The Blair Witch Project (1999), in which three aspiring filmmakers—two males and a female—get lost in the woods while investigating a legend, was not the first “found footage” horror film. The general consensus is that the first was 1980’s extraordinarily gruesome Cannibal Holocaust. But Blair Witch was probably the most influential in that it completely revived the genre and lead to a spate of copycats seeking to capitalize on its unprecedented success.
Here are 40 tidbits about the film, most of them largely unknown, that make it even more intriguing.
1. The Guinness Book of World Records lists The Blair Witch Project as the all-time winner in the category of “Top Budget: Box Office Ratio.” Having cost only $60,000 to make and reaping box-office receipts of $248 million, it made nearly $11,000 for every dollar spent in filming.
2. In terms of total dollars, it also held the record for the highest-grossing independent film of all time until it was eclipsed by My Big Fat Greek Wedding in late 2002.
3. The film’s original title was The Black Hills Project. It was later changed to The Blair Witch Tapes, and then finally The Blair Witch Project.
4. The “Blair” in the title was in honor of Blair High School, where the sister of director Eduardo Sánchez briefly attended.
5. Filming only took eight days; but editing took eight months.
6. The original edit of The Blair Witch Project was roughly 150 minutes, whereas the final edit was only 81 minutes.
7. Each of the three main actors—Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard—were forced to sign a release form agreeing to let the producers “mess with your head.”
8. The producers indeed messed with the actors’ heads. About 45 minutes into the movie, their tent suddenly began shaking uncontrollably, which was not in the script and which genuinely terrified the actors. One of the directors had shaken the tent.
9. All three lead actors, although obviously aware that what they were filming was not authentic, had been told that the legend of the “Blair Witch” was real. It was not. The film’s creators had invented it.
10. In scenes there the three leads were interviewing townspeople about the legend, they were under the impression that they were real townspeople rather than hired actors.
11. Despite being given walkie-talkies with which to contact the production crew during emergencies and a GPS device to keep them on-course, the actors actually got lost three times during the filming.
12. Day after day, the directors gave the three leads less and less food. This was intentional. It was meant to heighten the tension between the actors.
13. Donahue, Leonard, and Williams shot almost all of The Blair Witch Project themselves.
14. The three leads were only given a 35-page summary about the fictional Blair Witch legend. Every line in the film was improvised.
15. All three actors were required to stay in character throughout the filming. If they for some reason needed to break character, so did the other two, but only after all three had said the safe word “taco.”
16. The film was plotted so that Heather and Mike disliked one another, with Josh being the peacemaker. After filming was over, the directors revealed that it was Heather and Josh who argued incessantly and disliked one another intensely.
17. In one scene where the sounds of children at night in the woods are heard, the sounds were played on tape from boom boxes and were actually the sounds of children playing outside director Eduardo Sánchez’s mother’s house.
18. Actor Michael C. Williams said that the sounds of children were what frightened him most during filming.
19. The mysterious “crackling sounds” in the woods were made by the production crew stomping around the camp, breaking sticks in two, and throwing them around.
20. The sounds of Josh hollering in the film’s last scene had been taped beforehand and were broadcast on speakers hidden in the woods.
21. Only one scene in the entire film was shot in the real-life town of Burkittsville, MD, alleged home of the fictional “Blair Witch” legend. It was the cemetery scene.
22. The sign welcoming visitors to Burkittsville that’s seen at the movie’s beginning has been stolen three times, including on the night the film opened.
23. Despite the film’s closing credits announcing that the legend did not exist, many fans converged on Maryland hoping to recreate the film’s events.
24. In a tremendously successful viral marketing campaign, the producers announced that the film contained real footage and that the characters had actually gone missing.
25. At shortly after the 50-minute mark when Josh, Mike, and Heather are exasperated that they’ve walked all day and wound up where they started, their reaction was real—this is actually what had happened.
26. After the film’s release, Heather Donahue was threatened by deranged fans, typecast by movie producers, and had trouble finding other means of employment. She quit acting in 2008 and went on to farm medicinal marijuana.
27. Because she was apprehensive about having to sleep in the woods with two men for days on end, Heather Donahue allegedly brought a knife with her.
28. In an interview with Fangoria magazine, Heather Donahue claimed that she was so horrified by the final scene, she was crying and breathing heavily long after it was shot.
29. Because so many people believed the film was real, Heather Donahue’s mom received numerous sympathetic cards and messages from fans who actually thought her daughter was dead or missing.
30. Because the film caused fans from coast-to-coast to venture into the woods hoping to film their own found-footage horror movies, forest wildlife was scared into hiding and the 1999-2000 hunting season was one of the worst on record.
31. Production company Haxan Films based its name on a 1922 silent documentary about witchcraft called Häxan, which is a Swedish word meaning “the witch.”
32. The mysterious and creepy slime on Josh’s backpack that appears in the film was merely K-Y jelly.
33. The odd runic lettering in the old house came from two separate alphabets—Hebraic and Futhark. The runes were deliberately rendered backwards, which is meant to forebode doom.
34. Because of the jittery handheld camera effect, some viewers became nauseous and even vomited. Ushers in Toronto theaters asked viewers who were subject to motion sickness to sit in aisle seats and not to “throw up on other people.”
35. The film’s DVD version contains some scenes that were not on the VHS version nor in the theatrical release.
36. The creators originally intended the film to be about three male filmmakers who were lost in the woods, but directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick were so blown away by Heather Donahue’s audition that they decided to make her the lead filmmaker and cast Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard as her assistants.
37. Around 45 minutes into the film when Heather screams, “What that fuck is that?,” she was responding to the sight of art director Ricardo Moreno, who, as a prank, was running alongside them clad in white stockings with white pantyhose pulled over his head.
38. Although the film is set in 1994, some of the cars shown in the film were not yet available that year; neither was a certain flavor of Power Bar that Mike holds up in one scene.
39. To save even more money, the producers returned one of the video cameras they’d purchased at Circuit City and got a refund. The camera that Josh had used was sold on eBay for $10,000.
40. The F word occurs a staggering 154 times in The Blair Witch Project.