In June 1999, a minivan crashed into Stephen King while he was out on a walk, landing him in a hospital bed for weeks. During that time, his son showed up with a portable television, a bootleg VHS tape, and a directive: “You gotta watch this.”
The movie was The Blair Witch Project, which had generated buzz at the Sundance Film Festival that January, but had yet to be considered a seminal work in horror film history. The fractured, shaky footage, combined with the effects of the painkillers that King had taken, made for an especially scary viewing experience. So scary, in fact, that he couldn’t finish the movie.
“Halfway through it, I said, ‘Turn it off. It’s too freaky. I can’t,’” King recounted during an interview for Eli Roth’s History of Horror (available on horror streaming platform Shudder).
But the author of It, Carrie, and countless other horror classics isn’t one to back away from fear. As UPROXX reports, King eventually did watch the rest of The Blair Witch Project, and he even wrote about its genius in a foreword to the 2010 rerelease of his 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre. To King, the film’s low budget and low quality were what made it so good.
“It may be the only time in my life when I quit a horror movie in the middle because I was too scared to go on,” he wrote. “Those didn’t look like Hollywood-location woods; they looked like an actual forest in which actual people could actually get lost.”
Though King evidently had an easier time making it through the movie without painkillers clouding his judgment, the ending still left him frozen in terror.
“If you’re like me, you watch the credits and try to escape the terrified ten-year-old into whom you have been regressed,” King wrote.