Welcome to ’99 Rewind, our celebration of 25th anniversaries of the films, TV, and music from 1999. Today, we’re looking back at the legacy of The Blair Witch Project.
It’s outright impossible to discuss the craft of horror filmmaking without at least making mention of The Blair Witch Project, the landmark indie that changed found-footage movies forever. So many details around the 1999 project have become the stuff of legend, from the fact that principal photography was accomplished over the course of just eight days to the unforgettable viral marketing campaigns only possible in the early days of the internet.
Twenty-five years ago this week, The Blair Witch Project premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before opening nationwide in July 1999. With wind in the sails courtesy of the “real or fiction” trailers and steady word-of-mouth endorsements, the film managed to gross its $60,000 budget back a wild 4,000 times over.
But 25 years later, it’s easy to forget that The Blair Witch Project was a technological achievement in itself. The VHS camcorder was the preeminent tool for capturing memories for families throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but prior to directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, but few audiences had had seen this tool placed in the hands of a protagonist.
The grounded atmosphere (and the fact that almost every single one of the adults in the audience had used or been filmed on such a camcorder) underscored the everyman nature of the whole Blair Witch experience. No, it wasn’t the first “found footage” movie by any means (consider the controversial Cannibal Holocaust of 1980), but it felt urgent, and extremely fresh. Moments where characters are sprinting through the woods, only identified by their heavy breathing as the forgotten camera shakes in their hands, utilized the inherent unsteadiness of the format to the fullest. The swings from monotonous hiking to outright terror, like the now-iconic “selfie” frame, would have had an entirely different effect on more advanced filmmaking equipment.
“Aesthetically, The Blair Witch Project’s impact has been far-reaching — though, most importantly, it inspired a generation of DIY filmmakers to pick up their cameras and believe in the possibility of puncturing the mainstream bubble,” says Rob Savage, director of 2020 breakout Host, in an email to Consequence. “Without it we’d have no James Wan, no Blumhouse and — for better or worse — no Rob Savage.”