Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #131
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: October 27, 2000
Sub Genre: Supernatural/Occult
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Joe Berlinger
Producer: Bill Carraro
Screenplay: Dick Beebe, Joe Berlinger
Characters: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Cinematography: Nancy Schreiber
Score: Carter Burwell
Editing: Sarah Flack
Special Effects: Wilfred Caban, Steven Kirshoff
Visual Effects: Randall Balsmeyer
Studios: Artisan Entertainment, Haxan Films
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Stars: Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristine Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Lanny Flaherty, Kennen Sisco
Suggested Audio Candy
Carter Burwell “Book of Shadows”
Certain tasks are downright unenviable. Whoever first attempted to navigate a camel through the eye of a needle must’ve had the patience of a saint, courage of a king, and smarts of a gibbon as it’s nigh-on impossible simply threading one of these bastards in the first place. Likewise, O.J. Simpson must’ve had a thankless task attempting to remove his prints from that murder weapon before 5-0 were summoned. That said, when Francis Ford Coppola set out to trump The Godfather, precious few would have given him a hope in hell of achieving such an unthinkable feat, but common opinion is that he inexplicably managed precisely that. It’s not impossible, but it entail somebody being either brave or stupid enough to place their balls on the block, stand up, and prepare to be counted.
This was the conundrum facing Joe Berlinger in 2000 as he suited up in his rambling gear to pick up the trail of The Blair Witch Project. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez had played their hand astutely the year previous, hitting pay-dirt to the tune of almost a quarter of a billion in box-office receipts. However, its initial shock factor was no longer applicable, movie-goers were well aware of its cunning ploy and had now moved on with their lives. Of course, when a film makes such an insane profit, doors are opened wide for potential franchising so it had to be worth a shot right? Should the sequel attempt to replicate the same found footage approach, it would have had a mountain to climb as nobody would fall for that trick a second time and, by revealing more of the witch, it would be doomed to fail from the offset. Thus, Berlinger took the only path available to him by ditching the 16mm cameras and choosing to embellish the screen with a tale more in keeping with traditional horror pieces.
The result was unanimous and not in a good way either. Critics were already sharpening their knives like it was thanksgiving in advance of Berlinger’s sequel showing its face and their damning indictment hamstrung its eventual release, causing its promising theatrical start to peter out rather spectacularly. It was then nominated for a fistful of less than prestigious Razzie Awards and regarded as an outright turkey. So was it the poultry that so many claimed it to be? Well, when I spot a flock of pigeons, that is where my cat comes in handy and I’m swinging said feline above my head as we speak. Let’s not get this twisted, up against the sheer might of the original, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 looks decidedly frail and I’m not about to argue the toss there. However, one thing quiet reflection buys you is the exclusive opportunity to judge a film on its own merits. Many vilified Halloween III: Season of The Witch for having the audacity to banish Michael Myers to the sidelines and, in doing so, obscured themselves to its tricks and treats. It’s often just a matter of perspective.
Now I’m not suggesting for a nanosecond that Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is fit to step in the excrement of Tommy Lee Wallace’s glorious unsung marvel, but amidst its schoolboy errors lies a film that possesses its fair share of thrills and chills. Tackling the occult affords Berlinger numerous opportunities to mess with his audience and he does his level best to grab this initiative with both hands. One particularly shrewd decision on his part is to preserve the ambiguity of the titular witch and, while it has a tendency to rely on the customary signposted jolts to provoke a reaction, certain more inconspicuous scares are rather well orchestrated. Did my skin crawl? Affirmative, one instance in particular rattled my cage and I will arrive at that treasured moment in due course. Thus, countless blunders aside, an outright travesty it most certainly isn’t.
It starts along a similar path as the original, with a group of twenty-something tourists wandering deep into the Burkittsville woods in the name of research. Enter Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner), his pregnant wife Tristen (Tristine Skyler), Wiccan Erica (Erica Leerhsen), goth medium Kim (Kim Director) and their paranormal investigator tour guide Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan) as, after a brief stop off at the notorious Coffin Rock where they happen across another group of similarly ill-fated opportunists, they set their stall in the dilapidated domain of Rustin Parr and await any unexplained phenomena. Needless to say, decent eight-hour slumber is hard to come by in these here parts and, after waking the following morning with no memory of the events of the night previous and find their research notes shredded and cameras compromised, it’s frown time all round.
So let’s get the negatives out-of-the-way shall we? The characters provide our first bone of contention as, while most are up to snuff, certain unwelcome distractions take us out of the experience somewhat. Sheriff Cravens (Lanny Flaherty) is one such guilty party and the film would have benefited from alleviating us of his presence completely. Moreover, we are constantly reminded that we are watching a studio feature and, though the pacing is brisk enough to paper over many of the cracks, Berlinger is a little too predisposed with generic shocks to fully capitalize on such a ripe premise. Certain events are downright ludicrous and should have been left on the cutting room floor. That said, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 somehow still manages to claim the odd victory from the jaws of defeat.
The real meat in the sandwich here is what you don’t see or, more accurately, what is caught on camera and played back for our group’s distinct lack of enchantment after the act. One moment in particular resonates strongly and this is the instance when they play back the hazy events of the night previous, only to have it made abundantly clear the kind of campfire shenanigans they were getting up to during the interim. This plays much more effectively in retrospect and has far more impact this way than simply pointing out the obvious. Indeed, without this delightfully spooky enlightenment, my kindness may not have been quite so forthcoming.
Let’s cut to the chase shall we? You’re going to be needing those pinches of salt here as, while Berlinger’s film does just sufficient to warrant its existence as an occult-themed movie, it is hardly fit to bear the same mantle as its illustrious forerunner. However, this is where context is key as, on its own merits, it isn’t nearly as catastrophic as the scathing critics have led us to believe. This leads us conveniently to the all-important bottom line – should you be looking for an undemanding ninety minutes of creepy goings on, and your bar of expectation is pitched realistically, then you could actually do a darned sight worse than Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The original hardly banked on grue to make its point and the same can be said for its sequel as there is precious little requisite for splatter. The campfire recollection scene does provide a dash of bloodletting but is far more interested in raising those neck hairs than reintroducing us to our lunches. Meanwhile, T&A is also at a premium although Pagan rituals are best entered into unclothed and we’ll be left cursing both the shoddy video playback quality and cunningly placed locks of hair that frustratingly obscure our vantage.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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