Blair Witch Experience

The Blair Witch Project_Quote / Fair use doctrine.
That's the simple yet chilling premise of The Blair Witch Project, one of the most successful horror movies of all time.

It started with a website showing news articles about the missing students and footage of police and search parties looking for them. “Missing” flyers were distributed at festivals where the film was shown. The Sci-Fi Channel aired a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch and the students who had gone into the woods to find her. The movie was number two at the box office for the first several weeks after its release and the story's momentum persisted. Heather Donahue, Josh Leonard, and Mike Williams were all listed as “missing, presumed dead” on movie databases and the Frederick police department was flooded with calls from people asking why more wasn't being done to find the students.

While watching The Blair Witch Project, you see enthusiasm turn to despair and curiosity to fear. Hunger, exhaustion, and paranoia sharpen the senses until innocuous things piles of rocks, stick figures, and handprints on a wall invoke terror in the actors and the viewers. The found-footage style of the movie makes the viewer assume the role of the characters as they trudge disoriented through the woods and barrel screaming down the stairways of a decrepit abandoned house.

Blair Witch Experience, a weekend-long camping trip started in 2013 by Blair Witch aficionado Matt Blazi, takes things a step further, letting attendees visit the filming locations in chronological order.

2017's trip took place on October 20th and 21st. The first stop was the Burkitsville Cemetary in Burkittsville, MD. We saw the scenery and various gravestones from shots in the beginning of the movie and the sign for historic Burkittsville. The sign was stolen and put back up several times since the original movie came out. It was left down last year, anticipating the release of the latest Blair Witch movie but put back up since then and was the site of the first of many group pictures for the trip.

Next was the Knights Inn in Knoxville, MD, where the actors spent the first night of filming. Matt Blazi even rented room 118, the same room where Heather, Josh, and Mike stayed.

After that, we went to the locations where Heather interviewed locals about the legend of the Blair Witch. The Silver Rail Diner had closed since the filming of the movie, but people were waiting when we arrived. Susie appeared in The Blair Witch Project, holding her toddler daughter Ingrid, who became distressed when Susie told the story of the witch and covered her mother's mouth to make her stop talking. Susie eagerly told us about the circumstances of them being included in the filming, and she and Ingrid took pictures with fans and thanked everyone for their support of the film. We also visited Stupp's Market, where a man was filmed explaining the story of Rustin Parr murdering children under the influence of the witch, and Staub's Country Inn. Staub's is now a lawn and garden supply store, but we were graciously welcomed into the building by the proprietor of the business.

Susie and Ingrid reenacting their interview in front of the Silver Rail Diner.

Susie and Ingrid reenacting their interview in front of the Silver Rail Diner.

From there, we went to the woods.

Everyone met at Black Rock Mill in Seneca Creek State Park. We headed up the same road that took Heather, Mike, and Josh into the wilderness, but before we got too far we were halted by a bloodcurdling cry of “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!” and a figure running past us wearing all white with a white stocking cap distorting its features. It was a stuntman from the scene where Heather, Josh, and Mike ran through the woods and Heather saw something that terrified her and made her scream “What the fuck was that?!”

Suitably freaked out, we went to the rock in the river where Heather interviewed two fishermen who begrudgingly told her the story of Robin Weaver, a girl who was abducted by the witch. Two men were fishing off the rock when we got there. It was Ed Swanson, one of the fisherman from the original movie, and Dan Karcher, the social media director for Haxan Films, the movie's production company. We also met a woman named Ingrid, who lived around Seneca Creek State Park. She let Heather, Mike, and Josh into her house to use her phone one rainy night during filming when they lost contact with the rest of the crew. Her hospitality earned her and her husband a section in the movie's “special thanks” credits. We were rejoined by Susie, Ingrid, and director Eduardo Sanchez. The meeting had special significance because that was the first time Eduardo had seen Susie and Ingrid since the filming twenty years prior.

Director Ed Sanchez talking to Susie and Ingrid for the first time since the filming of The Blair Witch Project.

Director Ed Sanchez talking to Susie and Ingrid for the first time since the filming of The Blair Witch Project.

We went back into the woods with Ed Swanson, Dan Karcher, and Eduardo Sanchez. We stopped at Coffin Rock, the site where, according to Blair Witch lore, a group of men was found ritualistically slaughtered and a part of the woods where Heather, Josh, and Mike found piles of rocks on the ground and in makeshift baskets in trees.

Stickman Forest

Stickman Forest

The final stop for the first day is the “stickman” woods. Replications of the movie's simplistic but sinister totem hang from tree branches and vary in size. Eduardo made the biggest one last year, about seven feet long, but decided to outdo it this time. He, Ed, Dan, and several fans constructed a stickman that was almost as tall as a tree and required seven people to pick it up and lean it against a tree to support its weight.

The first day of the trip ended with Matt Blazi being named by Eduardo, Ed, and Dan as an honorary member of Haxan Films. It was a fitting gesture to recognize a fan who is so dedicated to the movie that he turns his love of it into a one-of-a-kind experience for so many others. The attendance of the trip grew from three people its first year to almost 20 this year and included attendees from all over the country and even Europe.

Matt Blazi being honored as a member of Haxan Films by Ed Karcher.

Matt Blazi being honored as a member of Haxan Films by Dan Karcher.

The second day of the trip involved going to the site of Rustin Parr's house. The actual house was destroyed in 2004 when Hurricane Sandy hit. All that remains now is some foundation and debris. Attendees combed through the tall grass to find bricks and stones. They found the corner where Mike stood unresponsive to Heather's shrieking. The spot is overgrown and almost unrecognizable but still evocative of the grim final shot of the movie.

All directors aim to make their movies seem real to their viewers but none were as convincing, both within the context of the movie and without, as Dan Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez with The Blair Witch Project. Blair Witch Experience enables fans to immerse themselves in the world of the film and become part of it physically as well as emotionally.

Check out Matt Blazi's Blair Witch Experience on Facebook.

Posted by Laura D. James

Laura D. James has written two novels - Revenge in Blood, and Demon Flesh - and is the co-author of the horror-themed children's book series Spooky Skwerl Stories, all of which are available on Amazon. She lives in New Jersey and enjoys metal concerts and true crime podcasts.

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