‘I WAS eight years old when The Blair Witch Project came out, so I’ve always been called Blair Witch.’
So said US filmmaker Blair Bathory. She was over this month making a documentary called Guernsey Folklore And Hauntings, invited by local filmmakers Charlotte Potter and Lars Janssen who were co-producing and filming some behind-the-scenes footage of the visit.
‘I’m originally from Florida and I grew up on the beach,’ she said as we spoke at the Priaulx Library. ‘Guernsey reminds me so much of home – it’s the smell of the ocean.
‘Actually, this whole trip is surreal. I started off with a Hi8 camera, just like Lars has, when I was eight years old.
‘I dropped out of high school when I was 16 and went to art school. I wanted to be a filmmaker, especially horror. It’s in my blood. My father was a television journalist and was at the scene of some of the Dennis Rader murders and he was also a tornado chaser. So I grew up with a lot of that in me.’
She worked on film sets from the age of 14 and at 21 she directed (and wrote) her first horror film, First Date: A Modern Love Story. Kitty, Kitty followed in 2013.
‘I ended up in LA in my early 20s making documentaries about subjects such as body modification and weed. And from there back to Florida.’
She moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 2015 and became a genuine ‘horror host’ in the (open) vein of Vampira and Elvira, fronting the anthology series, Fear Haus, which featured short horror films from all over the world. She also acted in a couple of short films, including Gwilliam and Cracks.
Blair left the series in 2021 and in the same year visited the Graveface Museum in Savannah, Georgia.
‘This museum has artefacts from cult leaders and serial killers and I shot a video and put it on TikTok. It got 9,000 views within 24 hours.
‘I thought, “Wait a minute, I’ve got something here”. I’d always found solace walking in graveyards, but I’d never filmed it.’
There followed posts that took in everything from the University of Texas tower shooting through serial killer murder locations to haunted houses.
Blair and fellow writer/producer Jed Shepherd (Host, Dashcam) then embarked on an epic road trip documenting some of America’s most infamous horror film locations. It concluded in March this year in Maryland where they filmed the mini-documentary, Return To Burkittsville – 23 Years Of The Blair Witch Project.
A labour of love for Blair.
‘Not only did we interview the original cast but we were taken on a guided tour of the town by a man who knows the movie better than anyone. For us both, it was probably the most influential movie.’
The 25-minute documentary can be seen on YouTube.
One particular post Blair put on Twitter about the supposedly haunted Collingwood Performing Arts Centre in Toledo, Ohio, garnered some particular attention.
‘It was Lars in Guernsey and he said: “You should make a movie about this – I will help you.”’
Blair decided to visit Guernsey during a round trip to the UK and Europe. Before that, however, she and her assistant, Britney, whom she met on a horror film set, visited Salem, Massachusetts, scene of the 1692 witch trials.
‘We met an archaeologist who took us into a cave – a real Tomb Raider moment – and visited the real physical locations of the trials and hangings.’
From Salem it was on to Ireland, where Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain. The old Irish for ‘summer’s end’, Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the start of the New Year.
‘I admit I had never heard of Guernsey before Lars and Charlotte got in touch. And it’s a true testament to their ability that they had an incredible itinerary of places to visit. I didn’t have to do much thinking about coming.’
That itinerary included the Guernsey Underground Hospital, Castle Cornet, the Benedictine Priory on Lihou Island, La Catioroc, the Table des Pions (Fairy Ring), the Dehus Dolmen and La Gran’mere du Chimquiere (outside St Martin’s Church).
‘We had a young woman who speaks Guernsey French and we got some great audio of her saying a witch’s curse in Guernsey French.
‘But my favourite had to be the carving in the tomb of the bearded man [Dehus Dolmen]. I have never seen anything like that before. It was quite spiritual. To see something like that, and have a reverie, is very moving.’
At the Priaulx, Blair was conducting some research and had just viewed the infamous grimoires, the so-called ‘black books’ well-known in France in 18th and 19th Centuries which show how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms and divination and how to summon supernatural entities.
‘I even got to hold one,’ said Blair.
For many horror fans their chosen genre remains simply watching films. For some it extends to literature, attending events with fellow enthusiasts or perhaps even cosplay. For others it’s making their own films and documentaries. For Blair, it’s much deeper.
‘Fear is the universal language and, particularly for human beings, it’s fear of the unknown. The world is a scary place, so trying to find things that ground you are important.’
She also makes a case for witchcraft and for remembering those in the past who were persecuted for it.
‘Women our age are drawn to witchcraft. We are taking it back and owning it. It’s my way of honouring those women and keeping their stories and legacy alive.’
After Guernsey Blair and Britney were flying to London.
‘We want to go to Sherwood Forest and a famous haunted house in London. Then it’s on to Portugal.
‘I hope to work with Lars and Charlotte again. It’s been great visiting Guernsey and learning about its folklore. It’s so cool to find a place where there are people like me.’