Warning: Mild spoilers for the Blair Witch series ahead. I am so, so sorry.
Summer 2016 may have been rough for Hollywood blockbusters, but the horror genre managed to make it out with one of its best seasons yet. Offerings like Don't Breathe, The Shallows, Lights Out and The Conjuring 2 managed to scare up hordes of audiences while earning solid reviews from critics, proving that horror movies can have huge success outside the typical Halloween season. But that doesn't mean we aren't getting some Halloween horror this year, because one of the most frightening franchises is coming back to the big screen thanks to director Alex Wingard's Blair Witch, the third film in the Blair Witch series.
The series has had a somewhat messy history, with 1999's The Blair Witch Project bringing historic scares to audiences who thought the found-footage thriller was real, only to be followed by the lackluster Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. And the third movie was shrouded in secrecy, originally titled The Woods until a screening at this year's San Diego Comic-Con revealed it was in fact Blair Witch. But the most puzzling question of all is whether or not the new release is a sequel to previous entries or a reboot of the franchise.
Well, Blair Witch is definitely a sequel. It seems filled with connections to the first movie, but it looks like the new film will ignore almost everything we saw in Book Of Shadows. For further proof, we're investigating Blair Witch's connections to previous entries in the series. Here's to hoping we don't draw the attention of the Witch herself.
The Blair Witch Project Lays The Groundwork
- Release Year: 1999
- Directed By: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
- Starring: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams
For fans that don't recall, The Blair Witch Project follows a trio of film students as they head to the town of Burkittsville, Maryland — formerly the town of Blair — to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch for a documentary. The team of Heather, Josh and Mike start their shoot in the town itself, where they learn about murderer Rustin Parr and Elly Kedward, a woman executed for witchcraft in the 18th century who the killer claimed told him to commit his crimes. Their investigation leads the crew into the woods of Burkittsville where they uncover more clues pointing to the truth behind the legend, and one by one are picked off by the Blair Witch until the film's chilling climax.
2016's Blair Witch is basically a direct sequel to the 1999 film. The new movie is set 20 years after the original, and opens as Heather's brother James Donahue (James McCune) shows college friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) footage from his sister's doc on YouTube. He thinks the footage provides proof that Heather could still be alive, and decides to go to Burkittsville to try to find her. Lisa, an aspiring documentarian herself, joins to chronicle the journey along with their close friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid). Thankfully, they have some help from guides Talia (Valorie Curry) and Lane (Wes Robinson), a pair of Blair Witch experts who put Heather's original video online.
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Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 Follows The Hype
- Release Year: 2000
- Directed By: Joe Berlinger
- Starring: Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Stephen Barker Turner, Erica Leerhsen, and Tristine Skyler
As you probably know, The Blair Witch Project is one of the biggest box office successes of all time, with a lifetime worldwide gross of $248,639,099 on a measly $60,000 production budget. People were obsessed with the movie, wondering if the events were real or not and marveling at its radical use of the found-footage style. Naturally, Hollywood was ready to capitalize on that success, and that's why we got Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 just one year after the original's release.
The follow-up took a unique approach, set in a world where The Blair Witch Project was a real documentary. As such, Burkittsville became a tourist destination for anyone looking to get in touch with the supernatural or hunt the witch themselves. Set several years after the original film's events, the sequel follows a tour guide as he leads a pair of writers, a Wiccan and a goth around sites tied to the legend. But a series of strange events indicates that the witch is back, terrorizing the group with hallucinations and maybe even compelling them to commit horrible acts.
The premise might sound cool, but Book of Shadows ditches much of what made the first film special. The found-footage style and subtle, creepy frights are replaced by standard horror movie visuals and boring jump-scares that make this one feel like a cash-grab following the original's success. Luckily, it looks like Blair Witch basically ignores Book of Shadows, though it retains some of the film's more interesting elements. For our new characters, The Blair Witch Project is a real documentary, and just like in Book of Shadows the crew will have some help from experts inspired by the doc.
So, 2016's Blair Witch Is A Sequel, Right?
2016's Blair Witch is definitely a sequel, one that brings the story back to the roots of The Blair Witch Project while largely ignoring Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. The new movie might retain some of the interesting world-building elements of Book of Shadows, but it has its closest ties to the original, serving as a follow-up to the story 20 years later while returning the series to the found-footage style it popularized.
The trailer alone proves this one is a real sequel, with a number of nods to the original including references to the first movie's "walking in circles" scene, Heather's famous apology monologue and plenty of the Blair Witch's insidious stickmen. But a new group of victims and some updated filmmaking techniques should help Blair Witch stand apart from its predecessors, potentially setting a bold new benchmark in the world of horror. If this one's a hit, expect even more sequels in the future.
Blair Witch hits theaters on September 16. Are you excited for the horror sequel? Let us know in the comments below.