Yes Virginia, There is a Blair Witch...
by Zach Garland
There may be spoilers. This article is only for those who have already seen the film: my fellow cult members.
This is perhaps an admission: I am a believer. I am now a follower of the Black Hills Cult, just as anyone who has found this film as entrancing and fascinating as I have must become a follower.
We seek an answer, long after we know the truth, we seek for something more.
I saw the film at the Inwood Theater in Dallas. The only theater in North Texas which had a copy. This theater is over fifty years old, and has its own claims to hauntings and ghostly activity. As I entered the theater I could feel a familiar chill.
The same unsettling feeling I have felt before when investigating a friend's claim that their house was haunted, or a time years ago when I visited a location others claimed was paranormal in nature. I've enjoyed exploring such claims, but despite my own desires to believe in the contrary, in the end I've always found more solid explanations for the occurrences. Still, that strange feeling would wash over me, and I got it again that night.
I went alone. Bad move. Don't see this film alone. The theater was sold out, but sitting with complete strangers while viewing The Blair Witch Project is rather unsettling.
I have seen it four times altogether, two of those four times with friends. It's a great movie to share with those closest to you: the ones in your life you would feel safest with were you found lost in a thick forest, with only a compass and a map to find your way.
The growing argument both on the 'Net and in movie theaters throughout the country is this: "Is the Blair Witch for real?"
When I was first subjected to the chilling story about three aspiring photojournalists who disappeared in the woods of Maryland, I must admit I was open-mindedly sceptical. Almost every city in America has its own stories of ghosts and hard to believe experiences.
I think I wanted to believe.
When it comes to the paranormal, I have always believed in the possibility. In high school and college I went on a few adventures of my own, seeking out some reports people made of local legends where I lived at the time. Every attempt to discover the truth to such claims of the Unknown had led to mundane answers, or the occasional "I just don't know."
Several years later, the tale of the Blair Witch rekindled that interest. It deserved a more serious examination. I could not take it at face value.
I saw the SciFi Channel special called "Curse of the Blair Witch" which was on the surface quite believable. The blairwitch.com website was also very convincing. However, further searches on the 'Net revealed interviews with the directors and other more believable information. I was almost disappointed to hear these three students were actually actors, and the entire thing was a very well done "hoax." At the same time I was relieved. Still, I had to see the film itself, because in the course of studying this phenomenon I was further intrigued by its implications.
There is something about the human mind that embraces the Unknown. The first step towards learning is to acknowledge that which you do not know. It is by that admission that we have aquired everything in our brief history on this planet from fire to spaceflight. History shows many examples of this: how mankind has responded to that vague grey line between what we accept as absolute truth and what we can't quite grasp.
In 1897 there was this little girl named Virginia O'Hanlon who had up until then believed in Santa Claus without question. However, some friends told her Santa Claus was made up. She asked her father, who told her, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." So she wrote the editor of the New York Sun, a prominent newspaper at the time. The response was unprecendented, and uncannily accurate even today.
Put yourself in the shoes of Mr. Francis P. Church, over a hundred years ago. There you are, an editor of twenty years for a dependable publication that thousands turn to every day for answers. You believe in printing the truth. It's what brings the readers back every day.
However, if you answer this little girl's question one way, though some adults would smile and nod, others would call you a liar to children and your reputation would suffer. Then again, if you answer the other way, those parents who tell their children about Santa would never trust your publication again, and would have a mess of questions to answer to from their children. You're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't.
His answer: "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
However, he was not speaking of Santa Claus as a physical entity. He was describing the values and splendor that is the spirit of Christmas. He was describing the best that rests within the breasts of each and every human being. That's what is real.
Though not tangible, we can see it every day. Whenever one performs a selfless act of generosity for another, the spirit of Santa Claus is alive and well, regardless of whether or not you believe there ever was a Saint Nicholas. The spirit of Christmas represents something that exists all the year long.
Francis P. Church faced that grey line of the unknown and embraced it, and from his words came a powerful editorial which still stands today as one of the most memorable and meaningful editorials of all time.
Sixty-one years ago this Halloween, something quite dramatically different from Virginia's little letter happened. However, it was a time when many people faced that grey line of the unknown, not with joy and selflessness, but with fear.
At the Mercury Theater in New York, a diligent group of radio performers, directed by a young Orson Welles, began a dramatization of H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds. Welles wanted the tale to be realistic. He wanted to be able to suspend his audience's disbelief and pull them into a retelling of the events that would actually stir their emotions and bring about a Halloween scare that was never done before. He and his actors did their job too well.
They preceeded their production with a disclaimer, explaining that it was merely a radio performance, and the following news bulletins and reports were fabricated. However, literally thousands of people tuned in to the broadcast too late to hear the disclaimer, and the performance was so believable, many believed the Earth was actually under attack by aliens from another planet. Those who lived in or near a small town called Grover's Mill in New Jersey were particularly in a panic that night, because (reportedly) by pure chance, it was that town that Welles chose to claim the aliens first touched down.
Orson Welles and his performers were not trying to fool the audience. They merely wanted to suspend disbelief. However, the human mind has this strange relationship with that vague grey line: we WANT to believe. We want to believe we are not alone in the universe. I would like to believe if Welles was still alive today, he would have a most joyous smile across his face, and want to meet the directors of the movie "The Blair Witch Project" personally. He'd want to shake their hand, because they did the same thing he did.
We want to believe there are entities out in space but we don't know if they will be friendly. We want to believe in the spirit of Christmas, even though no one has ever seen that jolly man in a red suit climbing down a chimney.
What is it about the Human Condition that makes us want to believe? The Blair Witch Project seems to be achieving popularity akin to the television series The X-Files, which also walked that vague grey line for several years most successfully. In fact Blair Witch may very well be drawing on the same caliber of audience: highly intelligent while simultaneously gullible.
We are the believers in the Unknown. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we still seek to find evidence to confirm something we know deep down in our hearts. There is something out there. There is something beyond that which we can see and taste and touch. We the Black Hills Cult, are Seekers of the Unexplained.
In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect. Your little friends are wrong. They think with little minds. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They only believe what they see.
The Blair Witch exists as certainly as love and fear, generosity and selfishness, devotion and loneliness exist. Oh sure, you could hire several film crews and have them seek her out, hunt her down with their cameras like she were a fawn and they were hunters, but even if you did not get the Blair Witch on tape, what would that prove? Nothing!
Not believe in the Blair Witch! You might as well not believe in aliens! No one can concieve or imagine all the wonders unseen in this boundless universe!
Grover's Mill, New Jersey. Amityville, New York. Burkittesville, Maryland. They might as well be Anytown, U.S.A. or indeed any town in the world! Because that's where the true adventure lay: inside the minds of those still walking that vague grey line.
Yes. I believe. Purely because I WANT to believe; and because I KNOW that love and fear, generosity and selfishness, devotion and lonliness DO exist. And so long as they do, so do the personfications we place upon them.
Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
Yes Heather, there is a Blair Witch.
Yes Mankind, there is something on the other side of that vague grey line: that something is you.
Zach is the mind behind Facing the Mask.