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The Blair Witch Project no doubt goes down as one of the scariest horror films of all time thanks to the top-notch execution and brilliant found-footage techniques crafted by co-writer/directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. Not once did the duo actually show us the film's primary antagonist, The Blair Witch, hiding "her" with the use of implied violence and ingenious offscreen threats. Just like how Jaws lurked beneath the water, imposing a hidden deadly threat upon that film's characters, The Blair Witch cackled, unseen in the dark of the woods, terrifying its soon-to-be victims to their very cores.
Since we never actually see The Blair Witch in the film (not even in the final sequence where Heather Donahue and Mike Williams are implied to be murdered), and rather than taking for granted that The Blair Witch was the murderer, we thought we should examine "who actually did the killing?"
Obviously, this article is loaded with spoilers. You have been warned!
What Really Happened At The End Of The Movie?Upon digging further into the details presented within the film, the facts not only point away from The Blair Witch as the killer, they actually zero in on the filmmakers themselves... the ones who went missing back in 1994. There are a handful of theories as to who could have murdered these three individuals, with culprits ranging from the obvious Blair Witch herself to the documentary's cameraman Josh Leonard as the primary suspect. There are even a few details that point to Josh working with the documentary's sound guy Mike (potentially under the control of The Blair Witch) to lure in their mutual friend Heather. Did The Blair Witch do it? Did Josh do it? Did Josh and Mike do it together? That's what we're going to discuss, but in order to do that, we need to look at the mythology and consider what's happening at the end of the movie.
This column will strictly be an examination of the events within the running time of The Blair Witch Project film itself (not including the events of the sequel). There is expanded-upon information, along with character bios, now listed on The Blair Witch website and Wikia pages, which I will not go into here.
The Blair Witch Mythology"In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary."
"A year later their footage was found."
Prior to heading out to on their journey to document the mystery of The Blair Witch, we see Heather Donahue, Mike Williams, and Josh Leonard gathering up their equipment and gear. Heather packs her "essential readings" -- How to Stay Alive in the Woods, and another book that she says explains the events of Coffin Rock. It isn't long before the trio hits the town of Burkittsville, MD, (formerly Blair) where they shoot their first scene in the town's cemetery up on the hill. Founded in 1824, Heather explains how an "unusually high number of children are laid to rest there."
Upon visiting Mary Brown (recommended by a prior interviewee), the three filmmakers listen to her story about a supposed encounter she had with the Blair Witch while out fishing in the woods. She explains how The Blair Witch gave off an eerie feeling and had a body covered in black fur, which she concealed with a wool shawl. They, along with the townsfolk, chalk her up as crazy.
The next morning the trio meet two locals fishing in the creek. The men share a story about Robin Weaver, who wandered off into the woods in the 1840s, only to reappear three days later talking of a woman who's feet never touched the ground. One of the fishermen further says he saw a white mist nearby, but couldn't explain how it related to the events that took place at Coffin Rock. The three filmmakers soon arrive at Coffin Rock, where Heather reads a passage explaining the horrific events that took place at the location. History says five men were found bound to one another, their torsos cut open with the intestines ripped out and the flesh of their faces inscribed with indecipherable etching. When the people returned with law enforcement a short while later, the bodies were removed "by persons unknown."
The three-piece filmmaking team experiences many strange occurrences over the course of their nights in the woods. Among the creepy things encountered are middle-of-the-night cackling surrounding their tent, and seven spooky rock piles, presumably for each of Mr. Parr's child victims... one of which Josh accidentally kicks over. One morning, the trio wakes up to find three piles of rocks (that weren't there when they crashed the night before) surrounding their tent, likely marking them as targets. They also later encounter tons of stick figures tied in trees. Lastly, they have their campsite destroyed... specifically Josh's stuff, which gets covered in a disgusting slimy substance.
After five nights of horror in the woods, Josh disappears without a trace, and can only be heard at night screaming for help. The next morning, a bundle of sticks tied with pieces of Josh's flannel shirt appears outside their tent. Upon closer inspection, the shirt is covered in blood and inside it they find unidentifiable items, of which fan speculation has called teeth, hair, a finger, a tongue, bone and/or Josh's necklace.
What Happens In The Final Scene:In the final scene, Mike and Heather wake up to Josh's screams in the middle of the night and run blindly into the woods toward his voice with nothing to direct them but the lights on their cameras. The duo soon stumbles upon an abandoned building in the woods. The run-down structure is presumably the building referenced earlier, during the interview portion of the film, as the cabin that the two hunters camped nearby, only to never be seen or heard from again.
Mike immediately enters the house and bravely races upstairs using only his camera light and Josh's screaming voice as a guide. Heather, frightened beyond belief, does her best to keep up with him, chasing behind with her own camera.
As the two rush up the stairs, children's handprints can be seen cluttering the dank, decrepit walls. These are a likely indicator we are inside the home where Rustin Parr murdered the seven innocent children some years ago. Upon reaching the upper level of the house, Josh's voice now appears to be coming from the basement. Mike, reaching an almost panic state, blasts down into the cellar hoping to find Josh, but when we see his camera hit the ground, we know this is not the case.
Theory: The Blair Witch Did ItMany believe The Blair Witch is the killer who singlehandedly murders her victims. She is the obvious answer as she is the subject of the actual film, as well as the central focus our main characters' documentary. She is the one which the legend points to as the source of the ongoing unexplainable events. She is the assumed killer.
The film doesn't touch on her origins but her Wikia page (found here) has since added a fair amount of information to her backstory that also could lead fans to believe this to be true. Her name was Elly Kedward (September 11, 1729 - February, 1785) and, after being accused of witchcraft, she was banished from the town of Blair and taken to the woods where she was severely beaten, tortured and subsequently hung from the branch of a tree.
Although she was believed to have died, her spirit was said to have been responsible for repeated child abductions that took place in the middle of the woods nearby Blair—a phenomenon that provoked the townsfolk to later abandon the village altogether. If it is to be believed she as the killer, then Rustin Parr's confession to the murders of the seven children would have to be negated—something technically not difficult to do since Parr himself admitted in court that he indeed was insane.
Theory: Josh Did ItWhile many believe The Blair Witch to be the obvious killer, there is one very important detail that points to Josh as being the one who actually committed the murders. The story of the seven Burkittsville children murdered by Rustin Parr. In other words, the children NOT killed by The Blair Witch. This is important because in the final scene, Mike faces the corner, which tells us his implied death is absolutely related to the Parr murders of the seven children.
So, it's likely that Parr was influenced by The Blair Witch to commit the murders of the children (an idea that has since been written into his Wikia page), which means that The Blair Witch does not, in fact, actually commit the murders herself but possesses and/or influences others to do so. That said, many fans have come to believe that Josh is the likely suspect as the one who murdered Mike and Heather. The fact that his belongings were targeted when their campsite was destroyed would also suggest that The Blair Witch was targeting him even earlier on their trip.
But how do we explain why Mike would agree to face the corner. In the story of Parr, the children were forced to face the corner because Rustin didn't want them to watch as he killed the other child. The fact that Mike doesn't even appear to be scared, but rather "dazed" or "controlled" by an unseen presence, further validates this notion that Mike was responding to a possessed Josh. So, in the end, Josh is the most likely candidate to have actually pulled off the killings at the end of the film.
Theory: Josh And Mike Both Did ItThe bundle of sticks found wrapped with Josh's flannel shirt has become particularly of interest to many fans of The Blair Witch Project. What exactly was in the bundle and, if it was Josh's finger, tongue, teeth, bone, etc., would/could the maimed and potentially disabled character have committed such atrocities? Also, since Josh was never officially fingered for the murders (the three filmmakers have never been found), could Mike have been involved in the deadly plan that reportedly left all three filmmakers never to be found?
Some speculate that, while Josh was the nicest and most passive of the three, it was Mike who was the weakest of the bunch. After all, he was the one most frightened when the cackling surrounded their tent at night. He was also very vocal about his hesitance to pursue the making of the documentary after they began to experience strange phenomenon in the woods. Not only that, Mike was the one responsible for kicking the map into the creek — an act which he made sound like was done out of sheer frustration.
The Ending Was A Last-Minute DecisionWith all the talk of who is actually responsible for the murders at the end of the film, you may be surprised to learn that The Blair Witch Project reportedly almost had a completely different ending altogether. Legend has it that when Artisan Entertainment acquired the micro-budget film for distribution in the late '90s, the first thing they wanted to do was change the ending. Not only that, I caught up with co-writer/director Dan Myrick and he explained how he and his Blair Witch co-writer/director Eduardo Sánchez came up with the now-infamous ending in the 11th hour. Here's what the filmmaker had this to say about it:
"Actually, we came up with that particular ending pretty late in the game. We were only a few days from shooting before Ed [Eduardo Sánchez] and I decided on going with Mike "standing in the corner". At the time we thought it was the right balance between needing a payoff for the audience, yet retaining the mystery of what happened to the filmmakers."
Interestingly enough, Myrick further stated that it was actually after shooting the ending that he and Sánchez decided to go back and film additional footage focusing "Rustin Parr's twisted methodology" and "evil deeds"... forcing the kids to stand in the corner while he tortured and killed them. Myrick called the process a sort of "backwards engineered" method. It just goes to show you that sometimes the most brilliant, and in this case creepiest, ideas can come at the most unlikely of times.