Susan Granger’s review of “THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT” (Artisan Entertainment)

On October 21, 1994, three young film-makers hiked into the Black Hills Forest of Maryland to shoot a documentary about the local legend of the Blair Witch. They were never seen or heard from again. One year later, their footage was found. This film is their legacy, we’re told, documenting what happened in the woods. Heather Donahue sets the stage by interviewing residents about the spooky folktale that involves mysterious disappearances and evidence of gruesome torture. Her two male companions, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams, trudge along. Terror strikes on the second night when they hear snapping twigs and branches that sound like people circling their tent – and then they find a hank of hair ritualistically tied with blood and human tooth. “I’m scared to close my eyes. I’m scared to open them,” she says, as the fear builds. While the twisted conclusion is not as horrific as you might expect, it’s ambiguous enough to keep you talking after the show’s over. The story behind this low-budget, counterfeit chiller is: writer-director-editors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez hired three actors and sent them into the woods for eight days to improvise the picture. Certain destination points and encounters were scripted, others definitely weren’t. Therefore, the images you see on the screen are often crude and jiggly – due to the hand-held camera. Nevertheless, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Blair Witch Project” is a goose-bumply, spine-tingling, scary 7. This creepy, clever, edge-of-your-seat thriller succeeds because it plays on your imagination, your fear of the dark and the unknown and the unseen, as opposed to showing graphic displays of violence and brutality. What you create in your mind is far more terrifying than anything someone can do with special effects.