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About a week ago I received a call from a publicist at Artisan saying that they wanted to set up a screening of BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 for me today, Sunday, and they were going to bring Joe Berlinger in to talk to me as well. And they asked if I was open to this.

Well, this was a proverbial bag of worms. My history with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is well documented... Many attach me and AICN with some level of the success of the first film. Some people don’t trust my opinion on the first film because I loved it so much... But what some of these people never understood was that the original BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was never a film that was meant to be as BIG a release as it wound up getting.

A film like the original, is on the surface this wonderfully amateurish seeming Art house fare that has the basic mythos concept that deserves to be picked up for a larger more professional film. But as someone that loves Art House films, experimental cinema and old style William Castle promotion and P.T. Barnum showmanship... I loved the first film and the whole experience that went with it.

At the same time, since then I’ve had conversations with horror filmmakers that have loved it (William Friedkin) and really really didn’t like it (John Carpenter) and well... I’m unswayed... I still like the first film.

BUT... The second film... all of the hype following the original has created an air where we WANT and NEED to hate a sequel.

When Artisan announced they were going to make a modern day followup film to the events that occurred in the first film... I gagged. Horrible fucking idea.

Then they attached Joe Berlinger. Great idea.

So I was at a weird place for this film. Everything about the concept that I could glean from the publicity and pre-release materials and trailers were saying PIECE OF FUCKING SHIT.

And then there was Joe Berlinger, who has made 3 of the absolute most journalistically sound and brilliant documentaries that had not only great stories, but through the filming and pacing... were actually chilling, haunting and really... quite scary.

Now, having experienced the terrible marketing of WAY OF THE GUN by Artisan earlier this year... I completely discounted the SCREAM/I KNOW WHAT YOU DID/URBAN LEGEND style trailer that I saw... Even though... the mere appearance of Goth Chick made it seem as though... the only place this film was going was into the sewer that would take EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC and PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING and SCARLET: THE MINISERIES.

Well... let me tell you where I was when I saw this film this morning....

I woke up early this morning and saw a fantastic indie film called ABCD that I’m going to be presenting at the AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL tomorrow, MONDAY, and I was getting set to go to a comic/memorabilia convention to buy some posters and then to the film festival when all of the sudden... THE PHONE RANG...

Caller ID registered the identity to: Glen Oliver. Oh good, what did Glen want?


“Harry?” Glen said.

“Ummm, yeah.”

“Uh, I thought you were going to see BLAIR WIT...”


So I grab a shirt, slip on shoes no socks... and run towards the living room screaming for dad to get going.

“Come on... we’re late for BW2!!!”

“No we aren’t... that’s on Sunday!” Father Geek says.

We lock eyes.

“Oh Shit,” he says grabbing his keys, slipping on the shoes and we’re on our way laughing at how fucked up our sense of time and space are given the schedule of the film festival and such.

We get to the theater about 10 minutes late... spilling out apologies... and Glen, Dad and I head into this empty theater to watch the film alone.


I know that many of you are going to believe... no matter what I say that Artisan or Berlinger slipped me 3 gold bars from Fort Knox, but... I really loved the film.

First... This is not BLAIR WITCH PROJECT 2: SHAKYCAM BOOGALOO. At many many levels this isn’t even near the same universe or genre or whatever ya wanna call the first film.

BW2 should not be compared to the first film... nor should it be included in sentences with the first film. It is... that much... A different film.

The first film that comes to mind to compare it to in my mind would have to be Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING. Now, while I had fun with Jan De Bont’s rollercoaster remake... even though I fully acknowledge the addle-mindedness of the intelligence of that film... I do feel this is closer in form to that except that it’s set nearly 40 years later and is made 40 years later and exists in a different stylistic world than the world that existed in 1963. Also there is an entire extra layer put down atop BW2 that THE HAUNTING doesn’t have...

Imagine, if after what had happened at Hill House, if there had been a police investigation... and if Dr Markway, Luke and Theodora had to explain to the police what they experienced in the house... but in addition the police had a different story via film and audio recording devices that witnessed the entire events.

Without too much spoilers being in place... that is the type of intelligence at work here. Berlinger has crafted a film that is extremely intelligent... that is less scary as it is disturbing and unsettling... and ultimately leaves you with the ability to have two distinct feelings about what happened. Psychological or Supernatural... you decide. He merely shows you the perception and then the perceived reality of video... but of course... if you believe in the supernatural... reality of video... just doesn’t exist.

Before I go any further... I have to say... The following is going to head into deep spoiler territory, so you may very well want to run screaming into the hills armed solely with the knowledge that Berlinger has made a film that you folks that hated the first film will find intelligent, spooky, well-crafted and good if you approach it with an open mind. And you folks that loved the first film... well he advances, comments, acknowledges and pays tribute to the power of the mythology that the first film created.. while also commenting and satirizing not only the fandom and fanaticism that erupted around the first film, but also takes on and comments upon the perceived influence of the whole Violence in Art affecting Reality and Youth... and makes something unique, different and good enough to stand completely apart and away from the first film.

Now... go away... I’m going to discuss spoilers and character profiles and all sorts of deeper material at play here in BLAIR WITCH 2....


First off, there are two formats that we see in this film. Video and 35mm Film.

When watching and rewatching the film, notice the absolute intelligence that Berlinger uses when going between these two.

It was my belief (confirmed afterwards by Berlinger) that the 35 mm film footage is the perceived memory of the events that led up to present in the film. And that the video/dv footage was in fact reality as seen through the unchanging eye of the video camera, which is unswayable by delusion or hysteria or drugs or alcohol or suggestion.

Nearly the entire film is a flashback... with moments of the current time and suppressed memories speckling about like the remnants of some sort of bizarre nightmare delusion.

You see... at its heart the film is a tale about these 5 people that go off in the Black Hills outside BURKITSVILLE, MARYLAND to explore and indulge their obsession with the whole post BLAIR WITCH PROJECT hysteria regarding the movie and the mania that swept the country last year.

The film acknowledges that the first movie was a fiction, a creation and even thumbs its nose at all of that hysteria.

HOWEVER, where this movie goes and what it explores with a great deal of skill and intelligence is the group paranoia and hysteria that can come about through isolation, alcohol and drug abuse as well as the injection of mild insanity, conflict and psychologically unsound people.

You see.... Here’s the cast...

First up is Jeff Patterson. He’s an uninsane person. Ya see, he was committed and locked up in an institute for the treatment of the mentally unstable... But... He’s... ahem... all better now. Upon his release and fanatical love for the film, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, he assembled a entrepreneurial venture of selling ‘Blair Witch’ artifacts on EBAY while also offering BLAIR WITCH HUNT tours up into the Black Hills to tour such hot locations as Coffin Rock and Rusty Parr’s alleged home remnants.

Next is Kim Diamond, the goth chick. The mere inclusion of her in the trailer sent up all my red flags and beliefs that this film had HAD to be awful. However, in the formation of the group dramatically it was not only important to have her, but absolutely integral. You see, besides being the archetype Goth Chick... she’s also your friend that believes herself psychic... though in reality she’s really good a reading subtle behavior and body postures... while also having the intelligence to make the connections and make the next logical step while telling the person she’s a psychic... though really, she’s a study of human nature that has self deluded herself into believing otherwise. She’s perfect to have onto this group because... well... A Goth chick would go on a tour like this.

Onto Erica Geerson. Besides being absolutely the most adorably cute doable chick I’ve seen on film in quite some time... She’s Wiccan... meaning she’s one of those folks that believe in the whole.. animal, vegetable, mineral spirit thing... dance around naked, be peace, love and happiness embodied and so on and so on.

Then there is the couple, Stephen Parker and Tristen Ryler, who are on board as researchers for a book they are writing called BLAIR WITCH: HYSTERIA OR HISTORY. Stephen is a cynic and believes that hysteria and mania is feeding the popularity and sudden belief by those that really do believe in BLAIR WITCH stuff... and his girlfriend Tristen, who’s six weeks pregnant with his child, is a complete believer in that perception is reality and that the two are not separate because if you perceive something to be real.... then it is in fact real.

Now... The danger with this group is basically this... You are looking at a formula for probable disaster. You have 5 people... who left to their own devices... separate and not in those woods... would probably just be fine and ok. BUT... when you have 4 people being led by someone who has serious mental issues but believes he is cured.... that has someone believing absolutely that their perceptions are psychic truths... and then you have a Wiccan who is casting her little spells and is very touchy touchy friendly friendly... and then the provocateurs of the group that are feeding directly into all of this with their own non-professional theories and beliefs... And then you isolate... introduce drugs and serious alcohol abuse.... while directly getting into the whole Blair Witch methodology... well... you’ll see.

What is even more interesting though... is Berlinger’s handling of giving these guys footage that speaks completely of the truth... but when seen by people that are feeding their own paranoia... the truth is analyzed as being further evidence of WITCHCRAFT AND SUPERNATURAL as... well how else can you explain them doing what they’re doing... and they’re too entrenched in their own insecurities to believe THEY COULD’VE DONE THESE THINGS... so they create delusions and visions to excuse what they’ve done... and refuse to accept the videos as truth...

Have you ever seen the news... ever seen one of those deals where you see kids being arrested for having killed a couple of friends... and they claim the devil made em do it... and that they were doing witchcraft and they were possessed and have no memory of doing said horrible thing?

Well... this movie is Berlinger’s examination of that phenomenon as tied to the Blair Witch Project.

All the flashes of gore, dreams of damage... those are moments in the characters’ minds remembering what they had done. But they are only flashes and unfamiliar and alien to them because THEY DON’T REMEMBER doing it and have suppressed and buried these memories.

This is real. This happens. People convince themselves and delude themselves into believing their own lies to a point that their stories become perceived reality.

Now the characters are not particularly deep because they are archetypes.... You instantly know these types... and therefore you understand them instantly.. and it is disturbing as can be when what happens happens.

Does Berlinger cheat? Meaning... does he ever throw us something that you can point at and say... LOOK... THERE’S THE BLAIR WITCH!!!! LOOKIE LOOKIE LOOKIE!!!

Ya know, I thought for a second he had. The video from out on their camping trip is damaged after being buried and banged around... well it’s a bit shoddy... a convenience I’ll give you... but not beyond the realm of believability in the natural suspension of disbelief... but there is one flash that in a Rorschach split second seems to be something that SHOULDN’T BE THERE... but... it is a Rorschach jumble... that is instantly commented upon by one of the deluded... and in afterthought, I’m curious to freeze frame on it myself to check. But the comment by the person is actually a window into his own psyche and hazy memory of what happened that night. And the more I think about this moment... the more I really dig it.

Now on an aesthetic level... the film is lovely to look at and not at all the wild running with the camera through the woods stuff of the first film. There is no over-exposed foggy lens moments... This is a professional film being directed by a person that’s documentary background provided him with an insight to the type of characters and events that take place in the film.

This film, I believe, is being terribly mismarketed as being pabulum for the SCREAM crowd... Beginning two months ago this should have been being shown.. including at Toronto with Joe in attendance... Now, they are screening it for people around the country... that might help some of the damage that the trailers have done. This isn’t horror... it is psychological suspense akin to Wise’s THE HAUNTING and that ol William Shatner TWILIGHT ZONE episode with the Devil fortune machine (gosh blast it... can’t remember the episode title)...

After the film Glen came down from the back of the theater... looked me in the face and said... “That isn’t the film it’s being made out to be!” Glen liked it, he felt there were a couple of places where it had pacing problems... But when I countered with... for this sort of psychological suspense... you sort of need those spaces where it seems long to give you the sense of isolation and forboding sense of doom... Well Glen did seem to agree. Look for his review sometime soon over at Film Force.

Dad and I then had to drive over and talk with Joe Berlinger over lunch... and I had a surprise for him. You see, Berlinger believed I wasn’t going to like the film. He had a feeling an intuition. He had called me a couple of days ago and from that talk I sensed hesitation in his desire to come here.

When I met him, I could instantly feel his eyes searching my face for a sign as to whether or not I liked his film. We were at this Oriental restaurant out North, here in Austin, called P.F. CHANG’S, I believe.

When I told him... his face relaxed and you could see this entire sense of exasperation flow away from him. I was fascinated to find why... having made such a wonderful film... he felt that I would hate it or not like it. And basically... it came down to the fact that on the site, I was saying things like, “I’ve got a baaaaaad feeling about this!”

I laughed and said, “Oh.. I understand that completely. I mean sure I was saying... ‘Even though I have a baaaaad feeling I’m going in with an open mind,’ I could see how you would think... ‘Yeah right, he’s out to crucify me’”

My first question to him was where the hell did the whole BOOK OF SHADOW thing have to do with anything.

His answer? Well, it was about 20 minutes... but had a lot to do with a combination of Wiccan Diaries, the shadow existence the character create for themselves and the stories they tell. Personally whether it is true or not... I will always believe that some Exec somewhere came up with it and Joe’s just interpreting it as best as he can... but who knows... maybe it really did come from there... but unfortunately alot of people will leave the film saying...

“Where was the fucking BOOK OF SHADOWS?”

And they won’t listen for 20 minutes while Joe explains the symbolic and mythic nature and subtext to the characters that the film stands for... However, if you do enough reading about the film after the press junket in Los Angeles tomorrow... I’m sure you’ll hear plenty.

Now... while this isn’t part of the review, I can tell you that Berlinger has two immediate projects that he’s working and developing at ARTISAN right now... One is a remake of THE WICKER MAN (which is one of the great cult classics which everyone should be familiar with... go rent it) and another film based on a true story about a man that... well, I’ll keep that one for later... hehehe...

The bottom line here is that while I personally don’t like the film as much as say... Wise’s THE HAUNTING... I do very much love this movie. What keeps it from that type of quality is 1. I prefer the period of THE HAUNTING. 2. There is a certain ease and serenity to that film that is just magical and lyrical that is missing here. And lastly 3. That house was a better set.

Berlinger is a filmmaker that we need to keep an eye on. He made the film that I was hoping he could make when his name was very first attached to the project... and he very deftly steered clear of all of my fears that could’ve torpedoed this film instantly.

Remember, walk in with an open mind.... the idea that you at least want to like the film and the movie will surprise you quite a bit. It is intelligent and smart filmmaking deserving of your attention and time.

Now begin calling me names...

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