I’ve had the opportunity to explore a number of unique places over the years, but one of my all-time favorite trips occurred back in 2005 when my girlfriend and I ventured off to Maryland in search of the locations used in filming of The Blair Witch Project.
The Blair Witch Project was released into movie theaters in 1999 following—what I believe—the first ever successful viral internet marketing campaign. I remember talking about the film with a guy at work and he had been convinced that it was real—I guess he didn’t see the 555 area code listed as the phone numbers? I managed to get pretty excited about the film from the website and especially the fake documentary that aired on the Sci-Fi channel prior to the release. What really got me excited was the amount of effort the guys put into this thing on a shoestring budget.
In 2000, I bought my first DVD player and The Player Witch Project was the first DVD that I owned. I’ll never forget how fun it was sitting in my bedroom with the lights off watching it on my little 19” television.
Over the years, I revisited the film. I watched it multiple times and several times with the filmmaker commentary track. I was really impressed with the story behind the film. The amount of effort and dedication these guys put into create the history and mythos behind the movie was fascinating. To see a group of friends get together and create such an interesting product was refreshing and even inspiring.
A couple of years later, the sequel was released. I knew I’d be disappointed, but I went to the store on the day it was released to buy a copy. It wasn’t as horrible as many would lead you to believe, but it certainly didn’t have the fresh allure that the original had. I enjoyed the concept, but thanks to the commentary track, I learned that it was the studio that opted to hack it up and essentially ruin the idea the Joe Berlinger had.
In the spring of 2005, my girlfriend and I were lounging around watching The Blair Witch Project while indulging in some cocktails. We coined the idea of driving down to Maryland to see if we could find the locations they filmed the movie at. So for the next few days I scoured the internet and found plenty of information that pointed me in the right direction. Turns out that a lot of other people had taken the same trip and provided some basic instructions on how to get to the various spots. After burning through some printer ink, we decided to head out the next weekend.
The first thing I learned was that the film was not shot within Burkitsville—only a small sequence was filmed there. You may remember the scene towards the beginning where Heather is standing in front of the small sign for Burkitsville while talking about all the dead children being buried there. The bulk of the film was filmed in Seneca Creek Forest which is about an hour away.
When we got to Burkitsville, I stopped the car right in front of the sign to snap a picture. It was basically the same exact spot that was used in the film. I remember that the roads leading into Burkitsville were regular paved roads, but the roads inside of the town were all brick. That made for a very unpleasant drive. I jokingly made the comment that they probably resurfaced the roads like that help keep people like us from touring around town.
Next, we headed off to find Black Rock Road, about an hour away. The drive seemed to be a lot longer than an hour, probably due to my excitement. Along the way, we stopped off at a Bob Evans restaurant. That was also the LAST time that I ever at one of their establishments. The food was horrible! The biscuits were so hard, I could have easily thrown one through the window. I did not leave a tip that day. We got back in the car and continued the journey. I remember going past a large plant that makes English muffins when a car pulled up next to us. The passenger in the car signaled for me to roll down the window, which I did. Turns out they were lost and needed some directions. Being from out the area, I had no clue what to tell them.
These were the days before I had GPS. All of our trips were planned with the aid of only a map. We had this one map of Pennsylvania and Maryland and used to put X’s on different locations we went to. I wish I knew whatever happened to that map. I got pretty good with map reading. We took a lot of trips that way. Now days we’re kind of spoiled with the digital guidance system on the dash.
As we continued driving, the open fields and housing developments slowly faded and the woods started to consume our view. I carefully inspected every intersection looking for the Black Rock Road sign. After more driving, I spotted it.
This was the main road the cast drove down when the film started. I was surprised as how many houses lined the first part of the road, but after a while they dwindled. I remember coming around a turn and hitting a straight stretch only to see the little red shed. We had successfully navigated the identical route as the cast.
A little bit further up the road we found the turn off where they parked the car. I pulled my Pontiac in the spot to mimic how they parked in the film. We walked back a bit and snapped a quick picture. We then walked back up the road towards the little shed for a few more picture. After that, we went back to the car.
From my research, I learned that in the movie, they started down the wrong path. They were supposed to go across a little bridge and head up a second path instead of the route they took. I made sure we took the right one.
While walking out the path, I remember seeing a lot of strange trees. They had weird knots in them. I took a picture of one that looked almost like a heart. We continued up the path and started to hear voices. In the sequel, there was a scene where a tour group is leading a multi-cultural group around the woods and there were these two Asians—I made the joke that it was probably Asian tourists in the woods with us. About 30 seconds later, an Asian couple comes down the path.
We eventually made it out to the location dubbed ‘Coffin Rock’ and snapped more pictures. We walked around for a while longer and then eventually made our way back to the car. Just up the road from the pull off there was an old building. I have no idea what it was, but it kind of reminded of the setting for the sequel.
That was the first time I had actually gone to a place like that—where a movie had been filmed. It was a pretty cool experience. When we got home, I developed the film right away and then put the pictures together in a little frame with a note that marked the date we went on the trip. It’s hanging up in my living room right now. Directly next to it is my homemade stickman that I crafted later that summer while on a camping trip.
In 2012, I made it out to Evans City, PA where the opening sequence for the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead was filmed. I’ll post these pictures here another time.