Rated R - Running Time: 1:30 - Released 10/27/00

Last year's quasi-documentary horror film The Blair Witch Project received generally good notices because of its novel approach and clever marketing strategy, but was disliked by many horror fans because of its lack of blood, violence, music, plot, effects, production values, or a visible villain. Although I loved the film, I'll readily admit that after one showing the cover is blown and it's pretty much useless except for academic purposes, but no one can deny that it broke new ground and inspired an unprecedented amount of water-cooler discourse. It also proved extremely cost-effective, given that its expenses only totaled about 100 bucks plus gas.

There is absolutely no doubt, however, that Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows is an uninspired attempt to capitalize on the previous movie's success. Lacking anything to distinguish it from any other run-of-the-mill teenage horror flick, BW2 is nothing but a transparent grab for cash on the part of producers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (the co-writers and -directors of BWP), who didn't even bother to contribute creatively to this one. Although this film attempts to parody its own opportunism with jokes about people making money off the original film's hype, no amount of self-deprecating humor can change the fact that Myrick and Sánchez have besmirched their good names with their sloppy avarice. And the film isn't even remotely effective. There's an early scene where one character is trying to act spooky and another says, "Jeff... nobody's scared." How true it is.

Written by Joe Berlinger and Dick Beebe and directed by Berlinger, Book Of Shadows (which, by the way, has nothing to do with a book, nor with shadows) departs from the revolutionary, unscripted style of its predecessor and returns to the standard low-budget horror formula. It centers around five thrill-seeking Blair Witch Project fans who go camping at the site near Burkittsville, MD, where the original movie was filmed in order to see the "witch" for themselves. Of course, anyone who has seen BWP knows that it was all fiction, so this premise shows questionable logic from the start.

The camping trip is hosted by Jeffrey Donovan, a profiteer and former mental patient who sells bogus Blair Witch merchandise on the Internet. His tourists are a pair of lovers expecting a baby (Tristen Skylar and Stephen Turner), a beer-guzzling, psychic goth girl with an attitude (Kim Director), and a modern-day witch, or "wiccan" (Erica Leerhsen), who feels that witches have gotten a bad rap. After a night in the woods, partying, drinking, and videotaping to their hearts' delight, the campers return to Jeff's home and weird things start happening: they discover gaps in their video footage, their video footage contains scenes of them doing things they don't remember doing, and then they all begin to have hallucinations. Sounds like a simple case of bad mushrooms, but their assumption is that they absorbed some sort of witchy energy from the forest. There are murders, and then more murders, and finally a miasma of badly-edited interrogation footage brings the film to a non-descript conclusion.

Myrick and Sánchez should have left their 1999 creation alone to be ascribed to the pantheon of groundbreaking films and moved on to other projects. But they have already learned the Hollowwood tradition of overexploitation, and they will continue to suckle at the dry, withered breast of the Blair Witch until their original creation is sullied beyond recognition: BW3 is scheduled for release next summer. If they're not careful, they may find their careers burned at the stake. *

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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