The gene pool is a little shallow here. Dive in and you’ll crack your skull open.
I don’t need to explain to you how massive The Blair Witch Project (1998) was when it was released. An overnight success, the extremely low budget production was marketed as a “real” piece of collected footage from the mysterious woods somewhere in the Black Hills. It single handedly spawned a wave of copycat movies and I daresay the found-footage style of filmmaking owes a lot to this movie.
As is tradition with this sort of success, a sequel was rushed out to satisfy the needs of an obsessed audience. Artisan were quick on the draw, but were declined by Hexen Films – the creators of the original film. Artisan instead hired Joe Berlinger, a documentary filmmaker to proceed with the production. Normally, this would be something that celebrated the original film, bringing back old characters, expanding the universe – in other words, sucking its 35mm to the bone. Not this time, though. This time they tried something completely different.
So What Happens?
Following the success of The Blair Witch Project, the small town of Burkittsville in Maryland has been overrun. Tourists, film fans and those dedicated to the supernatural have descended on the area, all desperately seeking out the “truth” of the Blair Witch, and its connection to the events in the original film. This is the set up for the movie, though indeed happened in real life too.
You see, this is a film set within a film. It lies somewhere between the real world and the fictional, and indeed was marketed as a recreation of a a real life event, as shown at length in the Sci Fi Channel mockumentary, Shadow Of The Blair Witch (2000), featured on the DVD release. This isn’t important, but it’s worth bearing in mind the intention of this film – it was supposed to follow the same marketing strategy of the original – but, man, what a sideways step.
Anyway, introducing the real world only lasts so long. Eventually, we meet Jeff Patterson (Jeffrey Donovan), a former mental patient who has capitalised on Burkittsville’s sudden popularity, and has taken to selling wooden figurines based on the Blair Witch, stones collected from the woods and various other bits and pieces of tat.
While he has reached some success, however, he has just launched a new enterprise – The Blair Witch Hunt – a tour group-come-supernatural investigation unit. Joining him on his inaugural tour is Erica (Erica Leerhsen), a witch; Kim (Kim Director), a psychic goth; Stephen (Stephen Turner) and his pregnant partner Tristen (Tristine Skyler), who are writing a book together on the subject of hysteria and popular culture. For one reason or another, all are fascinated by the subject of the Blair Witch.
Heading out into the Black Hills, Jeff leads the group to the burned ruins of Rustin Parr’s house – the serial killer from the forties who murdered children – a major background character from the original film. On arrival, Jeff sets up a network of video cameras to try and capture any mysterious goings-on around them. He’s thrown for a loop, however, when the group point out a giant tree that appears to be in the middle of the ruins. He swears he has never seen it before – but is quickly dismissed by the others.
As mentioned, Erica is a witch. Or, I guess, Wiccan. She is hoping to find a spiritual mentor, so tries to summon the Blair Witch from the shadows – but doesn’t meet with much luck. Instead she settles in with the others, who quickly establish themselves around a campfire, drinking, smoking, and having a whale of a time. That is, until a rival tour group arrive at the ruins.
After a brief conflict, Stephen manages to convince the rival group that they saw some seriously messed up stuff back at Coffin Rock – the supposed site of sacrifice and ritual by the river. Convinced by this, the paying tourists convince their guides to take them to the rock, and they do so. Grudgingly.
Happy with their success, the group return to their fun. The fun doesn’t last. Waking up the following morning with no memory of the night before, Stephen and Tristen are horrified to find their research papers shredded and scattered around the camp site. What’s more, Jeff finds his cameras have not only been tampered with – they have virtually been destroyed, their tapes missing.
Kim manages to find the tapes, concealed under a pile of rocks. The very same place the film was found that led to The Blair Witch Project. As they uncover it, Tristen complains of feeling unwell – and the group are shocked to see blood between her legs. She has miscarried.
The group rush to hospital, but Tristen is desperate to leave, and the group soon end up back at Jeff’s home – a converted factory space on the edge of the woods. Still recovering, Tristen is put to bed while the others set about the task of unpicking Jeff’s video footage to work out what the hell happened last night. Through some elaborate video editing work, they manage to reveal the missing part of their night – and it doesn’t look good.
Things get darker still when it is revealed that the rival tour group they ran into on the night have been mysteriously and ritualistically murdered at Coffin Rock. The group begin to experience visions and flashbacks, hallucinating all sorts of sordid activities between members of the group. When one of the party go missing, things only get darker as each of the characters between to turn on one another – desperate to find the truth.
But is there just one member of the group they should mistrust, or has something returned with them from the woods, desperate to unleash its evil? Will they discover any more about the Blair Witch? Will they work out how they got those weird marks on their body? Will they ever introduce the Book Of Shadows that’s in the bloody title of the film, or is it just a vaguely sinister title to entice people into the cinema? Only time will tell…
Something happened us in the woods… something evil.
If you could characterise the year 2000 as a low budget horror movie, then this is it. Seriously. Every stereotype is shown on screen for extended periods of time – from the type of Goth that only really exists on television, all the way to the long sleeved t-shirt, beanie-wearing goatee hipster – the post-90s alternative rock soundtrack is only the icing on the cake.
For what it’s worth, Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is admirable for trying to do something different. Yes, it wasn’t what the audience wanted. Yes, it was a cheap cash in, and yes, it’s all a bit rubbish, but you have to admire the spirit in which it was approached. The sequel to a film that was made by its viral advertising had to do something special to keep the hype going. Setting the film in the “real world” and based on fans of the film that was supposed to be real, well, why the hell not?
The first time I saw Book Of Shadows must have been only a couple of years after its release. I know I was young, and I know I was probably not supposed to be awake at 2am, or whenever the hell it was on the television. I do remember liking it, though. I remember thinking it was pretty terrifying, if only for the fact that it was supposed to be fans of the original film – fans like my older brother, hell, like me. I distinctly remember the concept of having a chunk of time missing from my memory, only for its slow reveal to show the darkest possible side of humanity being one that shit me up pretty good.
It’s also extremely possible that Erica is what cemented my love for spooky redheads, but let’s not dwell on that.
Watching it again, eh. I see why I liked it. But it isn’t a good film. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, and it was very clearly a cash grab. I just read that Artisan heavily edited the final film, too, including the soundtrack and even added additional footage. This corporate thinking is exactly what comes across on screen – it’s a tick box of everything in vogue at the time, and it suffers badly for it.
When you consider that The Blair Witch Project did so well for being the opposite to this kind of horror films prevalent at the time, well, history has judged the film appropriately. That said, me for the worst crime of all in this film is obvious.
THERE IS NO BLOODY BOOK OF SHADOWS.
Seriously. Sort it out. Let’s recut this film to include the Necronomicon and throw in some Kandarian demons. It’s what we all want, no?
Yours, A P Tyler