In (semi) Defense of "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" (2000)
Ask anyone and they can come up with a short list of sequels that they don't want to admit that they liked for one reason or another. In some cases it's the virtually unanimous critical backlash. Sometimes it truly is a stinker, but it just strikes a cord with you; maybe you were abused a child and you like it rough and ugly, you sick little monkey. Every now and then it's because a movie is made too close to a truly groundbreaking original AND it dared to do something different. This is definitely the case the case (for me) with "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2".
At the time of it's release horror fans took a giant collective shit on the hairless chest of this rapidly churned out sequel. No one dared to bridge the gap and proclaim it as anything but a weak and misguided effort.
It's a funny thing, though- as the years have worn on the opinions have swung in the other direction. I bullshit a lot with other horror nuts in social life or on the web or at TFW, and the vast majority are positive on this one (and all admit "hating it" at first). It's as if a patina has developed over time.
By way of brief synopsis, a group of Blair Witch enthusiasts embark on a trip to the woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland for a "Blair Witch Hunt" guided tour. The tour guide is only recently released from the loony bin, and the guests include a couple writing a book about the Blair Witch phenomenon, a Wiccan hottie, and a very goth girl with low grade psychic abilities for a little balance. It's a trope and stereotype sandwich, both in terms of the roles they play (at least initially) and the presentation.
That's where it hits the first right note, by acknowledging the original film in real time and establishing something that approaches outright satire. The first 15 minutes set a great tone for what's to come without laying a rigid path. This isn't a "fictional world" per se, it's our reality where the "Blair Witch Project" is the ludicrously successful phenomenon that it actually was. In the months that followed that movie's release the poor folks of Burkittsville and Frederick County were bombarded with groupies and weirdos looking for a fictional truth. I'm sure that shit was obnoxious as all get out, but it's that taste of the real that sets the tone in the right direction.
It is a movie that is firmly speaking to a certain generation, particularly with the soundtrack. There is some damn good metal on this one. Marilyn Manson's "Disposable Teens" hits you right out of the gate to get you in a certain frame of mind. Tracks from Rob Zombie, Tony Iommi, Serj Tarkanian, & Rob Halford let you know this is meant to be a fucking horror film of a different sort than the original. Hell, the first one had no music to speak of, and this one puts the music front and center.
Writer/Director Joe Berlinger ("Paradise Lost" series, "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster") takes it a step closer to the original while hewing away from standard horror movie cliches by not showing or even explaining the threat. The group has a black-out period while camping on the ruins of the infamous Rustin Parr house and something has clearly happened.........but what? The group retreats the loony boy's home (an abandoned, Civil War era factory) to review the tapes and find out the truth.
It's the shifting back and forth between the two styles of crisp film with 3rd person drive and grainy video in the 1st that holds you in place. The stylistic difference from the now legendary original combined with the nods to the original are like eating are like eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich where the two flavors take on tones of the other.....and then you bite into a sour ass pickle slice in the middle (while Manson blows Trent Reznor in the auditory sex chamber of your brain). It's actually done pretty deftly.
Is it a perfect film? Far from it. There are some seasoned actors here. You'll recognize Jeffrey Donovan (the loony tour guide) as Michael Weston from USA's long running hit show "Burn Notice" front and center. But these kids are young and very raw (it was 16 years ago). They all show flashes of real range (Kim Director aka Goth Girl really caught my eye a couple of times), but they are wildly inconsistent and the dialogue gets worse the further into the running time you get. Berlinger speaks in the DVD commentary (with some anger) about how the studio made him put in the flashes of disconnected violence and spilled blood for dramatic effect. That shit never works, and it is an all too common camera trick in bad horror that needs to die a quick and hideous death. I detest that shit. Only Rob Zombie can pull that off (and even he overdoes it on occasion).
Still, this one ages well and I give it points for being smart enough to both not ride that same unicorn that the original Blair Witch birthed and to dare to be seriously different than it's predecessor on top of all that. This one gets a solid 7/10 for style points and guilty pleasure status.