‘The Blair Witch Project’ Was Nearly a Cinematic Universe

You cannot talk about the wave of found footage horror movies over the last decade without thinking back to the film that kicked off the craze. While not the first movie to utilize that style, The Blair Witch Project was a small film with a tiny budget that ended up changing the course of horror for several years. While the two ensuing films never found that same success, the original makers dreamed of a cinematic universe before that became the craze, as well. 

Heather Donahue, close up, crying
Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project | Getty Images

What is the Blair Witch Project

Part of The Blair Witch Project’s appeal was the shroud of mystery that overtook it. The actors played fictionalized versions of themselves and did not go on press tours to keep in the spirit of the fake documentary inside of it. Furthermore, with so little known about the project and an internet that was still relatively young, it utilized a viral campaign to add to the mystery. 

While the film earned its merits as a work of art alone, it also showed the power of the internet and how it could guide people to the theaters and mislead it in the process. Its entire premise banked on the idea that this could be real or fake, but the film never fully admitted that the whole thing was staged. After it became a hit, however, this became the appeal. 

Directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick made a straightforward film drenched in lore ripe for a new interpretation. While this lore is never fleshed out in the first movie, the pair had big dreams about how they could do so in the future. Some of these may have gone into the two poorly-reviewed sequels, but others never saw the light of day. 

The Blair Witch universe

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The original film drew inspiration from several genres, both in and out of horror. In creating the film, Sanchez and Myrick wanted all of this to be evident in the first film, but in others that they planned on making in the future. With such rich mythology in their heads, they had a whole universe of exciting ideas. Speaking on this, Myrick laid out some of these ideas to The Week:

“For me, there’s still so much to mine from the Blair mythology. The problem is that it’s a unorthodox approach to making sequels. I really love the idea of doing a Rustin Parr story. We even talked about shooting it in all black and white, like a vintage ’40s era horror movie that’s all about the Rustin Parr abductions. One could say, ‘Oh, this is a Blair Witch movie,’ but it wouldn’t be called Blair Witch: Rustin Parr.

In the original movie, Parr is a man who killed his children and blamed otherworldly presences for doing so. However, this idea went far beyond one character or idea. 

Myrick went on to say, “There’s plenty to explore. It just requires stepping out of the normal construct of sequel mentality and having some real creative fun with it. We intentionally threw in really creepy stories. Every 40 or 50 years, something really dramatic happened in and around those woods, and each one of those could be a movie.” (per The Week)

Blair Witch’s lasting legacy

Twenty-one years after the original film’s release, and it remains in the lexicon. However, Sanchez and Myrick have since moved on. Both have worked on plenty of projects away from the franchise, but when Lionsgate rebooted the franchise in 2016, neither was involved. The film was a minor success but failed to do even a fraction of the original’s $250 million gross on a $200,000 budget.

With a recent video game and Halloween horror in full spring, however, the original film still resonates with many people decades later. Had executives played their cards right, they might have even had the genre’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.