dead, poorly lit video movie that is gonna be the hippest fucking thing. And then there's gonna be hundreds of them everywhere. And they're gonna cost about... $60,000." At this time, e also suggested to director Quentin Tarantino that he be the one to create this video movie that would change the world.
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The scene at the cemetery is the only scene actually shot in Burkittsville, Maryland.
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Over the course of filming, the production team left less and less food for the actors in each day's drops. Over the last two days, Heather Donahue and Michael C. Williams were down to getting a Power Bar, a piece of fruit, and water each day.
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Artisan Entertainment acquired the movie for just $1.1 million.
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Writers and directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez were catapulted into stardom and prosperity due to the success of The Blair Witch Project. In an interview, the question was raised: exactly how rich were these two men? One responded: I am not allowed to say, but I'm looking at houses for the first time in my life.
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(at around 3 mins) The waitress, who says she attended Blair High School, is played by Sandra Sánchez, the sister of director Eduardo Sánchez.
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Eduardo Sánchez has said that it "bugs" him in scenes when Josh or Mike are yelling at Heather to put down the camera so they can start hiking. This is because they are in such a rush to leave, but aren't packing up the tent or gear. "They're not packing, because they know we're gonna come and pack it," says Daniel Myrick.
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The film takes place in October 1994.
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Heather, Josh, and Mike's characters were originally going to be named Jane, John, and Bill respectively, but the actors suggested that they use their real names to make the improv feel more natural, and the directors agreed.
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Heather seems to be filming almost constantly for the whole time they are in the woods, long after almost anyone would have stopped. Her motivation for obsessively documenting everything becomes less and less clear, and throughout the film she gets a lot of footage she couldn't reasonably expect to use even if they did manage to get out of the woods, such as her and Josh violently berating and briefly physically attacking Mike for destroying the map, and multiple instances of herself sobbing, during which she makes sure the camera is pointed at her. Mike even has to stop her from recording Josh's breakdown, and throughout the film a major source of conflict among the group is the fact that Heather just won't turn the camera off. Toward the end of the film, Josh suggests that the reason Heather is "still making her movie" is because it allows her to disassociate from the reality of the situation; the danger and hopelessness are less real if she is only watching them through a camera lens as a movie, not something which she is a part of.
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Rock band HIM shot parts of their music video for the song 'And Love Said No...' directly outside the house seen at the end of the movie
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The tooth necklace Josh wears through much of the film was actually lost in the woods. He asked the directors to go into the woods to try and find it, but they didn't.
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The house that Heather is in during the opening shot is owned by Lonnie Glerum, the film's key production assistant. He is also operating the camera during the opening shot.
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(at around 9 mins) The shot in the car of Josh complaining about meters on the camera was really actor Joshua Leonard trying to explain his inexperience with the camera. During the scene with Mary Brown you can tell he's mishandling the camera, as much of it is out of focus.
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After pitching the idea to the studio Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick had to wait a further three months just to get the go-ahead. It was especially frustrating because they were strapped for cash at the time.
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The working title was "The Black Hills Project."
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In the film, the trio do not experience supernatural encounters until Josh accidentally knocks over a cairn (burial mound). Desecrating graves and burial monuments is traditionally thought to enrage spirits.
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As of July 2022, the town of Burkittsville still gets fans flocking to see their cemetery.
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This film, Fargo (1996), and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) were all presented as "true stories" when they were first presented to the public.
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The CP-16 Josh uses in the film broke about three days into filming and had to be taken to cinematographer Neal Fredericks to be fixed. This is the same camera Fredericks would go on to sell on Ebay for $10,000.
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The big stick figure with leaves and grass is referred to as the 'Chewbacca.'
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The sounds of children outside the tent in one scene are sounds of kids who live across the street from Eduardo Sánchez's mother. Antonio Cora recorded them playing, reading, and talking gibberish. The production team had three boomboxes with this audio playing outside the tent during this scene. Michael C. Williams has said that this was his most terrifying moment during filming.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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A number of shots and small scenes were filmed after film had been picked up at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. Chief among these was the scene of the man with the backwards baseball hat whose story about Rustin Parr ended up giving the story the biggest clue as to where it was headed.
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Heather Donahue was initially worried about the shoot because she worried that the directors were planning to make a snuff film.
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(at around 2 mins) It took forever to get approval to use Power Bars during the scene where the three are buying groceries. Now the production team receives boxes of Power Bars shipped to their offices.
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The directors recognize certain anachronisms in the film. A few vehicles shown were not around in 1994. Also the flavor of Power Bar Mike was holding up earlier in the film was not available in 1994.
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The team out in the woods making noises to scare the actors was comprised of Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez, art director Ricardo Moreno, Antonio Cora, and producer Gregg Hale. Certain sound effects were also included in post-production.
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The entire marketing campaign was designed over 3 weekends by three women on the floor of the Global Marketing Senior Vice President Amorette Jone's office with LeAnne Gainer and Allison Graham.
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(at around 26 mins) In one scene, Josh mentions Deliverance (1972). The film was about four businessmen who embark on a river trip in Northern Georgia, which they are soon menaced by hostile hillbillies in the local area which turns into a horrific and violent battle for survival in the American wilderness.
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Film producer Gregg Hale came up with the idea to move the main characters a long way during the day, harassing them by night, and depriving them of food. He used his own memories of military training as inspiration, as such tactics are used in the "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape" (SERE) training program which prepares military personnel for various survival scenarios. The program was established by the U.S. Air Force at the end of World War II, but was later expanded to train personnel of the U.S. Navy and the United States Marine Corps.
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Some theories as to the true nature of the Blair Witch include that everything supernatural that happens to the trio can be rather logically explained. Case in point, the Eldritch Location of the woods, where compasses don't work and landmarks repeat themselves: A Compass can be easily fooled with powerful, natural magnets and landmarks can be convincingly faked (even a river can be diverted with some preparation). While the terror may be real, and someone's after the kids, there may be nothing supernatural involved.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 2001 list of 400 movies nominated for the top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.
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Josh's car is a 1989 Dodge Daytona [G].
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(at around 2 mins) The scene of Heather and Josh picking Mike up at his house is the only scene that was overdubbed. Heather's voice during this scene and the song were mixed in later. Mike's voice during this scene is that of Antonio Cora who did the film's score. Likewise, the song playing on the radio during filming was The Animals' "We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place," but the production could not afford the rights.
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The off-camera voice heard in the opening shot of the film is Lonnie Glerum, head production assistant on the film. Likewise, this shot was filmed in Lonnie's house. The directors spent a number of weeks testing people on the crew to find the right "moron voice."
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In the film, the supposed witch Elly Kedward was killed in a witch hunt, and her vengeful ghost seeks revenge. The screenwriters reportedly took inspiration from the Salem witch trials (February 1692-May 1693) and from the fictionalized depiction of the trials in the play "The Crucible" (1953) by Arthur Miller.
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The scriptwriters used anagrams for a few key characters of the film. The name of Elly Kedward, the eponymous Blair Witch was an anagram of the name of Edward Kelley (1555-1597/1598), a famous occultist, scryer and alchemist. He reputedly had the ability to see spirits or angels in mirrors, and partnered up with fellow occultist John Dee. The name of mad hermit Rustin Parr was initially based on an anagram of the name of Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), the so-called mad monk. Rasputin was a famous mystic, self-proclaimed holy man, faith healer, visionary, and supposed prophet.
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In the film, the trio locate a forest cemetery with several "piles of rocks". These are actually cairns, man-made piles of stones erected as burial mounds or trail markers. Cairns have been built since prehistory in all continents, except Antarctica.
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Nearly all of Burkittsville, Maryland (where the film takes place) was declared part of the Burkittsville Historic District in 1975, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The village contains many well-preserved buildings with Federal-style architecture from the early 19th century, and a few buildings with Victorian-style architecture.
The film used the abandoned Griggs House as the location of the climactic ending. It was a two-story wooden house, built on a stone foundation. It was located in the unincorporated community of Granite, Maryland. It was an example of Federal-style architecture, a style popular from the 1780s to the 1830s as an American modification of the older style of Palladian architecture.
The camera format which the trio are using in the film is CP-16, a type of 16mm motion picture cameras manufactured by the Cinema Products Corporation. They were popular with local and national news agencies, and were often used for documentary production. The format was largely replaced by the "electronic news-gathering" (ENG) video and audio technologies developed during the 1970s and the early 1980s.
According to Heather Donahue in the film, the trio are recording sounds in the format of the "Digital Audio Tape" (DAT). This format was developed by Sony and introduced in 1987. The format saw moderate success in professional markets and as a computer storage medium, but Sony discontinued production of its DAT machine models in 2005.
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The setting of the film is Burkittsville, Maryland and its vicinity. Burkittsville is a real-life village with a tiny population. According to the 1990 census, the village had a population of 194 people. By 2000, its population had declined to 171 people.
Burkittsville, Maryland, where the film's plot is set, received its official name in 1828. It was previously called "Harley's Post Office". The village is named after its co-founder Henry Burkitt. Burkitt and Major Joshua Harley had established the village in 1824, but Harley died a few years later and leadership was left to Burkitt.
Burkittsville, Maryland (the setting of the film) is located on state highway Maryland Route 17, which connects it with the settlements of Brunswick, Wolfsville, Rosemont, Middletown, and Myersville.
Burkittsville, Maryland, where the film's plot takes place, was the site of a battle in the American Civil War. The Battle of Burkittsville/Battle of Crampton's Gap (1862) featured a small, hastily assembled Confederate force defending the area against the VI Corps of the Union Army, in order to protect the rear of Confederate Major General Lafayette McLaws. The Confederates eventually lost the battle, but successfully delayed Union forces and prevented any attack on McLaws' forces.
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Towards the end of the film, Mike narrates a tale about the athletic prowess of Cal Ripken Jr. (1960-). Cal Ripken (nicknamed "The Iron Man") was a professional baseball player from Maryland, who played 21 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Baltimore Orioles (1981-2001). He holds the record for consecutive games played, having played in 2,632 consecutive games.
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In the film, Mike makes a reference to the Wicked Witch of the East and the Wicked Witch of the West. They are both characters from the Oz novels by L. Frank Baum. The Wicked Witch of the East ruled the Munchkin Country in Oz's eastern quadrant, until she was killed by a cyclone. The Wicked Witch of the West ruled the Winkie Country, until she was accidentally killed by Dorothy Gale.
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Josh's camera used throughout the film, a CP-16, sold on eBay for $10,000. This was about 10 years ago, so the inflation on that makes the camera worth at least $10,500 in today's market.
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Screener copies were made a month before the home video release with the last 10 minutes missing and a message telling the viewer to buy the VHS or DVD as a way to prevent the movie from being bootlegged and leaked online.
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Now Playing Podcast reviewed The Blair Witch Project. This film received three "recommends".
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The trio in the film expected their hike to last for a few days, but find themselves stranded in the woods for longer than expected. They compare themselves to the castaways in the sitcom "Gilligan's Island" (1964-1967). In the sitcom, a group of 7 people (2 crewmen and 5 passengers) set sail for a three-hour tour. They are shipwrecked on an uncharted island, and spend several years trying to return home.
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Before the film was released, the three main actors were listed as "missing, presumed dead" on IMDb.
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(at around 1h 10 mins) The close-up of Heather Donahue's face as she tapes her farewell video was unintentional. Donahue planned to have her whole face in frame, but she had zoomed in the camera too much. However, the directors thought that the 'closeness to all the tears and phlegm' really added to the 'ugly realism' of the scene, and kept it in.
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The film was originally of a much higher resolution and was degraded deliberately to look more authentic to the time it was shot.
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Heather Donahue and Michael C. Williams were unaware that Joshua Leonard was going to disappear near the end of the shoot (originally Williams' character was supposed to do that). The directors had left a note for Leonard instructing him to wait for the others to fall asleep, and then leave the tent. They had to wait for 45 minutes before calling him out, telling him "you're dead." Leonard was actually glad to leave because there was a Jane's Addiction concert he wanted to go to.
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The directors initially had some sort of shocking ending in mind, but when they ran out of money, they settled for the one used in the final film where Heather finds Mike standing in the corner, and then gets hit by something off-camera. Although the ending frightened test audiences, they also found it confusing, so the studio gave the directors additional budget to shoot a few alternative endings. These included Mike being hanged from a noose, having him crucified to a large stick figure, and appearing with a bloodied chest. Stick figures themselves were experimented with as decorations in the final scene. In the end, the directors were actually pretty happy with their original ending, so they shot an additional interview scene where it is explained that Rustin Parr forced one kid to stand in the corner while he was killing another, as a means to give their conclusion some explanation. Fortunately, the studio allowed them to release the movie with their original ending.
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Heather and Mike were never told what to expect to find in the basement of the house at the end. Mike was instructed to run up and down stairs yelling for Josh before running to the basement, and to keep Heather as far behind him as possible. When Mike reached the basement two production assistants dressed in black grabbed him and told him to stand in the corner. When Heather arrived they also grabbed her and gently placed her 16mm on the floor while gesturing to her stop screaming. However, due to sound issues the scene had to be shot twice. Heather Donahue said the first time they did it she was so scared she was hyperventilating and had to be calmed down by the crew.
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(at around 46 mins) When Heather screams "What the **** is that?!" she is seeing one of the movie crew standing on a hill dressed in white with a ski-mask on. Josh was holding the camera as he ran behind her and didn't manage to catch the image on film.
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Several ending versions were shot to show Heather discovering Mike in various positions surrounded by stickmen hanging from the ceiling. Eventually because test audiences were confused by the appearance of the stickmen (as Mike walked into a bare basement and Heather would follow a minute later to find Mike surrounded by stickmen) there was a decision to reshoot the ending. The directors also admitted to removing the stickmen from the theatrical ending to give the ending a sense of ambiguity as to whether there was a supernatural element or human element to the student's fate.
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(at around 1h 6 mins) The teeth found by Heather near the end (supposedly Josh' teeth) were real human teeth, supplied by director Eduardo Sánchez's dentist. The hair really belonged to Joshua Leonard.
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One of the original script ideas was for a giant-size version of the stick figure to chase the students through the woods. This was rejected in favor of an enemy that was malevolent, but never seen.
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This film was one of the most pirated films of 1999 because of limited release due to its independent status. The pirated version was an unfinished leaked work-print with several plot holes and most of the initial interviews missing leading to audience confusion at final scene of the film. Paranormal Activity (2007), which was greatly inspired by this film, had similar piracy issues, including missing or additional scenes and an alternate ending.
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Originally, it was Mike (Michael C. Williams) who was supposed to disappear near the movie's end. However, throughout filming, there was so much bickering going on between Heather (Heather Donahue) and Josh (Joshua Leonard) that it started to become annoying and disruptive. So it was decided to pull Josh out prematurely, and most of the Heather-Josh arguments were edited out in post-production, focusing more on the antagonism between Mike and Heather. This choice proved advantageous, as Mike was always intended to be the antagonist of the group, so leaving him and Heather as the last two survivors created extra tension due to their different personalities.
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The Blair Witch's real name, Elly Kedward, could possibly be a spoonerism for Edward Kelley, a renaissance-era occultist and a self-proclaimed "spirit medium." Kelley was supposedly responsible for the creation of the Enochian language, the "language of angels."
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Despite the fact they never get out of the woods, civilization was rarely far away in reality. Sometimes it was just a few yards away, slightly off camera.
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Several different endings were shot for the theatrical release, all occurring in the basement of Rustin Parr's cabin. They included two versions of Mike standing in the corner (facing backwards and forwards) surrounded by hanging stickmen, one of Mike dead and hanging from a noose, and one of Mike levitating amongst branches and stickmen. Four of these endings appear on the Blu-ray release.
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Off camera, Heather took one of the stick figures. It is later seen in pieces after they are chased from their campsite by unseen forces and is even mentioned by Josh in a later scene.
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The beginning of the movie states in a title card that the students went missing and a year later the footage was found but doesn't explain where or who found it. An unreleased version of the movie started with an explanation, revealing scenes of a police investigation, a room with a table displaying all the tapes and camera equipment with evidence tags. There were also scenes showing the foundation of Rustin Parr's house where geology students had been digging and come across the footage under several layers of undisturbed soil and ash from when the house had been torched in the 1940's and an expert explaining the footage could never have been placed there without disturbing and mixing the layers of ash and soil. While much of this footage was later worked into the mockumentary Curse of the Blair Witch, pirated versions of this unreleased version of the film did circulate when the movie was still in theaters, varying slightly from the theatrical version. Other missing scenes include several missing interviews with Burketsville residents, including the key scene revealing Rustin Parr's method of making children face the corner.
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The interior of the house used in the ending scene was covered with years of graffiti. The film crew had to repaint the walls prior to shooting. The child hand prints on the walls were made by two child nephews of one of the production assistants who stuck their hands into red paint and pressed them on the walls.
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(at around 1h 6 mins) Heather Donahue's discovery of Joshua Leonard's teeth, blood and hair wrapped in a bundle of twigs bears a striking similarity to Washington Irving's story "The Devil and Tom Walker". Tom's wife goes to find the devil in the swamp, and never returns home. When Tom goes to find her, he discovers her apron with her heart and liver inside. However, it also reflects a scene in the silent documentary Häxan (1922) where a severed hand is carried by a witch hidden in a bundle of twigs.
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(at around 50 mins) "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.
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A separate documentary-style film, Curse of the Blair Witch (1999), created by the same directors, was released as a 44 min introduction to the story and was broadcast on Sci-Fi (now SyFy) on July 11th, 1999, two weeks before Blair Witch was released in theaters by Artisan. The (fake) documentary features interviews with various experts on local folklore, local history, townspeople, scientists, academics and law enforcement, all of whom were actors, discussing the "legend of the Witch", various theories on the filmmaker's disappearance, and discovery of their film; all of which was completely fictitious. The documentary was professionally narrated and went into much deeper detail on some of the events that occur in the subsequent "found footage" movie. All of this interview/investigation footage was originally intended to be included in the theatrical release co-mingled with the "found footage" scenes shot by Heather, Mike, and Josh. Directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick decided they had captured enough "found footage" to use as a stand alone film without framing the story as a professionally produced documentary. They made the decision to compile all the interview footage into a separate, shorter film and present it as a real documentary which they used to preview the Blair Witch Project. Curse of the Blair Witch proved a believable, compelling, and ultimately successful marketing device for The Blair Witch Project. It is included as a DVD bonus.
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The Blair Witch herself is never shown within the film, and it appears the filmmakers had no intention of her actually appearing in any way. However, McFarlane studios later released an officially listened action figure version of her for their "Movie Maniacs" line, which featured killers and monsters from horror films such as Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, etc. The figure depicts her as a withered, skeletal corpse with branches growing out of her head, and includes a removable veil, an axe-like weapon and a small stickman.
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The ruins of the old house the backpack with the lost footage was found in (as seen in Curse if the Blair Witch) are those of Rustin Parr's house.
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Concerning the theory that Josh and Mike had planned and ultimately murdered Heather, many have questioned the motive for the crime. According to one of the initial drafts of the script, Heather and Josh used to be romantically involved and had broken up before the events shown in the film. It's even implied in Heather's diary that she and Josh have had a long history, and have mentioned the tension between one another. Using this bit of information for the theory, this indicates that the tension between Heather and Josh is much worse. Their breakup may have been a very ugly one which shows in their antagonistic behavior toward one another. They somehow decided to remain friends and went on to date other people judging by Josh briefly mentioning his girlfriend in the film and Heather mentioning her boyfriend named Greg in her diary. However, Josh may have harbored such resentment and hatred toward her and wanted revenge. Thus, he enlists Mike and possibly a few other people to help him in his plan to murder Heather.
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MatPat from Film Theory proposed that the movie is really a (fictional) snuff film of Josh and Mike luring Heather into the woods to murder her.
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