I was slightly too young to remember the cultural impact of this found-footage pioneer (I was about six), but as I became a horror fan, obviously I heard about it. For those who don’t know, The Blair Witch Project (1999) is a movie where three students go into the woods and film a documentary about the fictional Blair Witch of Burkettsville, Maryland, once named Blair. They get a lot more than they bargained for when things start to get weird on them, like hearing things in the woods/pranks and finally, one of their own disappears but parts of him are left for the others to find. The other two end up finding a random house in the woods and ultimately, it is implied they are both murdered there. The genius of the film is the way it was marketed as a true event that happened and the footage was found eventually during searches, as if these people had really disappeared. They didn’t; everyone was an actor, but many people believed that what they were seeing was real.
The Blair Witch became folkloresque (not a story based in folklore whatsoever, but it feels enough like folklore to be mistaken as such) because people believed she was based off real folklore when it was pure creation for the movie (Tolbert and Foster 2015: 5). People even went looking for the Blair Witch after seeing the movie believing the fiction presented as truth or as folklorists tell it, “the story is true”.
“Folklore” Presented in the Movie
Elly Kedward is the Blair Witch in the film franchise’s folklore. She was accused of witchcraft and banished from the town of Blair in 1785, dying from exposure and being tied to a tree/hung with rocks, which later comes up in the first installment with piles of rocks appearing around campsites and stick figures hanging from trees. In the second installment, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), a Wiccan character named Rachel hopes to become an apprentice to the spirit of Elly Kedward. This doesn’t happen; instead, she’s tormented with various mind-game weirdness and eventually dies; it is implied heavily that this is the work of Elly Kedward, a genuine “evil” witch.
Five men were bound, tortured, and murdered on this rock that serves as a small island on the river. Their insides were ripped out and their foreheads had odd writing. The bodies were moved before help could be found to move them and what happened to the bodies is unknown.
1940-Rustin Parr was a hermit who heard an old woman’s voice telling him to kill seven children, attributed to be the Blair Witch’s voice. He’d have one child stand in the corner, facing away while he killed the other; this is mirrored in another part of the first movie with Matt standing in the corner when Heather finds him.
Mary Brown/Other Murders
Mary Brown, the local crazy lady of Burkittsville, claimed to have seen the Blair Witch when she was a child in the woods-she was covered in what she called “horse hair”, wearing a wool shawl. Two men supposedly disappeared when camping, and a girl was yanked into the water by a hand that rose up out of the water. One girl was spared named Robin Weaver, who went into the woods, came back three days later saying strange things about “an old woman whose feet never touched the ground”.
All of these seemingly random events are said to be the work of the Blair Witch.
Commercialization/Process of Folkloresque
The Blair Witch legend functions in the movie much like many other supernatural tales: getting children to behave through the threat of supernatural interference (we see this with La Llorona or the Boogeyman, etc). Like, you better go to bed on time or the Boogeyman will get you! Don’t play near rivers or La Llorona will snatch you/drown you! It also promotes this idea of: what if the folklore was real and not just a story?
Burkittsville, Maryland went through what folklorists call “an invasive narrative”, which is when your town/area is known for something that isn’t chosen by them (Thomas 2015: 51). For example, Roswell and Salem have embraced their invasive narratives of an alien crash site/the Salem Witch Trials for commercial/tourist purposes while Stephenville, Texas, who had one of the largest mass-UFO sightings, did not accept the narrative, refused to talk about it, and that’s why people don’t remember it. For the most part, Burkittsville rejected the narrative, though a few people did capitalize with home-made crafts. This process of commercialization is further explored in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), where one of the main characters creates a full-fledged business built on the lore of the Blair Witch (we see hats/shirts/cups/stick figures), which is sold for profit. This happens a lot when a story becomes big enough to sell; again, Roswell did this with aliens and Salem with witches. I love a movie franchise with an in-depth folklore web and this is one of my favorites!
Berlinger, Joe. 2000. Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Prime Video.
Jackson, Bruce. 2007. The Story is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories.
Sánchez, Eduardo, and Daniel Myrick. 1999. The Blair Witch Project. Prime Video.
Thomas, Jeannie, ed. 2015. Putting the Supernatural in its Place: Folklore, the Hypermodern, and the Ethereal. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
Tolbert, Jeffrey A. and Michael Dylan Foster. 2015. The Folkloresque: Reframing Culture in a Popular Culture World. Logan: Utah State University Press.