Reviewed by: Curtis D. Smith
|Featuring||Tristan Skylar, Stephen Barker Turner, Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director, Erica Leerhsen|
|Producer||Bill Carraro, Daniel Myrick|
Prequel: “The Blair Witch Project”
Sequel: “Blair Witch” (2016)
Art and money are the two principal driving forces in Hollywood, and more often than not money wins out. And rarely do the two mingle.
Case in point: “The Blair Witch Project” was a mediocre art until a few marketing gurus at Artisan studios saw dollar signs with the potential for one of the biggest mass snow jobs since Orson Welles’ radio rendition of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” The 1938 radio broadcast convinced thousands that Earth was actually being invaded my aliens.
Likewise, thousands of movie-going chumps in 1999 were bamboozled into thinking that the original Blair Witch footage was real. Reports of people passing out, vomiting and fainting in theater aisles ran rampant as moviegoers turned out in droves to see the shaky camera twaddle that had little or no purpose beyond profit and marketing.
It was a huge payoff for Artisan which turned a 140 percent (and counting) profit on the film that was made for between $30,000 and $70,000 (depending on which article you happen to read). To date it has grossed at least $140 million after it was purchased for $1 million at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.
That success got the Artisan executives all fired up about doing a hasty sequel to cash in even more, but “Blair Witch” creators Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez wanted to go slow and do a more pensive follow-up. However, Artisan would have none of it and—after tossing the two a bone with an executive-producing credit—went ahead with the “Book of Shadows” sequel anyway.
They hired a team of screenwriters, documentary director Joe Berlinger (“Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” and “Brother’s Keeper”) to give the film an “authentic” feel and then found five unknown actors to supposedly further the story’s authenticity. The result is basically an overwritten, overtly violent, pointlessly disturbing and badly acted R-rated version of the Fox TV show “Freakylinks” which just happens to be the brainchild of the Blair Witch creators.
Disjointed from the beginning, “Book of Shadows” gets even more convoluted and inexplicable as the plot unfolds and it finally deteriorates into a stomach-churning grossfest of objectionable images and disingenuous scares. There is no literal Book of Shadows in the film—and it’s never said why the film was given that name—and (as in the first film) there is still no Blair Witch either, just an invisible, ambiguous force that wanders around wreaking havoc.
The story follows five thrill seekers—the guide (Jeffrey Donovan), a cagey Wiccan (Erica Leerhsen), a psychic Goth (Kim Director) and a pair of research writers (Stephen Barker-Turner and Tristen Skylar)—all in their 20s who decide to camp in the Maryland Black Forest near the ruins of the Rustin Parr cabin. Parr, according to legend outlined in the first film, murdered seven children under the authority of the Blair Witch. Once at the ruins of the cabin the party has a run-in with five other tourists who want to camp at the site and, narrowly avoiding a physical altercation, become convinced that Coffin Rock is the better place to camp. Afterward, the group begins partying with drugs and alcohol until a sudden inexplicable occurrence has them coming to amid fluttering paper (a shredded research piece that was brought along) and mangled camera gear set the night prior to record the goings on.
Turns out the group cannot remember about five hours of the night and rush back to the guide’s house in Burkittsville to piece it all together with the remaining video recordings. But the nightmare has just begun as the group starts experiencing terrifying hallucinations and visions that cross over into reality.
Before long the local authorities are questioning them as suspects in the murder of the five other tourists who were mysteriously killed Blair Witch style the night before at Coffin Rock.
While the roundabout approach to the story is clever (by telling it from beginning to end to middle and back to end again), “Book of Shadows” on its basic level never gets beyond the disjoined plot contrivances.
For example, several sequences featuring the lead actor in an insane asylum have nothing to do with the story. Other scenes include a recurring vision of an undead girl and a group of seven undead children, and while the group of seven children are symbolic of Parr’s murders the image of the solitary girl goes unexplained. Numerous other apparitions, apparently designed for spookiness rather than story support, take place with little or no clarification.
But it’s the film’s repugnant imagery and overall wickedness that is most deplorable. The explanation for the Coffin Rock “copy cat” murders is detailed in sickening specificity over and over leaving little to the imagination. And several visions of violence and dark spirituality, experienced by the campers after the murders, offers little in the way of acceptable entertainment.
There’s so much evil in this film that it’s not even worth detailing it all or citing Bible verses that explain why it is so horrific. The film’s profanity, nudity, brutality and scariness alone earn it an R rating, but how it avoided an NC-17 label is a mystery. Suffice to say “Book of Shadows” contains virtually no morally redeemable content and it is a complete waste of time, resources, money and celluloid. If that’s not enough to warn you away, Marilyn Manson heads up the soundtrack. I rest my case.
Editor’s Note: “Book of Shadows” contains nearly 100 instances of profanity and about 2 dozen exclamations taking the Lord’s name in vain. Several instances of nudity and sexual situations (near full female frontal nudity, rear nudity) and abuse of alcohol and drugs (pot) is also present.