Erics Re Views Book Shadows
'The Blair Witch Project,' that micro-budgeted phenomenon of 1999, is responsible for two terrible things. One is the proliferation of 'found footage' horror flicks. The other is 'Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.' I leave it to you to decide which is worse.
Wait, no. I'm not leaving it to you. 'Book of Shadows' is worse. The found footage sub-genre produces a lot of garbage, but the format is not inherently worthless, as demonstrated by 'Blair Witch' itself, not to mention highlights like 'Paranormal Activity' and the recent 'V/H/S.' A sequel to 'The Blair Witch Project,' on the other hand, was probably never going to be good, no matter who made it or what the concept was. It was a non-starter.
Just how bad did it turn out to be? The critics, myself included, demolished 'Book of Shadows' when it was released, and its worldwide gross was about 1/5 of what 'Blair Witch Project' had made. It also came out just 15 months after 'Blair Witch Project' came out, a short turnaround that intensified the stench of Hollywood's smash-and-grab, fleece-the-suckers-before-they-get-wise mentality. Now that 12 more years have passed, perhaps our feelings toward 'Book of Shadows' will be a bit less hostile. There's one way to find out!
What I said then: 'Of all the misbegotten, asinine movie sequels Hollywood has ever cooked up, 'Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2' might be the worst. Not only is it an illogical, nastily violent affair full of stock characters and slasher movie tactics, but it’s a sequel to a movie that absolutely needed no sequel in the first place.. It’s hampered by a terrible, hole-filled script that has everyone yelling, 'What the hell was that?!' every two seconds, not to mention the worst ensemble acting in recent memory... It ought to be called 'Book of Foreshadows,' because everything 'scary' that happens is ham-fistedly telegraphed beforehand... This is a relentlessly bad movie, one that never lets up and is never, not for even one second, frightening or believable. In fact, it is downright laughable and stupid, a complete and utter failure to be anything it tried to be.' Grade: F [ Here's the whole angry review. [For added fun, here's another column about it that I wrote for purposes of piling on.]
Hoo boy! That was a scorcher! Even without re-watching the film, I would change two things about that review. I called Joe Berlinger 'a bad director,' when what I meant was that he had done a bad job directing this film. His other work, mostly in documentaries, is fine. No need to declare him a lost cause based on one mishap, especially since Artisan reshot a bunch of scenes without him, making it questionable how much this is even 'his' film.
The other thing I would change about the review is that I would spend many paragraphs discussing Lanny Flaherty's performance as backwoods lawman Sheriff Cravens. Everything he says is a master class in cheesy, hysterical acting, snarled through a gruff hillbilly accent. Someone should compile a supercut of all his lines, they way they did with Chris Klein in 'Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li.' In the meantime, this is a pretty good representation of Flaherty's memorable work. ('Dis-em-BOWELED, Jeffrey!')
The re-viewing: For the record, and because I think it's relevant, I loved 'The Blair Witch Project.' I was lucky enough to see it after its famous pants-soiling Sundance debut but before it had been seen by very many other people, so the expectations were still reasonable and the backlash hadn't started yet. I saw it twice, and it scared the wee out of me both times.
All of this was lurking in the back of my mind when I saw 'Book of Shadows' in 2000. Now it's been years since I last watched 'Blair Witch,' and my defensiveness about a sequel has subsided. Putting aside all that extra baggage, how does 'Book of Shadows' stand up?
The opening sequence, in which the town where the fictitious 'Blair Witch Project' was shot is overrun by movie fans and gullible idiots who think the legend is real, is smart. By referencing itself and its predecessor without merely repeating what the first film did, 'Book of Shadows' starts out feeling like a worthy successor. However, it isn't long before the tropes and cliches that 'Blair Witch' avoided come out in full force, putting the movie at odds with itself. I suspect this is due to the studio's interference in an attempt to make the film more 'commercial,' even though it was its zero budget sensibility that had made 'Blair Witch' a hit in the first place.
Whoops, we're still clinging to some of that baggage. Forget 'Blair Witch Project.' Forget everything about it — the movie itself, the buzz, the hype, the Internet marketing, everything. How is 'Book of Shadows' as a standalone horror film?
Judged that way, it's considerably better — not good, mind you, but not completely unbearable. Jeffrey Donovan, basically unknown at the time but now the star of USA's 'Burn Notice' (which is almost the same thing as being unknown), shows a glimmer of a sense of humor that I didn't see the first time. In fact, the whole cast, despite being saddled with a lot of dumb dialogue that Berlinger made them shout at each other, seems high-spirited, like they're all having fun. As for the quality of acting, eh. I stand by my assessment of Flaherty as the sheriff, but nobody else is noticeably, painfully bad. The nonsense of the script makes the performances seem worse than they are.
Crammed full of nonsense though it may be, at least the movie isn't boring. I'd forgotten the details of the story, so as I re-watched it I found myself genuinely interested to see where it would go, even though I was pretty sure I would be disappointed when it got there, which I was. The movie doesn't lack ideas to explore: group hysteria, life imitating art, the line between fantasy and reality, why you should never go out into nature, etc. It just doesn't actually explore them.
So many of the details are just head-shakingly moronic, reducing whatever goodwill you might feel toward the production. Jeff, a shifty entrepreneur and former mental patient with very little income, lives in an abandoned Civil War-era factory that has water, electricity and multiple furnished guest bedrooms. Kim (Kim Director) has psychic powers, but those powers only make it easier for plot points to be conveyed. The professional researcher and author brings all his original documents on the camping trip rather than copies, which allows them to be destroyed, although their destruction doesn't even figure into the story.
And my favorite, the one thing that has lingered in my memory all these years: one of Jeff's videotapes contains footage of someone hiding the videotapes. That's classic. You can't make that up.
Do I still hate this movie? I sure don't like it, but the seething resentment I felt a dozen years ago has gone away. (Thank goodness, because it's not healthy to nurse a grudge for that long.) Except for some needless ickiness in the way it treats that poor pregnant woman, it's not particularly nasty or brutal. Nor is it scary, of course, or logical or coherent. But as bad movies go, it's essentially benign, moreso if you don't think about how steep the drop is between 'Blair Witch' and this. Grade: D+