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|“||The hideous hag had wrenched the boy's head from his still-writhing body; and defiled the church with his warm blood. It was then that I noticed; a dog's tooth had sprouted from her leg. She controlled the animals of the forest - even the trees seemed to do her bidding.||„|
|~ Excerpt from The Blair Witch Cult.|
The Blair Witch (real name: Elly Kedward) is the titular main antagonist in the 1999 psychological horror film The Blair Witch Project, and its mythology. Responsible for a long string of deaths and unexplained disappearances throughout the history of Burkittsville, she remains an imposing figure in the town's folklore, maintaining long periods of dormancy - only to reemerge and claim the lives of those who make the mistake of intruding on her home in the Black Hills.
The Blair Wich's appearance varies, and it remains unknown if she possesses any kind of concrete form, or if she is capable of shapeshifting: The Blair Witch Cult claimed that she took the form of a monstrous, barely-human hag who "did not touch the ground." Rustin Parr saw her as an old woman dressed all in black who would vanish when approached. Mary Brown saw her as a naked old lady covered in thick black hair. Robin Weaver saw her as an old woman who floated rather than walked. Heather Donahue barely saw her at all, but she was seen to yell "Oh my God what the fuck is that?" while fleeing the campsite, having seen something clearly monstrous in the forest. Even the apparitions glimpsed in 2016 remain ambiguous in nature: it's never specified within the film if she is the seven-foot-tall emaciated monstrosity chasing Lisa or the faceless woman glimpsed by James; however, according to screenwriter Simon Barret, the former is just the hideously-distorted corpse of one of the Witch's previous victims, while director Adam Wingard states that the figure dressed in Heather's clothes was the Witch herself using Heather's image.
It has been speculated that the Witch herself has no real form of her own: the directors themselves have stated the spectral apparitions in all films were the Witch's tortured victims, damned to reside in the woods with the Witch being in spiritual command of them; the Witch's ghost is an invisible force which can supernaturally control the environment, possess or brainwash victims, and still possesses the necessary strength to manipulate objects and kill individuals. It could be inferred that the Witch can either possess her victims or other people. This explains that the woman referred to in The Blair Witch Cult was possessed by the Witch, and the figure James Donahue sees was his sister's remains possessed by the Witch, the latter confirmed by the director.
However, according to a deleted and unused scene in the film, the Witch was actually meant to be briefly glimpsed in the distance as a Woman in White. If this is taken to be canon, this could be suspected that the Witch really does have some kind of default form, namely the common appearance of many female spirits.
The Blair Witch's personality is similarly ambiguous, surrounded in supposition and guesswork: recorded instances of her speaking are rare, and often restricted to brief commands; more often than not she gives no hint of any emotion or opinions, and the only point when she does - via Tristen - it occurs in the highly questionable events of Book Of Shadows which appear to have been declared non-canonical. It is unknown if any of Elly Kedward's personality remains, though given that the Witch went out of the way to kill her accusers and the townsfolk who supported them, it can be assumed that she is at least capable of desiring vengeance.
Her habit of stalking and tormenting her prey for days prior to killing them (often through extremely brutal, drawn-out methods) proves that she is a sadistic individual, though the fact that she spared Heather for last has been used to support the theory that she also possesses a code of conduct requiring a very specific pattern of killings: Josh knocked over one of the cairns at the "cemetery", and thus was targeted, tortured and killed first; Heather reassembled the cairn and kissed it, thus earning a reprieve until the end. Despite the rarity of her speech on camera, she is capable of communicating directly - enough to give orders and even force individuals into her service: Lane's time in the Blair Witch's service has apparently been particularly hellish, given his demented state of mind when he meets Lisa again, implying that she has tortured him into cooperating.
Her precise motivations remain unknown, but several theories have been put forward: one states that Elly has claimed the Black Hills as her home, and will kill anyone who she believes has intruded; Bill Barnes of Curse of the Blair Witch claims that the Witch is actively creating her own mythology, periodically killing in order to keep her legend alive; another theory suggests that she is sustained by human sacrifice, waiting for 50-year periods before killing again in order to avoid frightening people away from the woods. Most unusually of all, the non-canonical Blair Witch video games claim that Elly Kedward has been subsumed by the source of her revenge on Blair - a malignant spirit known as the Hecaitomix, now determined to destroy humanity.
In life, the Blair Witch was simply a woman and Irish immigrant named Elly Kedward, who settled in the township of Blair Maryland, where several local children accused Elly of luring them to her house to draw blood from them. Following a brief trial, she was found guilty of witchcraft and banished into the surrounding forest. However, this "banishment" also featured the accused being tied to a tree deep in the woods; with Elly being quite frail by this time and having no means of freeing herself from the ropes, it was assumed that she died of exposure in the brutal winter of that year.
In some versions of the story, however, Elly's fate was far more gruesome: these legends claim that she was suspended in the branches of a tree with heavy stones tied to her limbs, leaving her in a makeshift rack stretching her arms and legs out of shape. Given that few coherent records survive from this time, it is unknown which version of events is true. Whatever the case, the villagers re-entered the forest in the spring to dispose of the accused's remains, only to find her body gone without a trace; assuming that Elly's corpse had been devoured by wolves, they thought no more of her.
However, in November 1786, her accusers began to inexplicably vanish from across the town; by the time the winter came to an end, half of Blair's children had disappeared, along with a number of other villagers. Now living in fear of the Blair Witch that Elly's ghost had become, the surviving townsfolk abandoned Blair as soon as the weather broke, leaving their homes boarded up and deserted, vowing never to speak the name of Elly Kedward ever again.
20 years later, a book titled The Blair Witch Cult was discovered, supposedly containing firsthand accounts of the Witch's reign of terror over the village. Among other things, it claimed that the "awful hag" that assaulted Blair possessed a physical body that appeared to warp and change over time - one account claiming that a dog's teeth randomly sprouted from her leg - and that when she walked, "she did not touch the ground". According to the book, she possessed the power to control the animals of the forest and even command the trees to do her bidding, and that she somehow gathered followers to act in her stead. Most notably, the book also claims that the attacks on Blair became so brazen that the Witch herself left "countless dead" littering the streets, even tearing the heads off children in the town church. However, The Blair Witch Cult is not considered a reliable text by academics, and has largely been dismissed as either an exaggeration of events or an outright lie.
After 40 years left undisturbed, the ruins of Blair were unexpectedly discovered by an off-duty worker employed in the construction of a railroad through Western Maryland; shortly after, the man brought this site to the attention of land developer Peter Burkitt, who eventually had the abandoned township reestablished and settled under the name of Burkittsville in 1824. With the railway bringing much-needed prosperity to the region and the town prospering as a result of bountiful harvests, the people of Burkittsville decided to celebrate at Tappy East Creek with a picnic in 1825; however, the festivities were unexpectedly interrupted when 10-year-old Eileen Treacle drowned in the creek.
Despite the fact that the creek was barely deep enough to wade through, the girl's body was never recovered, and witnesses claimed to have seen a pale spectral hand reach up from the water and drag the child into the creek. For thirteen days hence, the creek was contaminated by a foul oily substance, along with a number of inexplicable stick-figure totems; local ranchers quickly discovered that the oil was poisonous, prompting townsfolk to avoid the waters en mass, and even after the pollution faded away, people were intensely reluctant to go anywhere near Tappy East Creek thereafter.
At a relatively placid point in Burkittsville's history, a young girl named Robin Weaver went out unattended and got lost in the Black Hills, only to return unharmed 3 days later; she claimed she had been lured off the trail by "an old woman whose feet never touched the ground". This mysterious woman led Robin to her home deep in the forest, took her down into the basement, and told her to stay there until she returned. After some time left alone, Robin panicked and escaped via a window before the Witch could arrive back at the house, and eventually made her way back to Burkittsville.
By then, however, a search party had been sent to look for Robin and did not return. Eventually, another search party was sent out to look for them, and soon located the decomposing bodies of their predecessors deep in the Black Hills, atop the natural formation known as Coffin Rock. All five men had been bound together at the wrists and ankles to form a solid structure, all of them had been carved with indecipherable pagan symbols, and all of them had been ritualistically disemboweled. Furthermore, blood-soaked into the ropes indicated that they had been alive throughout this torture. The second search party immediately left to find the sheriff, but by the time they returned, the bodies had been removed from the rock - though law enforcement confirmed a strong smell of decomposition in the area.
From 1940 to 1941, a number of local children began to vanish from across Burkittsville, beginning with Emily Holland. In total, eight children disappeared, and no evidence could be found of who had taken them or why. However, in May 1941, eccentric hermit Rustin Parr abruptly left his solitary house in the Black Hills and arrived in town to inform all and sundry that he was "finally finished". Suspicious, police took the four-hour journey through the forest to Rustin's home, where they located the bodies of seven children - along with the only survivor of the massacre, Kyle Brodie.
According to Kyle, Rustin had taken the kidnapped children down into the basement in much the same way that Robin Weaver had been led over 50 years ago. There, he made one child face the wall while he tortured the other, apparently because he could not stand the children watching him: much like the men on Coffin Rock, the victims would be carved with pagan symbols, then disemboweled. Only Kyle was spared this treatment, the reasons for which remain unknown.
Following his arrest, Rustin confessed to his crimes without hesitation, claiming that he had murdered the children on behalf of the ghost of an old woman who lived in the woods surrounding his house, having apparently driven him insane over the course of his seclusion there. Remaining blase throughout his interrogation and trial, he remarked that the voice of the old woman would only leave him in peace if he made it clear to the world that he was responsible for the murders. Rustin Parr was hanged in November of that year, and his house was burned to the ground by an angry mob.
At or around this time, a young girl by the name of Mary Brown encountered the Witch near Tappy East Creek while playing in the forest; here, she describes her as a monstrous woman covered in coarse fur. Though Mary Brown escaped unharmed, her sighting was immediately discounted as childish imagination, and as she grew older, her insistence that she really did meet the legendary Blair Witch eventually lead the community to dismiss her as insane.
Approximately 54 years later, the Blair Witch once again returns to prominence when three Montgomery College students named Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard journey to Burkittsville in 1994 to film a documentary on the legend of the Blair Witch for a class project. Once they have finished preliminary interviews of the townsfolk - including the elderly Mary Brown - the team ventures into the woods, parking Josh's car on Black Rock Road with the intention of returning within the next two days.
Immediately after they arrive, the Witch begins stalking the group at length, subtly disrupting Josh's attempts to sleep with strange cackling noises in the middle of the night. However, it is not until the group have finished filming at Coffin Rock and moved onto the pagan "cemetery" that Mary Brown told them about that the Witch actually begins making her presence felt: not long after Josh accidentally knocks over one of the cairns at the cemetery, the other two filmmakers begin hearing noises as well - this time the sounds of cracking branches, heard from all angles.
With their filming complete, Heather leads the group on a path that should take them back to their car, but the Witch once again intervenes, subtly leading the students off their exit route. Cohesion among the group begins to break down, eventually leading Mike to kick the group's map into Tappy East Creek in a fit of temper - unknown to the rest of the group until much later. Unable to reach their car before nightfall, the three are forced to make camp, and are once again tormented by the increasingly loud noises echoing through the forest.
Upon awakening, they find that their tent has been surrounded by three stone cairns, as if marking them for death; following the discovery of what happened to the map, the group stumbles upon a clearing full of the Witch's stick-figure totems, leaving them even more disoriented and afraid than before. That evening, the Witch attacks the group directly, mimicking the voices of her younger victims as she assaults the group's tent, forcing them to flee into the night.
After several terrified hours spent outside, the group make their way back to their camp at dawn to find that the Witch has left their tent and equipment in shambles; for good measure, she has also smeared a strange blue slime all over Josh's belongings. Though delayed by arguments and stress, the three are eventually able to continue their southerly progression - right up until it becomes clear that they have been walking in circles, having presumably been led astray by the Witch's powers, and have ended up at a river crossing they took earlier that day. Completely broken by this revelation, the filmmakers once again dissolve into arguments, and despairingly decide to make camp.
That night, the Witch abducts Josh; it is unspecified how she accomplished this, given that no signs of a struggle are found anywhere in or around their tent, so it's possible she lured him away from the camp before capturing him. After allowing his friends the following day to panic over his disappearance, she then proceeds to gut him over the course of the evening, torturing Heather and Mike with his screams. The next morning, the Witch leaves a bundle of sticks outside their tent: upon unwrapping it, Heather finds the butchered remains of human gums, teeth, and hair, along with several blood-soaked scraps of Josh's shirt.
On the very last night, the Witch mimics Josh's voice to lure Heather and Mike away from their camp and into Rustin Parr's house, somehow still standing despite having been burned to the ground four decades prior. Recording almost on instinct at this point, the two continue shooting as they search the building - Mike using the group's camcorder, Heather operating the 16mm camera - but find the building apparently deserted: apart from a series of arcane runes carved into the walls and the handprints of children smeared over almost every surface, no sign of human life can be found. With the two almost on the verge of hysteria, the Witch is easily able to separate them by mimicking Josh's voice, prompting Mike to follow it down to the basement, leaving Heather alone upstairs while the Witch herself attacks the lone sound technician: though she never once appears on camera, something clearly knocks Mike's camcorder out of his hands.
Moments later, Heather is seemingly forced down the stairs against her will, for while she is audibly screaming in blind panic, her descent appears incongruously slow and measured - as if someone else is holding the camera. The last recognizable sight she records is Mike, standing in a corner of the basement in a similar fashion to the Rustin Parr murders; a moment later, the Witch kills her - the 16mm camera capturing a blurry view of what might be Heather's body lying at the base of the stairs before the film jitters to a halt. Though Mike's death is not witnessed, it can be presumed from the pattern of the Rustin Parr killings that he was executed by the Witch immediately afterwards.
Back in Burkittsville, a search for the three students begins, but despite the best efforts of the local police and numerous volunteers from the community, nothing is found of the trio except for Josh's car - still parked on Black Rock Road despite the filmmakers' best attempts at returning to it.
The following year, the trio's footage and personal effects are found by an anthropological research team working in the area, having been buried under a crude stone wall that had once been part of an 18th century house. The head of the team expresses confusion over how these items came to be here: burying these items and reassembling the wall exactly the way it had been before would have been difficult, and doing so without disturbing the layers of charcoal and soil under it would have been impossible, given that these layers had been at the site since the colonial era. After a sustained forensic investigation in which both the 16mm and camcorder footage are studied at length, the police find no conclusive information on what became of the missing filmmakers. Eventually, the footage is made available to the public and released as a feature film.
The Blair Witch Project gains something of a following, with many tourists venturing into the Black Hills in the hopes of finding the truth. One such tour group consists of Stephen Parker and his pregnant wife Tristen, who are researching the Blair Witch for a book they are writing; Erica Geerson, a Wiccan; Kim Diamond, a goth psychic; and Jeff Patterson, their local tour guide. That night, they black out following an argument with another tour group, and awake to find that their cameras have been destroyed, their tapes are missing (eventually found buried under the ground), Stephen's research has been shredded, and Tristen has suffered a miscarriage.
After Tristen is discharged from the hospital, the group heads to Jeff's house, where they experience strange visions and find hours of missing footage from their tapes. Erica begins behaving oddly, inexplicably manifesting rash-like symbols and proclaiming the group to be marked for death; she soon turns up dead in a closet, but when they call her parents, they claim not to have a daughter. Looking over the lost footage, the surviving team-members play the tapes in reverse to view the lost footage. The new footage shows Tristen leading them in an orgy, followed by the ritualistic murder of the other tour group. Once the video ends, Jeff begins taping Tristen and demands a confession, believing that she is possessed by the Blair Witch. She asks Stephen for help, but he claims that she deliberately killed their baby, so she ties a rope around her neck and goads Stephen until he shoves her over the balcony, breaking her neck
After this, Kim, Stephen and Jeff are interrogated by police in separate rooms and show separate tapes. In Kim's room, they play security footage from a local store of her stabbing the cashier in the neck with a nail file. In Jeff's video, he kills Erica, arranges Erica's clothes and stows her dead body in the closet. In Stephen's video, they show him lynching Tristen, accusing her of every death that surrounds them and cursing her as a witch. All three claim they never did any of those things.
To date, it is still unknown if the group was possessed by the Blair Witch or simply acting under the influence of the drugs and alcohol they consumed on the night of the murders.
20 years after the disappearance of the three college students, Heather Donahue's brother James unexpectedly discovers a new lead in discovering his sister's whereabouts: a youtuber living in Burkittsville has uncovered a stockpile of footage in the Black Hills woods and uploaded it to the Internet; the video is POV footage featuring a woman fleeing through a ruined building similar to the house encountered at the end of the original Blair Witch Project, and though the video is only a few seconds long, the camera operator happens to run past a mirror - and James believes he recognizes Heather's reflection.
Convinced that his sister might well be alive, James and his friends - Peter, Ashley and Lisa - journey into Burkittsville in the hopes of finding her, with Lisa intending to record the search for a documentary. Equipped with headset cameras, walkie-talkies, GPS trackers and an aerial drone, they have everything they need to ensure that they don't get lost. Along the way, they make contact with Lane, the youtuber who found the footage; an aficionado of Blair Witch lore, he offers to show James where he found the footage - so long as they allow him and his sister Talisa to tag along for the rest of the trip, on the grounds that they know the Black Hills area well. Out of ideas, the group reluctantly agrees.
The journey into the Black Hills gets off to a rocky start, with Lane's obsessive demeanor clearly rubbing Peter the wrong way, and the mystery of how the new footage ended up buried under a tree in the middle of nowhere only makes the situation more frustrating. Worse still, Ashley manages to tread on a piece of glass while crossing Tappy East Creek, and though she's well enough to walk once her wound's been cleaned, it continues to irritate her as time goes on. When they eventually stop to make camp, the group trade stories of the Blair Witch's legend and its role in the area's history: in particular, Lane remarks that the Blair Witch is supposedly so monstrous that looking directly at her can kill instantly.
During the night, the group awake to the sound of breaking twigs echoing in the distance, similar to those heard on Heather's footage of the first few nights - though this time accompanied by unearthly creaking noises. Though a panic is raised concerning Lane's sudden absence from the group, it soon turns out that he just strayed from the campsite to take a leak, and returns spooked and excited by the noises heard. As with their counterparts in 1994, the group see nothing overtly disturbing or supernatural on this first night.
For some reason (implied to be the Witch's magic) the group somehow sleep through their alarms, instead not waking until 2:00 pm in the afternoon. More disturbingly, they find that a number of small stick-figure totems have been hung on the trees over their tents. However, Lisa uncovers a reel of twine in Lane's backpack similar to the kind used to make the stick-figures, and Lane confesses to building the ones found over their tents in a botched attempt to get the group to believe in the Blair Witch. In the ensuing argument, Lane tries to storm off - only to sheepishly return when he realizes that unlike the rest of the group, he and Talisa have no GPS to guide them; as he admits, he doesn't know the woods as well as he claimed, and only ever traveled as far the tree where the footage was found. Trust between the two groups breaks down completely when it turns out that the video footage could only have been shot using Lane's old camera, and the confrontation ends with the two siblings being chased off by Peter.
Resolving to abandon the search, the group follow the path back towards the boundary fence. Unfortunately, despite making full use of the GPS, they are led around in a circle in much the same way as Heather and the others were back in 1994, and ultimately find themselves right back at the campsite. Ashley soon succumbs to the growing pain in her foot, forcing the group to make camp again; close examination reveals that the wound has become infected, and Peter seems to record something moving under Ashley's flesh. Even worse, Lisa's attempts at finding a way out via the drone fail when it malfunctions in mid-flight, crash-landing somewhere out of reach.
That evening, Peter leaves the camp to find firewood, only to for the Witch to give chase, pursuing him through the woods until a tree suddenly collapses on him. Pinned to the ground, Peter tries to call for help, but the walkie-talkie proves useless; by the time James goes to investigate the noise, Peter is gone - presumably killed on the spot and dragged away.
Soon after, Talisa and Lane arrive back at the campsite, filthy and barely-coherent, claiming to have been lost in the woods for five days - and that neither of them have seen sunrise in all that time. Believing the camp to be a hallucination, Lane flees, leaving a badly-traumatized Talisa to take up residence with the remnants of the group as they turn in for the night.
When they awake at 7:00 AM the next morning, they find that the sun has not risen and the woods are still pitch-black. More alarmingly, their campsite is now surrounded by dozens of stick-figure totems, some clearly made from small trees. More disturbingly, one of them has been tied with locks of Talisa's hair. Delirious and believing that this is another one of Lane and Talisa's pranks, Ashley snaps the offending totem in half - only for the "voodoo doll" to gruesomely fold Talisa in two, killing her instantly.
In the panic that follows, invisible forces assault the campsite, flinging tents into the air and forcing the group to run for their lives. Ashley ends up separated from James and Lisa and all but crippled by the wound on her foot - which now sports a tree root burrowing up through her leg. Elsewhere, the other two surviving film-makers try to find her, but the Witch is able to further demoralize them by using Peter's voice to call them via the walkie-talkies, providing disturbing messages that only leave them even more bewildered than before. Some distance away, Ashley belatedly finds the aerial drone lodged in the branches of a tree. Likely in a desperate attempt to find some way out of the forest, she climbs the tree to retrieve it; despite her worsening condition, she actually gets within arm's reach of the drone - only for a spectral hand to dislodge her from the upper branches, sending her plummeting to her death. Just out of view, the witch drags her body away.
Now caught in a storm that seems to have come quite literally out of nowhere, James and Lisa find Rustin Parr's house, inexplicably standing less than ten feet from the fallen tree where Lane found the footage; though Lisa is too afraid to enter, James hears Heather's voice screaming from the second floor and charges in. Running through corridors and rooms that don't seem to fit the confines of the building, James follows the voice, catching brief glimpses of spectral figures scurrying in and out of doorways as he does so, along with a brief vision of Peter facing the wall. Eventually, the trail ends in a room where he finds himself face-to-face with a shadowy entity: it appears to be dressed in the tattered remains of Heather's jacket, but her face seems composed of little more than featureless shadows.
Outside, Lisa catches a brief glimpse of a hideous, emaciated creature striding through the forest towards her, and flees inside. Descending into the basement, she is confronted by Lane: despite having only been in the forest for a few days, he has visibly aged by decades. Now barely sane and seemingly enslaved by the Witch, he claims that "you have to do what she says", and locks Lisa in an underground passageway, forcing her to crawl through the tunnels while pursued by the monster. Upon escaping, she is once again attacked by Lane, but Lisa kills him in self-defence with her knife.
Briefly reunited, James and Lisa are herded into the attic, where they force themselves into a corner and avert their eyes from the approaching monster - believing that looking away will protect them from it. However, the Witch then mimics Heather's voice, and the hopelessly-obsessed James turns around, resulting in his immediate death. Alone, Lisa begins backing out of the attic, using the camera to guide her footsteps; however, just as she is about to escape, the Witch uses James voice, prompting Lisa to turn around - whereupon she dies instantly.
In hindsight, it becomes apparent that the woman glimpsed in the mirror during the introduction was not Heather at all: it was actually Lisa, fleeing through the house while carrying Lane's discarded camera. Just as Heather and Josh's original footage was found in the foundations of a colonial-era house, the footage of Lisa and James' expedition was transported backwards in time to the tree where Lane found it.
- The Blair Witch is inspired by the real woman Moll Dyer who lived in Leonardstown, USA. She was accused of being a witch.
- The Blair Witch is one of the few villains to not gain infamy from her body count, but rather the reputation, fear and horror she inspires from her name alone.
- There is a theory that she actually doesn't exist and what is actually going on is Josh and Mike attempting to murder Heather.