Volume 94, Issue 34

Tuesday, October 31, 2000


Bloodsucking good time

Sequel doesn't stack up

Woodstock full of Halloween treats

Harvey keeps progressing

Sequel doesn't stack up

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Starring: Jeffrey

Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skler, Stephen Barker Turner, Kim Director

Directed By: Joe Berlinger

By John Plantus
Gazette Staff

Just over a year ago, The Blair Witch Project opened in theatres to incredible box office success. Not only did it spawn a wide based cult following and a new appreciation for low-budget movie making, but like most horror films, it has given birth to a franchise. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is billed as "a dramatization of events that occurred" following the release of its predecessor.

The movie's documentary style introduction revisits Berkittsville, Maryland in the wake of Blair Witch hysteria. The townsfolk are faced with an unprecedented volume of tourist traffic, groups and individuals making pilgrimage to the site of their favourite indie film.

The colourful locals are endearing to watch as they attempt to cope with the public's intrusion into their once peaceful village (some complain to the sheriff, while others set up souvenir booths selling homemade stick figures and rocks from their backyard gardens).

The clever premise established in this scene, however, ends when the opening credits begin. From here, Book of Shadows joins the ranks of Urban Legends and I Know What You Did Last Summer, the bastard children of Scream.

An unlikely assortment of characters come to the woods on an ultra-cheesy tour called the "Blair Witch Hunt." There's Kim, the mildly psychic Goth; Erica, the misunderstood Wiccan; Stephen and Tristen, scholars of myth and Jeff, group leader and former mental patient. They make camp on the foundation of the Rustin Parr house, where the Blair Witch Project footage was supposedly found and set up cameras of their own, in order to capture any strange phenomena that might occur. Then they drink.

A mind-numbing excess of beer and pot ruin the group's plan to stay up all night and when they awake, their camp has been mysteriously trashed. With the camera equipment mangled and Stephen and Tristen's research destroyed, all that remains are the videotapes.

In hopes this footage will offer an explanation, they bring the tapes back to Jeff's warehouse apartment to view them in a high-tech editing bay (Jeff is one of those only-in-the-movies teens who owns more electronic equipment than the Sony corporation). But the images on the tapes just lead to more confusion, as do the haunting visions that suddenly appear before each of the characters. Did they bring something back with them? Can they trust one another? Were they involved in the ritualistic killing of another group of campers?

These are the questions that Book of Shadows doesn't bother to answer. One of the many reasons why this film doesn't work is that Shadows' attempts to be as enigmatic as the original Blair Witch Project is not compatible with its in-your-face style. Where the first movie created a sense of hidden terror with something horrible lurking just outside of the frame, Blair Witch 2 wants to attack its audience with graphic images of violence and madness.

Yet for all of its gruesome details, Book of Shadows fails to do the one thing that a horror film should – scare people. Because it is acted like a dramatization, the film maintains a kind of "Fact-or-Fiction?" television show quality that makes the horror seem artificial and distant. The only reason audience members are going to jump out of their seats is if they have to go to the bathroom.

The experience that documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills) brings to Book of Shadows is wasted when he abandons mock realism in favour of tacky camera tricks and a formulaic cast. This campy sequel shovels dirt over the ground that the Blair Witch Project had broken.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000