Films

The Blair kitsch project

An indie hit goes Hollywood

Brian D. Johnson November 6 2000
Films

The Blair kitsch project

An indie hit goes Hollywood

Brian D. Johnson November 6 2000

The Blair kitsch project

Films

An indie hit goes Hollywood

Brian D. Johnson

“The horror! The horror!”

Hollywood knows that every hit horror movie should spawn a sequel, if not a franchise. But duplicating the phenomenon of The Blair Witch Project, the most profitable indie film in history, presents a conundrum. This vérité hike into the heart of darkness —Joseph Conrad with camcorders— tried to hoodwink us into believing we were watching the video diary of real murder victims. Thanks to the media, most people saw through the faux-documentary conceit before seeing the movie. Some were still scared; others just felt hoodwinked by the hype. The sequel tries catering to both camps, but by substituting fear of the unknown with fear of the obvious, it’s no scarier than the surgery channel.

Book of Shadows : Blair Witch 2

Directed by Joe Berlinger

Book of Shadows writer-director Joe Berlinger, a documentary-maker tackling fiction for the first time, would appear well-matched to the material: his 1996 film Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills explored the conflation of fact and fiction in a real case of alleged satanic killing. But Berlinger does not try to clone The Blair Witch Project's shaky-camera documentary style. His sequel is an unabashed Hollywood movie, almost eclipsing the original’s $30,000 budget with the helicopter shot over the opening credits.

Like Scream2, the story hinges on a postmodern trope: it’s about five characters who are obsessed with the original movie. Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan) is a former mental patient who sells Blair Witch kitsch to the tourists who descend on the film’s real-life setting of Burkittsville, Md. Armed with an arsenal of video equipment, he leads four others—a grad-student couple, a Wiccan vixen and a Goth psychic— through the woods to the site of the Blair Witch murders. During a night of

stoned and drunken revelry, gruesome acts are committed.

Then, with the evidence mysteriously encoded on videotape, the group retreats to JefFs warehouse lair—it has a drawbridge—and the sequel turns into a haunted castle movie, with jarring flashes of slasher violence and a litany of homages to horror classics.

Book of Shadows toys with ideas about delusion, group hysteria and the notion that screen violence breeds real violence. While working hard to titillate, it also promotes its own pet conceit—that video tells the truth, while film lies. But in the end,

no amount of conceptual subterfuge can disguise the naked desperation of filmmakers trying to turn a cult phenomenon into a Hollywood franchise.