‘The Blair Witch Project’ Stars Had No Clue About This Famous Scene Until They Saw It In Theaters

The Blair Witch Project is not the first-ever found-footage film, but it is arguably the most iconic. The 1999 horror-mystery flick put the genre on the map through innovative filmmaking techniques, skilled actors, and eerily realistic content. 

In the movie, three film students journey into Maryland’s remote mountains to produce a documentary about the Blair Witch urban myth. During their hike, they experience a series of terrifying events, which they capture on camera. The film abruptly ends after an unseen force violently attacks the trio. One year later, the recordings are recovered and released in theaters as The Blair Witch Project.

Heather Donahue in 'The Blair Witch Project'
Heather Donahue in ‘The Blair Witch Project’ | Lauren Film/Getty Images

Found footage films can be frighteningly realistic

A found footage film like The Blair Witch Project employs techniques that give the illusion of discovered recordings — typically of a disaster, mystery, or terrifying occurrence. Shaky camera work by one or more actors adds to the unpolished effect needed to simulate found footage style material.

Eli Roth’s History of Horror Season 2 Episode 6, “Nine Nightmares,” sites Cannibal Holocaust as the first found footage motion picture. The gruesome content was so believably executed that audiences were certain it was a documentary rather than a fictional depiction of violence. 

In fact, as Roth notes, authorities charged Ruggero Deodato, the director of the film, with the murder of several Cannibal Holocaust stars. Of course, Deodato was acquitted once he arrived in court with the unharmed actors who were once thought to be his victims.

The Blair Witch Project had a similar effect on audiences, giving the false impression that the events depicted in the film actually happened.

The most iconic found footage scene was a secret to 2 stars of ‘The Blair Witch Project’

RELATED: ‘The Blair Witch Project’ Actors Were Just As Surprised As the Audience — Filmmakers Kept Scary Details Secret While Filming

Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard were the principal actors and camera operators for The Blair Witch Project. Leonard appeared in Eli Roth’s History of Horror Season 2 Episode 4, “Witches,” to discuss the production.

The star admitted that he and his co-stars, were unaware of what scares the directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, had planned during filming. “We knew we were going to encounter things,” said Leonard. “We just didn’t know what those things were going to be.”

Leonard also divulged that he and Williams were totally in the dark about what has become the most iconic scene in the movie — Heather’s tearful video confession. In the scene, the once spirited neophyte documentarian descends into despair, desperation, and dread. 

Heather sobs into her handheld camera, “I’m scared to close my eyes. I’m scared to open them. I’m gonna die out here.”

Regarding his co-star’s chilling display of emotion, Leonard said, “Without Heather’s monologue in that weird framing of that shot, I don’t think the film works. I think that very iconic moment made the film, and added so many stakes and much relatability to the film. And Mike and I had no idea that she filmed that until we saw it for the first time in the theater.”

‘The Blair Witch Project’ fooled audiences into believing the hype

RELATED: 5 Disturbing Horror Movie Scenes That You Just Can’t Unsee

The filmmakers behind The Blair Witch Project created a remarkably convincing narrative on a shoestring budget of just $60,000, as noted by the “Witches” episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror. In a stroke of genius, they executed a marketing blitz that touted the film as a true story. 

During the Blair Witch segment on Eli Roth’s History of Horror, film scholar Tananarive Due weighed in on the phenomenon.

“From the very beginning, the interviews with the townspeople are all credible,” observed Due. “These don’t look like actors. These look like just people you would meet on the street. And that crew is every bit as annoying as you might imagine a crew in real life might be. ”

The cinema expert continued, saying, “The special effects, if you want to call it that — rocks and twigs, you know, and things hanging in the woods — are so simple that they feel true. They don’t feel like something that a set designer is going to come up with.”

Due’s analysis is dead on. The performances, props, and camerawork were so realistic that the actors’ parents received condolence calls, according to what Leonard told The Guardian. But as convincing as The Blair Witch Project is, fans will be happy to know that the actors are alive, well, and still racking up on-screen credits

Follow Erika Delgado on Twitter.