Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Sticks": An Unsung Influence on THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT?

Recently, both RUE MORGUE and HORROR HOUND magazines have run retrospectives on THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT to commemorate the film's 10 year anniversary, but surprisingly, neither magazine mentions Karl Edward Wagner's "Sticks," an unsettling short story that uses similar plot contrivances. Whether or not the young upstarts who created the influential film knew of Wagner's story seems uncertain, but the several striking parallels exist between the two narratives.

Wagner's story focuses upon the discovery of a series of crudely made "framework of sticks" found by an artist named Colin Leverett while exploring a remote section of woods. Wagner describes the latticework as "half a dozen odd lengths of branch, wired together at cross angles for no fathomable purpose. It reminded [Leverett] of some bizarre crucifix. . ." Aside from the obvious similarity to the construction of wooden sticks that figure prominently in the film, Wagner's story takes a similar trajectory in that the sticks ultimately lead Leverett to the ruins of a "colonial farmhouse," which consists of a foundation that seems "disproportionately massive." Finding more lattices, Leverett makes his way to the basement, where he makes a striking discovery:

"The cellar was enormous--even more so in the darkness. Leverett reached the foot of the steps and paused for his eyes to adjust to the damp gloom. An earlier impression recurred to him. The cellar was too big for the house. Had another dwelling stood here originally--perhaps destroyed and rebuilt by one of lesser fortune?"

Horror mounts as Leverett proceeds deeper into this cellar, where he has a truly horrific encounter involving a stone sacrificial table, one that easily outstrips what we see/don't see in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT--and all this occurs in just the first section of Wagner's story. As the story continues, the Lovecraftian dimensions of this discovery become increasingly evident, as we see Leverett become embroiled in conspiracy that affects both his life and art.

Just as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT manipulated the fuzzy boundary between art and reality, so too does "Sticks," albeit in a different manner. According to the introduction to the story by David G. Hartwell (found in the anthology DARK DESCENT), Wagner found inspiration in "an anecdote of the great horror artist, Lee Brown Coye, who told of strange, weird artifacts and drawings found in an abandoned farmhouse in upstate New York and around it." Information about the artist, as well as a sample of his work involving the sticks that became a motif in his work, can be found here.

6 comments: chopra said...

Love your stuff!

Linked you:

The Headless Werewolf said...

Thanks Cat--I like your blog, too!

Anne Harding said...

Sounds interesting! Hope you don't mind, mentioned it here:

CRwM said...

Wonderful find. I'll have to track down the original story.

Timmy Crabcakes said...

I'm quite late reading this but.... YES.
I'm glad to finally see someone else mentioning this.
The first time I saw Blair Witch I had that Wagner story pop up in my head as a 'must've been' influence.

Most of the times I've had occasion to mention BW to other folks I've made allusions to that story but all I've ever gotten are blank stares.

Timmy Crabcakes said...

Oh, and the sticks motif also figures in the more recent June 9... a horror film with a definite Blair Witch (ripoff?) vibe to it but... well, to me at least, it had some unique stuff going on if you can last through the first 1/2 hour or so.
Interesting how such a simple visual element like that can be so creepy.