A Witch’s Curse Destroys a Town

A Witch’s Curse Destroys a Town

Although legend says that the town of Burkittsville, Maryland has suffered from a vengeful witch’s curse since 1780, residents say the curse began in 1999, with the production of The Blair Witch Project.

Quote: “In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary called The Blair Witch Project. A year later their footage was found.”

These stark words began the movie The Blair Witch Project and touched off one of the biggest fact-fiction controversies since the 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.

Local legend tells the tale of Elly Kedward, who lived in Blair Township, Maryland, in 1785. Accused of preying upon neighborhood children, she was tried as a witch and banished. Over the next 150 years, the cursed town, later renamed Burkittsville, was the site of numerous murders, mutilations, and disappearances, all of which were blamed on the so-called “Blair Witch.”

Hearing these tales, film students Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams went to Burkittsville in 1994 to film a documentary about the Blair Witch. They entered the woods on October 21 and never came out. A year later, a duffel bag containing their cameras, film, and journals was found buried under the foundation of a 100-year old cabin.

The Blair Witch Project Opened to general release on July 16th, 1999, and was purported to be a compilation of the missing students’ footage. The completely fictional work was the brainchild of struggling film-makers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez who created the backstory, wrote the 35-page script, and directed the mostly improvisational film.

They hired three previously unknown actors and told them only that they would be involved in a movie project about fear and that, quote, “safety is our concern… your comfort is not.” They took the actors to Maryland’s Black Hills State Park, gave them cameras to record their actions and reactions, and used GPS navigators to guide the trio through the movie’s narrative, gradually depriving them of food, sleep, and comfortable shelter.

Unlike other contemporary horror movies, The Blair Witch Project has no on-screen bogeyman but instead relies on piles of rocks, the infamous “stickman” figures, and babies’ cries to strike fear in the hearts of its protagonists, and audiences.

The film’s video-verite style, and the actors’ seemingly real fear and frustration heighten the movie’s tension. What really snagged imaginations, however, was the overlap between the movie and the real world, helped by its documentary style, extensive mythology, and familiar locations. The preponderance of “evidence” forced even savvy viewers to question their assumptions of fact and fiction.

Myrick and Sanchez didn’t foresee the problems that they would create with their cross-over into reality. Even the Internet Movie Database had, rather ominously, listed the three actors as “missing, presumed dead” prior to the film’s release. The statement was changed when post-release media interviews showed the trio to be alive and thriving, a fact that still didn’t convince everyone.

Gawkers and vandals besieged Burkittsville, looking for truth about the Blair Witch. A group of townspeople posted an online statement that refuted the legend, the film’s geography, and other facts. When locals started to harass the sheriff’s department about the purported 33,000-hour search that was instituted to find the filmmakers, it also published an online rebuttal.

blair witch project

To be clear, Myrick and Sanchez MADE UP The Blair Witch Project and they readily admit it. There is no legend of the Blair Witch. Elly Kedward is a fictional character. Blair Township, Maryland, never existed. Despite these facts, there are some who continue to insist that the story is true.