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Stephen King is well known for being the master of horror. He’s written countless horror novels, many of which have been adapted into horror movies. Basically, he knows a thing or two about the genre. So, it’s really saying something when he says The Blair Witch Project, the 1999 found-footage horror movie, scared the heck out of him.
When The Blair Witch Project landed a little over 20 years old, it became a huge phenomenon, spawned countless parodies and inspired plenty of found footage movies to come, like Paranormal Activity. Apparently, it had a major impact on Stephen King as well. In fact, Bloody Disgusting went through Stephen King’s reissue of Danse Macabre and found Stephen King’s explanation as to why The Blair Witch Project vociferous reaction to the popular horror film. Here’s what the "King" of horror himself said:
One thing about Blair Witch: the damn thing looks real. Another thing about Blair Witch: the damn thing feels real. And because it does, it’s like the worst nightmare you ever had, the one you woke from gasping and crying with relief because you thought you were buried alive and it turned out the cat jumped up on your bed and went to sleep on your chest.
Honestly, Stephen King is dead on here. One of the most effective tactics The Blair Witch Project used as a horror film was starting out as a seemingly normal documentary. At the time, the tactic was brand new, and made the audience feel as if what they were watching was factual. The found footage method made it seem like a total amateur job, but because of that, it also provided the illusion of authenticity. When horror feels real, it makes it that much harder for you to retreat to a safe space where you can internally tell yourself the monster isn’t real.
Secondly, The Blair Witch Project takes a gradual approach to horror, ratcheting up the intensity and the freaky factor at every turn. It takes its time and depends more on the audience’s imagination and paranoia of what’s around the corner. Stephen King also said of the film:
Blair Witch, it seems to me, is about madness – because what is that, really, except getting lost in the woods that exist even inside the sanest heads? The footage becomes increasingly jerky, the cuts weirder, the conversations increasingly disconnected from reality. As the movie nears the end of its short course (at just eighty minutes and change, it’s like a jury-rigged surface-to-surface missile loaded with dynamite), the video actually disappears for long stretches, just as rationality disappears from the mind of a man or a woman losing his/her grip on the real world.
I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, but Stephen King nails what makes The Blair Witch Project so good. The movie starts out sanely but ends on an insane note, and it does a great job of moving toward that insanity by focusing more on the technical side of the filmmaking rather than narrative exposition. You feel like you’re there in it with the characters, in the dark woods, gradually going made from the danger lurking at every corner.
Perhaps the one thing Stephen King doesn’t mention that makes The Blair Witch Project so scary is the impact of the ambiguous ending. Ambiguous endings often make people angry, but they stir up theories on what actually happened. Despite all the theories, at the end of the day, it’s the concept of not knowing that makes the movie that much more unsettling.
The Blair Witch Project doesn’t follow a normal story structure and leaves its audience hanging at the end, but arguably it’s that erratic storytelling progression and the unexplained ending which reinforces the found-footage authenticity, creating a chilling psychological horror atmosphere. Now, I just want to know what other horror films really keep Stephen King up at night.