August 4, 2016
The biggest news coming out of last weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con was, arguably, the announcement that the upcoming Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett movie The Woods is, in fact, a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. With all the hoopla and hub-bub, some fans seem to have forgotten (or perhaps have been trying to forget) that there already has been a Blair Witch sequel: 2000’s Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 takes place in the direct aftermath of the release of The Blair Witch Project. A young man named Jeffrey (Jeffrey Donovan from “Burn Notice”), fresh off of a stay in a mental hospital, decides to cash in on the hype of the movie by leading tour groups into the woods and showing them the sites from the film. His inaugural tour group includes a writer named Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner from Seducing Charlie Parker) who is working on a book about the mythology of the witch, his pregnant wife and co-author Tristen (Old Enough’s Tristen Skyler), a goth psychic named Kim (Summer of Sam’s Kim Director), and a bona-fide wiccan gal named Erica (Erica Leerhsen from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Magic in the Moonlight).
The first night of the tour, the group camps out at the ruins of the house where the first movie’s missing students’ tapes were found, with Jeff setting up cameras to capture any paranormal or supernatural activity that might occur. The campers drink beer and smoke weed, partying hard into the night until they black out. When they wake up, Jeff’s camera equipment is destroyed and Stephen’s book materials are shredded. They suspect another tour group of the vandalism, and when the psychic Kim leads them to discover the tapes from their smashed cameras, Jeff and the crew decide to retreat back to his place to have a look at the footage. The tapes reveal more about their night than any of them expected…or wanted…to see.
After the smash success of The Blair Witch Project, Artisan Entertainment was keen for an instant sequel. Original Blair Witch directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez were less than enthusiastic about the idea, so Artisan tapped filmmaker Joe Berlinger, a documentarian who was known for the Paradise Lost series of movies about the West Memphis Three case, to direct. Berlinger wrote the script along with screenwriter Dick Beebe (House on Haunted Hill), and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was born, a little over a year after the release of The Blair Witch Project. Myrick and Sánchez were given executive producer and character writing credits, but neither worked on or endorsed the making of the film. The turmoil surrounding the production only intensified when Artisan reportedly re-cut Berlinger’s version of the film, alienating that director as well.
Whoever’s vision ended up onscreen in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the movie is a serviceable sequel. The Blair Witch Project was built completely upon the mythology of the suspected witch Elly Kedward and the haunted child-murderer Rustin Parr. Although Book of Shadows acknowledges and respects the events of the first film, it’s more of a sequel to the hype surrounding the movie than it is to the movie itself, which is actually a pretty creative way to build upon the Blair Witch mythology while still allowing Book of Shadows to remain its own coherent film. The opening segment features news reports and film reviews from pop culture icons like Kurt Loder and Roger Ebert that serve to bring the viewer up to speed on both the events of the original movie and the mass-media phenomenon that followed. The movie then turns to more traditional filmmaking techniques to tell the rest of its tale, so stylistically, it’s a much more polished movie than its predecessor.
The music in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 reflects the turn-of-the-21st-century time period in which the film was made; quite simply, it rocks. The creepy cinematic background music was provided by indie film composer extraordinaire Carter Burwell (who has scored everything from Barton Fink to Anomalisa), but the real draw to Book of Shadows is the screaming, wailing hard rock soundtrack. The film contains songs by such heavy-hitting nineties alterna-rockers as Marilyn Manson, P.O.D., Godhead, System of a Down, and Rob Zombie. The most effective use of music can be found in the camp’s blackout party montage; the spastically edited sequence is masterfully set to Queens of the Stone Age’s “Feelgood Hit of the Summer” and its constant refrain of “nicotine, valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol…c-c-c-c-c-cocaine!” It’s a perfect song for a hazy, drugged out scene. The driving music fits the film’s overall vibe so well that the audience even forgives the presence of a Nickelback song on the soundtrack.
When Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was released on home video, it came with a fun gimmick. The DVD and VHS releases of the movie included a short special featurette called “The Secret of Esrever” that instructed viewers to watch parts of the movie in slow motion and in reverse (esrever, reverse, get it?). Through a series of subliminal images and hidden messages, viewers could decode a secret phrase and enter it into a website that would give them access to a deleted 30 second scene from the film. Actually, it was a scene from the film with an extra few seconds that were cut added back in (the witch Elly Kedward talks!). It was an interesting little variation of the scene, but the single phrase of dialogue was hardly worth the amount of work it took to obtain it, leaving many fans feeling cheated.
In some ways, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 gets a bad rap. It suffers from the same affliction as Halloween III: Season of the Witch; it’s a quality movie, but it just doesn’t fit in with the franchise whose name it bears. Perhaps with the upcoming Blair Witch movie, more people will come to appreciate Book of Shadows. Or maybe they’ll just be reminded of how much they hate it.