`Blair Witch Project' revisits Burkittsville

Residents decry plans for sequel, send heads of studio running

February 16, 2000|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

BURKITTSVILLE -- The folks in this farm country hamlet south of Frederick have had as much as they can take of the attention generated by the film "Blair Witch Project." The last thing they want is to see things stirred up again by a sequel.

Accordingly, they sent the producers of "Blair Witch Project 2" packing from a town meeting Monday, hurling insults after them.

Yesterday, only a few residents of this town of 200 at the base of South Mountain would discuss the fracas, and most who did talk wouldn't give their names.

"We have incurred costs because of the publicity from this movie, while its backers have made obscene profits," said a woman who lives in a Civil War-era brick house with a mural of an angel and the word, "Welcome" painted over the front door. "I'm not going to get in the middle of another media frenzy."

Another woman who wouldn't give her name worried that film crews would be back in the town's cemetery just behind St. Paul's Lutheran Church.

"I just bought a plot up there and I don't want them filming my tombstone," she said. "They don't have any business exploiting us. It's a breach of common courtesy."

The movie is a mock documentary of three film students who set out to find the fictional "Blair Witch" who killed children in the forests of nearby South Mountain and never were heard from again. It was summer's sleeper hit, posting $140 million at the box office.

And although only a few scenes were shot here, the town so tiny that you can walk from one end to the other in 15 minutes became a magnet for tourists and curiosity seekers who flocked here from all over the country.

Some residents cashed in

The "Welcome to Historic Burkittsville" sign that appears in one of the opening scenes was stolen, the cemetery was vandalized and residents were harassed.

"They'd come along and be peeking in people's windows, asking them where the witch lived. There were even people holding candlelight vigils in the cemetery for the dead children," said a man who would only identify himself as the town historian. "And they wouldn't believe it was fiction."

Local parents were rattled last fall when a strange man videotaped children.

"There was fear it was some kind of copy cat," said Lisa Cook, the only resident who would give her name.

It isn't that some people didn't benefit from the movie, selling "Witch Way to Burkittsville" T-shirts, postcards that warn "They ain't got no witches" here, bundles of sticks tied in the form of the icons from the movie and mock maps with a warning not to lose them -- referring to a plot twist.

But most of the residents are weary of the whole thing, said Cook, who lives in a rambling yellow brick house. .

Artisan Entertainment and Haxan Films announced last month they would begin filming "Blair Witch Project 2" in March, for release in the fall.

But when the producers arrived at a town meeting Monday to pitch an idea of filming residents talking about the impact the original movie had on the town, they were repeatedly interrupted and insulted until they finally walked out.

"We've already been raped, now they want us to be prostitutes," shouted Sam Brown, a former town councilman.

Brown refused to comment yesterday. His wife, Joyce Brown, the mayor, said she "can't comment" because she "hasn't been able to contact anyone today."

`They're done'

Joe Berlinger, the director, who said Monday using the interviews at the beginning of the new movie could be "a positive thing," could not be reached yesterday.

Paul Pflug, a spokesman for Artisan, said yesterday he could not discuss shooting locations.

"There was talk of shooting around Burkittsville, but nothing's been confirmed on that."

But the man who calls himself the historian insisted the townspeople don't want the film crew back. "The decision's been made. They're done."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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