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Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Starring Tristen Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director, Erica Leerhsen, Lanny Flaherty
Screenplay by Jon Bokenkamp, Neal Marshall Stevens, Joe Berlinger, Dick Beebe
Based on The Blair Witch Project movie
Directed by Joe Berlinger
website: www.blairwitch.com

IN SHORT: At minimum, a better product than the first one. [Rated R for violence, language, sexuality and drug use. 90 minutes]

Recreating "real life events" that occurred after the release of The Blair Witch Project movie. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent . . .

For those that came in late, The Blair Witch Project was a movie about three film students who went into the woods near Burkittsville Maryland to film a documentary about a local legend, an eighteenth century witch. The kidlets were never seen again, but their videotapes were found and pieced together into a Project which scared the world silly . . . Or bored you into a stupor, if you had a strong stomach. If you had a weak stomach you may have found yourself in need of a vomit bag due to the jerky, hand held camera images on the big screen. Those that were scared silly contributed millions of greenbacks to the coffers of the studio that picked up the film for a song after a Sundance festival. Which was remarkable considering that the movie -- and only the movie -- had no story, no script, no real direction for an amateur cast that was steadily starved across the eight day shooting schedule. In short, it was a big nothing and rated, by our standards, a big fat zero.

The marketing of the film, however, was sheer genius. Like video, which never lies, the Internet was the source for every fact behind the Project and, just like video, it was well known at the time that everything found on the Internet was God given Truth. We can't begin to count the number of times the eMail started: "What do you mean The Blair Witch Project wasn't real? Didn't you read the website?"

Well, no. We don't read the books either. If it ain't on the screen and it isn't in the script it don't exist in our universe. Been that way ever since we started in 1994.

Swamped by fans of the original movie, the town of Burkittsville Maryland is reeling under an influx of strangers and media, all looking for the Witch or looking for those people looking for the Witch. The town has had it "up to here" with the strangers, and the folks that cater to them. That includes local resident Jeff Donovan, who sells Blair Witch merchandise via a website based in his house. Jeff's blairwitch-hunt.com is expanding its operations to include guided tours of all the relevant areas in the Black Hills outside of town. See the Sites. Get a feel for the Evil. That sort of thing. His first group includes Erica Leerhsen, a Wiccan who thinks the Witch got a raw deal; Kim Director a Goth girl with remarkably accurate psychic intuitive abilities; Tristen Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner, grad students researching a book on the Witch. Tristen thinks there may be some hysterical truth behind the story. Stephen thinks it's all media inflamed hysteria. The witch wants to reverse any lingering "evil" and Kim is there 'cuz she thought the movie was cool. First stop, the ruins of Rustin Parr's house, where the original tapes were "found". There our quintet pitches camp and, determined to stay up all night, cracks open the beer and . . .

waitasec. There's a scream in the woods. Our adventurers are not alone. Could it be . . . other BWP fanatics??? One confrontation (and a lot of laughs) later, it's time to fire up the doobies, chant healing spells and party til you puke. OK, let's recap: Booze. Dope. A heavy metal soundtrack overseen by Marilyn Manson and the desire to stay up all night at the most evil site on the face of the Earth . . .

Idiots. A couple of six packs and even run of the mill Thai stick'll put anybody out for a couple of hours. Five of 'em, in this case, after which our heroes wake up to find their camp destroyed and their possessions missing or shredded. All that's left behind is a stack of videotapes, buried in the ruins -- that's why it's good to have a psychic handy; to ferret out clues and point the wandering story in a much needed direction. Back in civilization, at the abandoned factory in Jericho Hills where Jeff has a base, everything goes bananas. Each of the five find strange marks on their bodies -- ancient pagan script or hand prints of little children, for instance.

Tristen and Stephen deal with a more personal loss. Both are beginning to hear "things" and see visions of the dead. Kim the Goth makes a beer run during which she discovers that the locals don't particularly like the Goth look and that the streets are filled with images of seven little kids who died half a century before. Erica the Wiccan is convinced that something awful happened in those missing hours and that some Nameless Evil has followed her out of the woods. She maniacally chants spells to try to save the day but, dang it, she disappears just like what'shisname in the first one. Maybe she was a witch. Maybe she was a liar. Maybe Jeff the ex-mental patient, who surreptitiously watches the movements of everyone else on hidden video cameras, has other ideas in mind.

Oh, yes. Someone, in this case co-writer/director Jon Berlinger thankfully did some heavy duty thinking about what this film was supposed to be before rolling a single frame of film or video. Unlike the first Project, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 has a script with a story that has a definite point of view and an idea of where it wants to go and what it wants to do. It has a director (who co-wrote the flick) in total sync with it all. Book of Shadows manages to get all the history you need to know about Elly Kedward (the original witch) and child murder Rustin Parr and a 19th century massacre at Coffin Rock into the dialog, so you have an idea of what the kidlets are talking about. No need to plow the website on this one.

Unlike gore-free Number one, there is blood in Book of Shadows, which is where Lenny Flaherty as Sheriff Cravens (with his eye on Donovan) enters the picture. Drop the "s" from that surname and you've stumbled upon just one of a number of nods to classic elements or names associated with the horror genre. There are brief, quick cuts to stabbings and ropings that resemble the killings that have come before in the history. The viewer isn't sure if (he's) seeing flashbacks or copycat killings or something more sinister. That's the way Berlinger wants it. While one character screams "This doesn't make sense!" (which, actually, is how we felt during most of the movie) by the time the end rolls around it does make sense. That doesn't mean we necessarily liked it, but Book of Shadows at minimum provided more interesting things to look at than Blair Witch Project.

If the first one bored you silly, there's nothing here to make you fork over your cash. If the first one scared you silly, your mental processes are so far beyond me I don't know what to tell you. If the point isn't crystal clear by the time you walk out of the theater here's a hint: it's something being discussed at the highest levels of power in this country, even as you read this.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Book of Shadows, he would have paid...

$3.00

Rental level. Construction-wise, Book of Shadows is a far superior product but it's story surprise is one that would function well at the arthouse. We kid you not. That doesn't mean hundreds of millions of dollars in returns but it does mean this project is more of a curiosity.

Paul Fischer filed StarTalk with director Joe Berlinger and stars Jeff Donovan and Erica Leerhsen. Paul's review of Book of Shadows here

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