Examining The Blair Witch Project as a Lovecraftian Film

[Contact Me] | [FAQ]

[Some "Dougisms" Defined]

[About Dickens of a Blog]

[Jump to Site Links]

Summary: Is The Blair Witch Project Lovecraftian? I examine some of the elements of the film that add some light to the statement, with a general nod towards the answer being 'Yes'.

BLOT: (26 Jun 2014 - 01:55:44 PM)

Examining The Blair Witch Project as a Lovecraftian Film

In a recent Reddit (specifically r/horrorlit) Ask-Me-Anything, Ramsey Campbell wrote, "I still think The Blair Witch Project is the most Lovecraftian of movies." An interesting statement. A statement that I almost overlooked until David Kidd mentioned it on Twitter, and that got me thinking. I mean, had there been one mention of a Black Man of the Woods, or strange cult rituals dedicated to the witch, or a pattern of lights seen on Potter's Hill every Walpurgis Night, then it would be fairly non-controversial, so why is it kind of weird to hear it? I'm not sure. Maybe we take the ghost of the Witch (and/or the Witch herself) as being much as what is named [if not actually described]. I don't know much about the sequel, or the videogames, or the books, or any of that—I have a feeling that they swing the movie back away from Lovecraftian—but just examining the first movie brings up some amazing parallels to Lovecraft's fiction (and to other weird fiction stories). Ready to see some of them?

This, combined with the general notion of three young people being "devoured" by the woods and/or by an unseen and unknowable assailant (who might just be locals having dangerous fun), definitely feels as though the film is trying to tap into lingering, cosmic dread. Perhaps its most brilliant stroke is that it never truly gives into the need to explain. By the end, there are perhaps more questions than at the beginning. I mean, yes, it could just be a serial killer in the woods. It could also be the ghost of an old witch, a lich, Nyarlathotep, or a hoax by the students. While the movie suffers from a being occasionally over-the-top, it really is a great example of how not to show a whole lot but to get everything you need accomplished [even leaving in mistakes, as a mostly unedited movie would have]. I need to go back and watch the "documentary" attached to it, and maybe try out the games. I'm sure they will spoil it, but the film itself has some neat tricks. Perhaps the best is that it is one of the few found-footage films that tries really hard to explain why they keep filming: because they cannot deal with what is happening to them, so the camera enables them to see themselves as just part of a project. Fascinating.

To end, I will quote from Lovecraft's "Supernatural Horror in Literature", as yet another way to think of this movie as Lovecraftian. While they never quite say aloud that they feel that natural law is being broken down, there are hints that they are mostly not saying it because admitting it would be to admit immediate death.

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

UPDATE (27 Jun 2014): when I wrote this, I purposefully avoided searching for the topic online (or looking into the expanded universe) so that I could focus on elements of the film, and my own impressions. Since then, I've done a little bit of searching and have found others that have shared my sentiments. The best one I have found so far as has been Michael D. Winkle's "Tales of the Blair Witch Mythos". He goes into detail about how the basement fits in, about masses of people/things moving in the woods, and so on. He's where the Tindalos connection was spotted. Well worth a read. Mine has some different points to his, so trust me when I say that not everything is spoiled.

UPDATE 2 (27 Jun 2014): Note, this was a mostly an exercise to find elements to back up Ramsey Campbell's claim but based on a few comments I have received, I wanted to play my own sort of Devil's Advocate briefly and to expand upon one general flavor of criticism [though constructively given, mind] that I have received. First, how is The Blair Witch Project not Lovecraftian (by at least certain definitions of the word)?: (a) It names no specific mythos entity, (b) it names no specific mythos tome, (c) it does not inherently suggest an extraterrestrial degree of cosmic dread*, and (d) the sounds in the wood are not, as it were, in the Dutch language. I do not personally think those things are necessary—"Colour Out of Space" would mostly fail based on that test, as would "The Music of Eric Zahn", "From Beyond", "Rats in the Wall", "The Picture in the House", and many other well-known Lovecraft stories—but I see how they are considered important as a marker. Secondly, to the critique that you can cherry-pick any story to make it "Lovecraftian", I'd like to point out that up until a writer/directory commentary (which may already exist) shows up saying that the movie is or is distinctly not Lovecraftian, I feel that the pattern of elements are strong enough in this case. If it hadn't involved a long history going back to near colonial times, and if it hadn't involved a rural/small-town setting, and if it hadn't involved indescribable things, and if it hadn't involved ritualistic killing, and if it hadn't involved strange sticks in the woods, and if it hadn't involved weird writing on the faces of the victims and the walls, and if it hadn't involved warping of time/space...then I wouldn't be quite so prone to take it as Lovecraftian. This does come down to what definition you want to use as "Lovecraftian" (or "Machenian" or "Blackwoodian", etc).

* though I would argue that nature in specific can be used to imply a far greater scope than shown.

Lovecraftian Miscellany


Written by Doug Bolden

For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."