BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2
Review by Michael Jacobson
Director, Jeff Donavan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skylar, Stephen Barker Turner
Director: Joe Berlinger
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: March 13, 2001
The Blair Witch Project was a horror movie that
worked because it defied all horror movie clichés. Book of Shadows is a sequel that fails because it
Perhaps the point of the second film was to avoid becoming
a stale carbon copy of the first one: the
pseudo-documentary style that inspired a nation to motion sickness and bad
dreams was so fresh and innovative that it really couldn’t have been
duplicated. The problem is, by
taking a polarized approach, the sequel becomes just another bland,
by-the-numbers horror film…and not a very scary one, at that.
Part of the problem may have been the conflict of ideas
between the director and the studio. Joe
Berlinger, making his fictional feature film debut here after co-directing the
absorbing and haunting Paradise Lost documentaries, claims in the
commentary track that he had created a movie with no gore, and one that
proceeded on the assumption that the first film wasn’t real.
His concept was to create a scenario where human involvement might have
taken the place of the supernatural in a series of evil happenings.
He claims the studio wanted something different, so he went back and
peppered the film with pointless violence and senseless intercut footage that
serve only as cheap intermittent shocks. It’s
no wonder the movie often feels like it’s proceeding with no sense of
direction or purpose.
As the movie opens, we’re looking on the now-famous town
of Burkittsville, Maryland, and shows an accurate depiction of what happened to
a sleepy little town after The Blair Witch Project became such a
phenomenon. Tourists descend upon
the little burg with their video cameras, walking the Blair Witch trails, buying
up little rocks and stick figures, and generally making life uncomfortable for
A special tour, headed by Jeff (Donovan—as a possible
homage to the first film, the actors all keep their real names here) is heading
off into the woods for a look at the house where Heather, Josh and Michael may
have met their fates…the old home of convicted child killer Rustin Parr, who
was hanged for his crimes in the 1940’s and always claimed a mysterious old
woman made him do it. The house is
nothing but a foundation now, but our intrepid group decides to camp there for
the night, complete with video cameras for everybody. Are there scares forthcoming?
Well…let me put it this way: I
knew I was in trouble when the first attempt at one was, “Hey, where did this
tree come from?”
The group smokes lots of pot and downs many beers over the
course of the night. Naturally,
they wonder why they can’t remember anything the next morning when they wake
up. Nevertheless, all their
equipment is smashed, and all that’s left are their videotapes, which somehow
got stored in the same spot where Heather’s original footage was supposedly
They retreat to Jeff’s home, an old abandoned factory
with—get this—a moat, where Jeff attempts to analyze the footage.
Meanwhile, strange marks begin appearing on their bodies, and one
character, a confessed Wiccan, begins to cry, “we’ve brought something back
What follows is mostly a shameful series of manipulations.
Horrible events take place that turn out to be dreams as the characters
snap out of them. There are sudden
loud noises and music cues at every angle.
Things jump out of nowhere for shock value that are usually benign. This is the problem with the sequel in a nutshell:
Blair Witch knew how to scare.
Book of Shadows only knows how to startle.
The ending is such a lame, pitiful excuse at being clever
that it only leaves the audience with a final bad taste.
It’s not smart, nor meaningful, nor frightening.
To watch it is to see filmmakers who were strapped for better ideas.
Loving the first film as much as I did (making it a
personal top ten pick for 1999), I went to see Book of Shadows on opening
day. I walked away detesting it,
not with the normal disdain for a merely bad film, but with the hatred of
catching a vandal in the act of destroying something precious. Had it ONLY been another assembly line horror film, I could
have excused and/or dismissed it, but this drivel was a bastard child daring to
wear the Blair Witch coat of arms.
Watching it a second time, I readily confess I didn’t
feel the same bitterness nor anger towards it.
This time, I viewed it with less biased eyes, and though I still walked
away unimpressed, at least this time I walked away with indifference.
I can say now, judging Book of Shadows apart from
the spell of its much better predecessor, that I would have liked even one
genuine scare. I would have liked
something to think about afterwards. I
would have liked a mystery that had evolved from imagination rather than
manipulation. I would have liked a
better cast. I would have liked Joe
Berlinger to present even one-tenth of the disturbing sense that permeated Paradise
Lost. But he is a documentary
filmmaker. That means if such a
thing didn’t exist to begin with, he couldn’t create it: he could only capture the nothingness that was there.
As with the first movie, Book of Shadows contains
multiple media, though it does have the benefit of being largely shot with
standard 35 mm film. There is some
video footage, as shot by the cast and other surveillance cameras, to give it
some of the feel of the original, as well as helping to mix up the textures a
little bit. For the most part, this
is a terrific looking transfer…no flaws other than what the standard
limitations of video and such present. This
is a mostly dark film, with deliberately muted colors, so by nature, it’s not
a reference quality disc, but said dark scenes render quite nicely, with clear
imaging, no grain, and no compression evident.
The 5.1 soundtrack is lively and dynamic, with its punch
coming mostly from musical cues, hard rock songs, and typical ‘sudden noise’
effects sprinkled throughout. Discreet
rear channel usage is scarce; the back stage mostly serves to create a circular
ambience with the music and effects. The
.1 channel mostly drives the music. Dialogue
is clear throughout, and the sound is crisp and noise-free all the way.
Like the first film, the sequel represents another
well-packaged disc from Artisan. It
starts with the aforementioned commentary track by the director, which is quite
interesting from the point of view that the film he had in mind and the one that
made it out were different in many respects. There is also an isolated music track with isolated comments
by composer Carter Burwell. There
are production notes, talent files, and DVD ROM extras, plus a rather intriguing
explanation of “The Secret of Esrever”.
Turns out, there are hidden words and images hidden throughout the film.
This clip demonstrates that fact, and gives you clues as to the 5 places
in the movie you need to keep your eyes open for in order to spot them.
I’ve found two so far, so I need to keep looking.
This disc marks the first ever DVD+CD presentation.
Side one contains the movie and movie extras.
Side two is a standard CD recording of the complete score and three songs
from the film, including a live track. The
CD side will actually work in your home stereo’s CD player (though the box
recommends not using it in car’s player).
This is a unique concept for the future of DVD, and might be an indicator
of things to come!