Now, The Blair Witch Project is famous, for better or worse, as the film that ignited a new found-footage horror boom that hit the stratosphere a decade later with Paranormal Activity. When the film came out, though, it was famous for being really profitable (which is not debatable) and really scary (which is), particularly in light of its shoestring budget.
Blair Witch's use of next to no money to create a creepy atmosphere is famous and pretty well-documented, from the filmmakers making noises at night to scare the cast to using real teeth in that bundle in the aftermath of Josh's abduction. It's all topped off by that now-iconic, thoroughly memed ending, featuring Mike standing in the corner as Heather screams and then presumably falls. As careful viewers knew, this mirrored the killing ritual of the murderous hermit Rustin Parr, who once lived in the house, sealing the fates of both intrepid documentarians.
“Our big struggle with the movie was always how to end it,” co-director Eduardo Sanchez recently told Entertainment Weekly. “We didn’t have any money, so we couldn’t do any special effects so we had to figure out how to end it without ruining the rest of the film. We came up with the idea three days before we shot it. We thought it was great — kind of unexplained, but it gave you the idea that something supernatural was happening.”
It's a chilling moment for many, and even if it didn't scare you, you probably at least found it memorable. It almost didn't happen that way, though. At least, not by the time the film was set to make its way into theaters.
Though test screening audiences did find the ending of the film scary, they also found it confusing, leading executives at Artisan Entertainment to request some alternatives that might prove "more definitive" for viewers. So, Sanchez and co-director Daniel Myrick took a small crew back out into the woods and shot different versions of Mike's final moments onscreen, including Mike with a bloody chest, Mike strung up from a noose, and Mike pinned to a giant version of the film's iconic stick man. When they came back, the directors continued to fight for their original ending.
“What makes us fearful is something that’s out of the ordinary, unexplained,” Myrick said. “The first ending kept the audience off balance; it challenged our real world conventions and that’s what really made it scary.”
The filmmakers got their way, but with one added scene that made the final moment less confusing for eventual theatrical audiences.
“There was one additional pickup,” Sanchez said. “We shot an interview with a guy where he explains a little bit of the mythology of the killer Rustin Parr; how he would make one kid stand in the corner while he killed the others. We felt that if we stuck it in early in the movie there was going to be some audience members that would connect it to the ending.”
So, the more ambiguous ending won out, and a landmark horror film was born. Oh, and there's one more interesting footnote to the tale. Apparently, after they got their ending, one executive told Myrick and Sanchez that their choice would cost the film "millions." The Blair Witch Project went on to earn nearly $250 million at the box office from a budget of about $60,000, and that's 1999 movie ticket money we're talking about. Who knows, though? Maybe there's an Earth 2 version of the film that made even more money.
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