The REAL curse of the Blair Witch was outstaying its welcome. Whatcha call Blair Backlash. And the reasons for such sentiment are obvious, except to some folks at Artisan who were too busy counting their profits to realize the party was over. Even accidental-franchise creators Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez backed quietly away from Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000, 90 minutes). Yet, with the first film still bobbing and weaving across screens, the sequel was ordered and due in multiplexes in LESS than a year, where it would be unfairly maligned by critics and jeered by a cynical public. Tragically, Book of Shadows will probably never be widely appreciated for being a wholly unconventional sequel that leaps smartly beyond most of the teen-ensemble horror maddeningly celebrated today.
The movie: Four fans of The Blair Witch Project hire Jeff, a young entrepreneur/con-dude, to squire them on a hiking tour of the various woodland haunts featured in the faux documentary. Among the curious, and doomed, are goth-gal Kim, sexy-Wiccan Erica, and a couple researching Blair Witch mania, Tristen and Stephen. They trudge into the woods, set up camp and party like jungle animals -- until the strangeness starts. They wake in a fluttering rain of the couple's confettied notes to find their surveillance gear destroyed and with everyone unable to remember anything that transpired the night before. And in keeping with the first film, much profanity-laden Y-E-L-L-I-N-G ensues. When everyone calms down, they head to Jeff's creepy pad to pour over the surveillance footage, and try and piece together their missing hours. There's more shouting and occasionally one of them gets REALLY freaked out when they see this Exorcist-girl waddle backward a few steps before vaporizing. Tensions build as the various realities of the situation converge in unpleasant ways, but never once does anyone mention a Book of Shadows. CineSchlockers should revel in Lanny Flaherty's hilariously over-the-top performance as the ever-angry sheriff. Also, the exceedingly yummy Erica Leerhsen further explores alternative lifestyles as the Sappho-licious tennis instructor with eyes for Adriana on "The Sopranos."
Notables: Two blurry breasts. Nine corpses. Hypodermic closeup. Fire-hose shower. Neck slashing. Police interrogation scenes. Piezest tree. Boozing. Satanic orgy. Icky rashes. Knife twisting. Pole dancing. One dead owl. Lesbian tongue rasslin. Bloody crotch shot. Reefer madness. Electrocution. Chanting.
Quotables: A real-life Burketsville resident cashes in, "We sold some rocks on the internet, but not as much, because it costs too much to ship a rock." The not-so-real sheriff has no patience with fans, "Get out of these woods!! And go home! There is NO goddamn Blair Witch!" Stephen patronizes his girlfriend, "I know what you're saying, I just think it's bulls@#%." Witchy Erica doesn't ride a broomstick, "We still have to eat, s@#% and die like the rest of you. We just look good doing it." Jeff shares his suspicions, "She's a WITCH, man! She's one big pissed off witch! She's casting f@#%ing spells, then she's making herself appear, then she makes herself f@#%ing disappear!"
Time codes: Jeff gets a greased feeding tube shoved up his nose (3:22). Weirdness begins (23:50). Sexed-up Wiccan makes her move (42:00). The mystery revealed (1:09:00). Tristen has a Heather Donahue moment (1:12:53).
Audio/Video: Top-notch widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that remains consistently sharp throughout, even during dark scenes. The Dolby Digital 5.1 whips around the room with driving goth-rock and eerie whispers very similar to The Version We Never Saw of The Exorcist.
Extras: In his audio commentary, real-deal documentarian Joe Berlinger talks about being selected to direct the sequel and the wild ride it became. He also explores his mixed emotions about the first film -- his respect for its innovative concept and downward spiral of its players, but his understandable disdain for its marketing as a "real" documentary. He explains why he dodged expectation by not retreading the wobbly "documentary-style" camera work, and chose to treat the first film's story line as the fiction it was. Instead, he focused on fan fervor surrounding the blockbuster, specifically how the line between reality and fiction was so blurred that, even with media saturation, some moviegoers still took the events of the film as gospel. Mr. Berlinger wanted to explore the notion of "collective delusion" and the implied reality of video verses the accepted fiction of film. These are all high-minded goals, and ones to be expected of a filmmaker of his ilk (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills), but Aristan had different priorities ... Gore! Sex! Violence! And when in doubt, more GORE! Basically, all the stuff naysayers wanted to see in the original.
So, what was his director's cut like? Exactly what you see. Except, he was forced to shoot the disembowelment scenes flash-cut throughout the film. And he was also asked to split apart a lengthy interrogation scene, and sprinkle it throughout the film (instead of running it at the end). These are two things that remove the ambiguity Berlinger hoped to achieve, and his planned gradual progression of weirdness. His director's cut is NOT contained on the disc, even though DVD technology would readily allow this through seamless branching.
What the ever out-of-touch Artisan does include, no one wants: the CD soundtrack on the flip-side of the disc. Another connection to the re-tooled Exorcist is "The Secret of Esrever," which through a series of code words, highlights the various digital manipulations throughout the film. There's some scene-specific commentary by the composer. A bit of exploration will also reveal a live performance by goth-rockers Godhead. Production notes. Cast bios. Motion-video menus with spooky audio. DVD-ROM access to additional features, including deleted scenes.
Final thought: An unfortunate conspiracy of circumstances ensured this flick's enormous and very public belly-flop. But the raspberries are hardly deserved. Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.