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Stream to Scream: “BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2”

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As many fright fans already know, FANGORIA offers a great selection of gruesome movies, old and new, for free at our Hulu channel. To give you a better idea of what’s available, FANGORIA is taking in-depth looks at some of the channel’s terrifying titles with Stream to Scream. Today: Joe Berlinger’s BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2.

To say that Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is divisive is likely the biggest understatement in horror. The film, which was a box office and cultural phenomenon, is one that still polarizes genre fans to this day, with some claiming it’s the most overrated horror film of all time while others claim it holds up just as well as it did in theaters 15 years ago. In any case, however, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT has had a fascinating longevity, between the mythology set up within the film, the various tie-ins produced for the film and, of course, its perpetually-in-development third chapter.

But even as controversial as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT can be, less can be said about it’s much-maligned sequel, BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2. Derided upon release, BOOK OF SHADOWS has a choice sect of supporters- as does most any release- but has not earned a revisionist stamp of approval and, to this day, still makes “worst of” horror lists across the cultural landscape. Hell, even this writer isn’t going to run to BOOK OF SHADOWS’ defense, as it’s very unfocused, nonsensical and flat-out boring for a majority of the film.

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However, BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 is a relentlessly fascinating cinematic specimen, especially considering its genesis: for the sequel to a fictional documentary about a child-murdering demon, Artisan Entertainment recruited an actual documentary filmmaker whose claim to fame was a documentary about a child murder. But for the sequel, the documentary aspect is thrown out the window in favor of exploring a more meta route, as Berlinger and co. instead focused on the fervor surrounding the original film. There’s a business logic impeding throughout BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, which makes its decision to dig into the original films rich mythology all the more conceptually confounding.

Even if BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 doesn’t carry the merits of a truly great film, the film is definitely one worth examining throughout all of its flaws. BOOK OF SHADOWS carries a theme about the reverse nature of the supernatural, and it’s that aspect that is especially relevant considering how backwards the film operates. The performances are committed and often times well-enough, but the material is so convoluted and counteractive to their acting that it almost renders their efforts futile. Furthermore, BOOK OF SHADOWS is a film almost entirely comprised of half-measure ideas: found footage is toyed with, moments of gore are built up yet never fully revealed, and the supernatural concepts from BLAIR WITCH are given the most lackluster reprise.

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If there’s any legitimate compliment this writer can give to BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 is that Berlinger’s first fictional feature is chock full of bold ambition, even if not entirely successful. The film has some very interesting and, at times, inspired visuals throughout, especially in sequences of altered or questionable reality. BOOK OF SHADOWS also has a curious approach to the meta nature of its existence, between the subliminal messages hidden throughout and its slavish allegiance to the mythology set forth in the original film. But above all, BOOK OF SHADOWS somehow manages to present a straightforward narrative that is almost entirely crafted from unfounded and barely connected story threads, all of which are unexpectedly tied up because of witch ghost magic or something.

So, if you’re looking for a legitimately scary or compelling horror film, BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 firmly does not deliver. But that does not mean BOOK OF SHADOWS is a film worth ignoring or disregarding as a bad film, because the film so confidently executes its erratic script that it’s absolutely interesting from start to finish. Don’t confuse it for “so bad it’s good.” BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 is an almost impenetrable film made by an ambitious filmmaker, unsure producers and confused yet charismatic actors, and every contradiction makes its way on screen loud and clear. And if you can’t help but watch and try to make sense out of it, you’re a stronger person than I.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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