In professional wrestling, the concept of “Kayfabe” refers to a tacit agreement between fans and performers never to recognize the fictitious aspects of the sport. In the horror genre, we have something similar with the way Found Footage films invite audiences to play with scares to enhance their viewing experience. And when it comes to Found Footage, no film has handled this mix of fact and fiction better than The Blair Witch Project, which was accompanied by an ingenious viral marketing campaign featuring websites, files and even posters of missing persons.
Among this additional material was an infamous mock documentary known as the The Curse of the Witch Blair, which premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel and helped convince audiences that footage from the film should be taken seriously. One year later, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 had his own lesser-known connections to Ben Rocher‘s The Burkittsville 7 and The shadow of the witch Blair. It’s been over two decades since these TV specials first aired, but I think they’re still worth talking about after helping solidify the Witch Blair franchise in popular culture.
Directed by the same duo behind its mother production, The Curse of the Witch Blair originally aired on television screens in the summer of 1999. Through archival footage and interviews with friends and family of Heather, Mike and Josh, the hour-long special comes out as a serious documentary on the “real” story behind the (then) next Blair Witch Project. While there are occasional clips from the film to promote it, the meat of the special is to expand the mythology behind the titular witch and the crimes inspired by her story.
Watching supposed pundits comment on the history of witchcraft and the cruel disappearance of Elly Kedward makes for surprisingly entertaining television, especially with the spooky illustrations and the tongue-in-cheek inclusion of fake 70s shows. While those details aren’t not really necessary to enjoy the film, they enhance the viewing experience by making the lore more fleshed out and believable.
It’s also fun to see investigators discussing the details of the film and Dave Stern’s. The Blair Witch Project: A Folder like fragments of a True Crime incident. Like the movie, the special still doesn’t offer a concrete explanation for these young filmmakers’ demise, but piecing together the interconnected story and forming your own theories is half the fun here. In reality, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo SanchezThe narrative puzzle box likely inspired viral ARGs like Marble hornets and The SunVanished despite having preceded them by literal decades.
The additional characterization of the film’s protagonists also enhances the experience from an emotional standpoint. Having relatives comment on the personal lives of the victims before the ill-fated project makes the film’s horrific ending even more difficult, albeit inevitable. It’s much easier to understand Heather’s insistence on finishing her movie once you’re aware of her personal ambitions, and it’s hard not to support Mike once you find out he’s an underachiever. adorable. The bizarre revelation that the footage from the film was inexplicably found in the ruins of Rustin Parr’s house also adds an additional layer of mystery to the story, the particularity implying that the tapes were already there when the house burned down in the years. 1940.
The raw scares of the feature film might be missing, but I appreciate The Curse of the Witch Blair as a scary world-building exercise and often revisit it alongside the main attraction. Some viewers might be bothered by the lack of proper resolution, but I think the subtle suggestion that the events of the film strength being real are far scarier than any concrete answer, making them a worthy companion to the original film.
A year later, the world would see another expansion of the Blair Witch mythos through Joe berlinger‘s strange sequel. While Book of Shadows has been criticized and more or less disowned by its director, the film was recently re-evaluated as fans realize it has a lot to say about mass hysteria and the negative effects of the media while serving up quality scares and a kick-ass soundtrack. It’s still not a masterpiece, but I think Blair Witch 2 is an underrated horror film with its own peculiar story.
For me, the most interesting part of this sequel is the choice of the director of the studio. While Artisan Entertainment must have thought that the hiring of the co-creator of the real HBO detective opus Paradise Lost: The Robin Hood Hills Child Murders would result in an even more believable Found Footage production, it turned out that Berlinger was fiercely opposed to the subgenre. A seasoned documentary filmmaker, the director felt it was unethical to mislead audiences into selling more movie tickets, resulting in a traditional horror film simply “based on real events “.
However, that wouldn’t prevent the extra material in the film from blurring the line between fiction and journalism like the original film. This time around, director Ben Rock was asked to produce a pair of mock promotional documentaries expanding the lore behind Blair Witch 2. Re-airing on Sci-Fi, these specials would actually borrow from Berlinger’s work in True Crime, treating the film’s story as a mysterious murder and forensic drama rather than a paranormal investigation.
The first of these specials, The shadow of the witch Blair follows the pursuit of the “real” Jeff Patterson once he is charged with the murders that are said to have inspired Berlinger’s Hollywood sequel. By revealing additional details about this troubled young man and the mysterious deaths that led to his imprisonment, the special recontextualizes Book of Shadows as a sensationalistic re-enactment that takes advantage of an actual crime, which I think makes the sequel much more interesting as a successor to a Found Footage classic.
On the other hand, The Burkittsville 7 goes back to the lore of the original film and chronicles the aftermath of the Rustin Parr murders through a more grounded lens, mostly ignoring the supernatural elements. With more than a little inspiration from the real-world horrors of Frederick Wiseman Titticut follies and the classic tropes of True Crime, this is one of the spookiest entries in the Witch Blair franchise as well as one of the most credible. The archive footage and interviews are eerily compelling, and the focus on mental health issues makes it a great prelude to Berlinger’s film.
This commitment to authenticity may be part of what makes these promotions so effective in the first place, but it has also become a source of controversy. Some viewers have apparently objected to Sci-Fi presenting these fictional tales as real events, resulting in a minor backlash. The criticism isn’t entirely unwarranted, as deceptive media has only become a bigger problem than in the digital age, but I don’t think the filmmakers intentionally sought to take advantage of naive viewers.
To me, this kind of promotional material is a lot more like the cinematic equivalent of prefacing an urban legend with “it happened to a friend of a friend of mine” rather than a legitimate case of bogus advertising. In all fairness, I actually wish the 2016 Witch Blair had chosen a similar route during marketing, as that would have helped contextualize the scares of this film.
Like the aforementioned Kayfabe, which allows wrestling fans to accept undead fighters and dramatic in-ring feuds, a little suspension of disbelief can do a lot of things in horror. These TV specials may not be necessary when reviewing the Witch Blair movies, but I think they capture the innovative spirit of the original Myrick and Sanchez film perfectly by focusing on subtle, realistic scares. In my opinion, the added context makes these movies even more enjoyable, so I would recommend these spooky appendices to any fan of the Witch Blair myth.
After all, wanting to believe makes these stories even more fun.