The most fascinating thing about The Blair Witch Project is the extensive mythology it spawned from nothing. Blair Witch, the 2016 sequel from filmmaker Adam Wingard, takes careful consideration to not mess with the surprisingly deep backstory created by the 1999 hit. The new movie lovingly references all of the weird and horrific legends that make up the story of the titular witch.
Here are ten of the most clever callbacks from the new movie.
The Shaky Cam
The Blair Witch Project is notorious for the extreme shaky camera work that defined the found footage genre. It’s made to look like the movie could have been shot by amateurs, found after their disappearance, and edited together, but in reality this is all done as a stylistic choice that either worked to scare the hell out of you or give you motion sickness — maybe both. Depending on which category you fall into, Blair Witch brings back the shaky-cam aesthetic and then some by giving the new characters Bluetooth earpiece cameras. This explains why the footage of their ordeal exists and gives the haphazard shakiness a nice HD sheen to scare the hell out of you while you’re puking up your lunch.
The small, real-life Maryland town is the center of the Blair Witch mythos and makes an appearance when Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and her documentary crew travel to the Black Hills in hopes of finding James’s sister Heather, the girl from the original movie who disappeared over two decades ago. In Blair Witch, we get a minuscule sliver of backstory from new character Lane about the area, which was allegedly called “Blair” in the 1700s before mysteriously being abandoned by the village’s citizens and resettled a century later to be renamed Burkittsville.
The Stick Men
An enduring symbol of the Blair Witch series, the small wooden stick figures make a return in the sequel in a wickedly clever way. The crew wakes up to find their wooded camp decorated with a bunch of simple stick men, usually signalling the presence of the Blair Witch, but soon learn Blair Witch legend fanboy Lane (Wes Robinson) and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curie) were simply pulling a dirty trick and trying to take advantage of James’s search for his sister. Later, when the haunting actually begins, Lane’s rudimentary stick men are replaced by more grotesquely ornamental stick men made of huge logs and moss that leave no doubt about who — or what — left the figures.
The Pile of Rocks
If The Blair Witch Project taught us anything, it’s that the second step of being haunted by the witch after getting a stick man surprise outside your tent is another, simpler, but even more ominous shock. Once again, the intruders in Blair Witch wake up to find strategically built piles of rocks at the opening of their tents. It’s a decidedly basic scare leftover from the low-budget original, but that’s what makes it so scarily effective.
Rustin Parr and Elly Kedward
The two key figures of the witch mythos are Rustin Parr, the fictional early 20th century serial killer who murdered seven children in his secluded Black Hills house on the instructions of the witch herself, and the 18th century Blair pariah Elly Kedward. Parr is merely mentioned in Blair Witch, but Kedward’s backstory is fleshed out a bit. According to Lane, Kedward was accused of witchcraft after taking blood from local children, and when she was found guilty, she was hung naked in a tree in the wintertime with large rocks tied to her appendages and left for dead. When the spring rolled around and the townspeople went to look for her body, it was nowhere to be found.
Heather visits the fictional Maryland landmark Coffin Rock in the original, and Lane mentions it in passing in the sequel. Vaguely related to the witch, the location was the spot of a 19th century mass murder in the Blair Witch mythos where a group of men were found bound, had pagan markings carved into their bodies, and were disemboweled on the rock. Like Kedward’s updated story, their bodies vanished when the local townspeople returned to find them.
The most surprising homage in Blair Witch is derived from the much maligned 2000 meta-sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. In that film, lead character Jeff and a group of friends go into the woods and camp out overnight near Rustin Parr’s house only to wake up the next morning with no memory of the previous night. In Blair Witch, the characters find a spot to camp and wake up the next morning at 2 p.m. without any knowledge of the missing time. The new sequel takes it one step further: once the haunting begins, the sun never rises and characters can’t explain why it’s perpetually nighttime.
The Cabin in the Woods
A trope of any great horror movie is a cabin in the woods. In Blair Witch, Rustin Parr’s house (and all those creepy child hand prints on the walls) returns, because James (James Allen McCune) is searching for Heather, whom he believes to still be in the shack somewhere. Just as the climax of the original takes place here in the basement, the characters of the new Blair Witch movie must contend with the evil spirit in the hovel’s rundown attic.
Standing in a Corner
As the legend goes, Parr took two children into the basement at a time and made one face the corner while he murdered the other. The original Blair Witch Project used this to eerie effect, ending on Mike standing in the corner while Heather screams before being murdered by who we assume is the Blair Witch. The same goes for Lisa and James in the sequel, who see their allegedly dead friends in corners of Parr’s house as they try to escape the witch.
The Blair Witch
In what has to be the ultimate easter egg, we actually get to see the witch in the sequel, though its only for a few split seconds. While the 1999 original infamously didn’t show anything, let alone the witch herself, there have been representations of her following the first movie’s success. The most blatant examples were the two designs by Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane. But here, the glimpses we get of the witch make her look like naked, gangly Slenderman.
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