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Review by Andrew Manning (10/00)

Release: 2000, Artisan
Starring: Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director, Erica Leerhsen, Tristine Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner
Director: Joe Berlinger
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language, sexuality, nudity
Genre: Horror

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After a small group takes a tour of the allegedly haunted woods where The Blair Witch Project was filmed, they return home to find that strange things are beginning to manifest around them.


Not as shocking or inventive as the original, but as good as any other horror sequel.


This movie must have been doomed from the start: imagine being the film that had to follow up the blockbuster breakthrough The Blair Witch Project. You couldn't use the same format as the original, as you would be labeled a cheap, exploitative knockoff; and yet you couldn't make something so entirely different as to not be connected with the Project at all. In short, maybe Book of Shadows was something that never should have been made. But it was made, and I think they did as good a job with it as they could have. Clearly, it's not as inventive or even as scary as the 1999 mockumentary film that began it all, but there's a few pluses to be found in Book's pages...

Book of Shadows is notoriously good at perpetuating the entirely fictional myth of the Blair Witch. This movie relentlessly hammers home the idea that The Blair Witch Project was real, and maintains continuity by describing what happened after the final footage of Heather, Josh, and Mike was found and released as a movie. In one of the most clever moments, we are introduced to some random citizens of Burkittsville, the supposed home of the Blair Witch, who have profited from the hysteria the movie has caused. One woman claims she sold Burkittsville rocks to people over the internet, until she realized it cost too much to ship a rock. Such accounts add to the movie's realism and help to further the notion of truth behind the legend.

Without a doubt, one of the locals who has profited most from the release of the movie is Jeff, who sells Blair Witch paraphernalia over the internet, and has begun a live tour called The Blair Witch-Hunt. His story sets in motion the events of the movie. When four young people (a couple writing a book on the Blair Witch, a goth chick who liked the original film, and a witch chick who thinks the Blair Witch was misunderstood) sign up for his tour, he takes them into the very woods where Heather, Josh, and Mike disappeared. Part of the tour includes filming the experience with hand-held cameras, and spending the night in the ruins of the house where the original Blair Witch tapes were found.

Everything seems to be going fine, until the five campers awake the next morning. Not only is their camp trashed, but they can't seem to remember what happened during a three-hour frame--all of them apparently blacked out. Shortly after, they collect what's left of their camp and return home, and almost immediately, the weirdness begins. Paranoia spreads like wildfire. The five participants of the tour don't trust each other, and things get more and more bizarre. The key, they decide, is to examine the film footage of the past night to find out what really happened to them when they blacked out. The investigation leads to an unspeakable conclusion.

While I won't give away all the juicy details here, I will say that Book of Shadows excels at revealing fragments of the puzzle piece by piece, and each step closer to the resolution makes the situation more disturbing. The story is told in an interesting, non-linear fashion. The presentation often cuts away to scenes that happen in the near future, then jump back to the present. And it's not until the end of the movie that all the pieces come together.

Book of Shadows features some great, unnerving imagery. The film that reveals the true events of the missing hours is definitely twisted, and the lack of any real sound gives the gruesome events a strangely alien feel. Also interesting is the theme of perception in this movie: what one character perceives as reality isn't necessarily how everyone else sees it. This element will keep you guessing as to what's real and what's a hallucination.

The myth of the woman who was the Blair Witch is explained in further detail in this movie, and will likely be the central focus of Blair Witch 3, a prequel to the original film. It's interesting that Erica, the young woman in the group who is a "good witch," believes the Blair Witch was really good herself, and was simply misunderstood by religious fanatics and propaganda. I particularly enjoyed the thread of the story in which she is punished for her presumptions and naivete: the fact that she actually tries to summon the presence of the witch demonstrates she is just asking for trouble...

All in all, Book of Shadows is largely a standard horror movie, filmed in traditional style, but intercut with sparse amounts of shaky, camcorder footage. As such, it's not nearly as original and different as The Blair Witch Project. But while many fans have been disappointed and many anti-Blair Witch audiences now feel justified in their hatred, I think Book of Shadows is worth a viewing. It definitely has its moments, and there's some twisted stuff to be found. The central core of the movie, the reconstruction of the missing hours, is interesting and unnerving at times. And if such a mystery-horror appeals to you, you will probably be more pleased with the movie than those expecting a pure horror full of gore.


Erica, the aforementioned witch of the group, gets a little preachy about how witches are misunderstood. The first time she gives her speech is fine, but it's the second and third times that start to get annoying. But by far, the most annoying--and frankly, ridiculous--character is the redneck sheriff who wants to bust the group for a murder he thinks they committed while camping in the Black Hills. With his cowboy hat, beer belly, and Southern accent, he harasses the five participants of the Blair Witch-Hunt throughout the movie. Perhaps he would have been a tolerable presence if he were toned down some. But as it stands, he talks and acts like Boss Hog just gave him a transfer out of Hazard County. I thought this was Maryland, not Alabama?

Some of the things the group does to piece together the missing hours is ludicrous. When playing the footage backwards doesn't produce any clues, one of the guys suggests that maybe just playing it backwards isn't enough--maybe, he rationalizes, the commands need to be punched into the video editing equipment in reverse order! WHAT? Does that make sense to anyone? Minor bits of nonsense like this, coupled with the fact that the group's leader seems to have every fancy piece of electronic equipment imaginable at his disposal, only serves the undo the realism of the movie.

The most severely disappointing element of Book of Shadows, though, is how certain it is about a the existence of the witch. One of the major appeals of The Blair Witch Project was how nothing was outside the realm of natural possibility. In short, it left everything to the imagination. Was there really a witch? Or were Heather, Josh, and Mike killed by a wandering psycho? Hell, lots of people think that maybe even Josh was the murderer! Instead of building on that great asset, Book of Shadows pretty much tells you, "Yes, there's a supernatural presence at work here...and this is what it does."

Here's hoping the stock horror has been worked out of the Blair trilogy, and that part three will more readily live up to the high standards of the first installment.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

Book Recommendations from the Editors
Blair Witch Project: The Secret Confession of Rustin Parr
Beyond Blair Witch: The Haunting of America
The Dark Room: Blair Witch Files

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