[Screen It]


(2000) (Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director) (R)

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Horror: Fascinated by the original faux documentary, "The Blair Witch Project," five people spend the night where that story supposedly took place and then try to recount the five hours they realize are now missing from their lives.
A year after the faux documentary film, "The Blair Witch Project," put its setting - Burkittsville, MD - on the map, hordes of fans and curiosity seekers regularly descend upon the town, hoping to grab a souvenir or memento and see the sights, despite the fact that the story was pure fiction and that the film wasn't even shot there.

As such, various cottage industries have sprung up, including ones where local residents lead tourists on field trips to see the related sights and purported settings. Among them is Jeff (JEFFREY DONOVAN), a young man who was recently institutionalized in a mental hospital. Presumably cured, he's now leading a tour consisting of Stephen (STEPHEN TURNER) - who' s writing a book on the "Blair Witch" phenomenon - and his girlfriend, Tristen (TRISTEN SKYLAR), who isn't happy about her unwanted pregnancy.

Joining them is Kim (KIM DIRECTOR), a young woman enamored with the Goth look and lifestyle, and Erica (ERICA LEERHSEN) a practicing Wiccan who wants the original Blair Witch to be her mentor. After a night of drinking, pot smoking and an encounter with another tour group, Jeff's group awakens to find their campsite and equipment wrecked and realizes that they can't remember what happened during five hours the previous night.

Thus, they head back to Jeff's place inside a deserted factory where they watch their videotapes that rolled throughout the night. As they do - and as we see various flash-forwards to them being interrogated by Sheriff Cravens (LANNY FLAHERTY) for the murders of the members of that other tour group -- Jeff and his group try to figure out what really happened.

OUR TAKE: 0 out of 10
Andy Williams used to sing, "It's the most wonderful time of the year," and while he was referring to the infectious, end of the year holiday season, that saying can often be applied to the movie industry when the studios start releasing their high profile, Oscar contender wannabes. As such, and around this time of year, many critics start thinking about their "best of" lists, although they usually must wait until December or so to make sure they've seen everything.

When it comes to making a "worst of" list, however, one doesn't have to wait until the end of the year as the industry doesn't discriminate when it comes to which months get the bad films. While there have been plenty of bad ones so far this year, the "winner" may have now arrived at the end of October in the form of "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2."

The original "The Blair Witch Project" was a brilliant piece of filmmaking, but that's not to say that it was a brilliant film. Reportedly shot for less than fifty-thousand dollars and benefiting from a clever and innovative marketing plan, the "was it real or not" faux documentary experience went on to become the highest grossing independent film of all time with the highest cost to profit margin of any film.

What made the film so memorable and remarkable was the way in which the co-directors essentially put their cast through the same experience as their characters (stuck in the woods for days without much food, rest or knowledge of what was going to happen next), with their self-shot footage then making up the final film.

Utilizing the viewer's imagination to fill in most of the frightening gaps (much like Spielberg was forced to do in "Jaws" when Bruce the mechanical shark didn't always work as planned), the film certainly wasn't an Oscar contender and did have some slow and repetitious daytime scenes. Yet, the nighttime ones were quite effective, often rather scary and certainly made for a spooky and unforgettable horror flick.

"Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2," on the other hand, isn't particularly frightening unless one considers how horrible a piece of filmmaking - in nearly every sense of the definition - it really is. The inevitable sequel, the film is filled with bad and wooden acting, atrocious dialogue, a lame script and general premise, and, quite possibly, the worst directing and editing of the year.

Somewhat borrowing the self-referential premise from the "Scream" films, writer/director Joe Berlinger ("Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills," "Brother's Keeper") and co-screenwriter Dick Beebe ("House on Haunted Hill," "The Net"), start off the film with real news clips and shows about the first film as well as faked interviews with the Burkittsville locals. While that start suggests that the film will have its tongue planted firmly in cheek, such witticism quickly evaporates as the filmmakers then simultaneously proceed to throw out much of everything to do with the original film (save for the setting) and deliver a decidedly less than clever, imaginative or effective film.

After the film's characters partake in a night of drinking and drugs, they awaken to find their work and gear destroyed, and later learn that some other Blair Witch tourists are dead. They then set out to figure out what happened, which amounts to them sitting around some computer monitors watching videotape footage of the previous night, all while having various visions of the previous massacre and some old-time apparitions.

While that sounds like it might have the potential for some scary doings, the ham-fisted, uneven and completely episodic way in which the filmmakers execute that material results in a lackluster, relatively scare-free experience. Events and plots developments come and go without any rhyme or reason (other than as failed attempts at being scary) and we don't care or worry about any of the characters since they're as cold, stiff and lifeless as those fortunate enough to meet their demise before this story begins.

Berlinger and Beebe try to make things more interesting by interrupting the main story with bits and pieces of scenes featuring the various characters being interrogated by the police (and in particular, Lanny Flaherty ("Home Fries," "Waterworld") doing his best Slim Pickens impersonation), as well as one character's unexplained time spent institutionalized in some mental hospital (that reportedly was shot after the main filming and added in to "spruce up" the material).

Neither does anything for the proceedings, unless one considers that they add to the film's fractured storyline and horribly erratic pacing, none of which is helped by editor Sarah Flack's ("The Limey") awful editing (although, to be fair, this looks like the result of one of those hatchet jobs where many people tried to "save" the film by repeatedly re-cutting it).

Like the first film, a cast of relatively new and/or unknown actors and actresses populate the sequel and their individual and collective efforts certainly don't belie that point. While that ripe quality worked in the original due to its documentary style and because those performers made up their dialogue and behavior on the spot (again, experiencing what their characters were), here it comes off like shoddy B movie work, although that might be insulting those who make and appear in such films.

Filled with all sorts of bad filmmaking and moments that simply don't make any sense (such as pieces of a character's written work still falling from the sky like a moderate snowfall despite it being shredded hours earlier, or our seeing videotape footage of a character hiding the group's videotapes - including the one we're watching -- during their collective unconscious blackout thus making us wonder how it was simultaneously videotaped and hidden), this film is likely to anger and/or perplex those who enjoyed or loved the original, and bore everyone else with its lame, uneven and disjointed attempts at scaring its audience.

While it's not uncommon in Hollywood for studios to race sequels into production and release in a hopeful effort to capitalize on the success of the original, rarely is it done so shamelessly or horribly as is the case here. A prime example of bad and often ludicrous filmmaking and a sure bet for most every critic and moviegoer's "worst of" list, "Book of Shadows: "Blair Witch 2" rates as a 0 out of 10.

Reviewed October 13, 2000 / Posted October 27, 2000

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