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Saturday, March 31, 2001

'BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2'

You really don't want to go there


There must be an organization in Hollywood called Bad Sequels Inc. (not to mention Happy Endings.com and Dial-a-Corpse). The people over at Bad Sequels are dressed in gray, carry briefcases and have the furtive look of a nervous salesman. They go up to some successful producer at some 7-ish cocktail party and whisper out of the corners of their mouths: "Sir, you're a man with brains and foresight -- we can see that right away. So we know you'd be interested in this brand-new, tip-top sequel that comes complete with cast, grip and gaffer. Whaddaya say?" And the producer, because it's Friday night and he's had a few drinks, says "Uhhh, OK," and signs on the dotted line. Then the men in gray hastily lock up the case, sprint out the door and drive away, fast.

Erica Leerhsen in "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2"

Unless something is done about Bad Sequels Inc., we'll be stuck with an ever-growing mass of unwatchable howlers that include such bombs as "Dumb and Dumber 2," "Another 48 Hours" and all the rest.

But the Bad Sequels Inc. people have outdone themselves this time with "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2," a bad sequel that redefines the term in one dramatic stroke. Think of someone wearing last year's Halloween costume, yelling "boo" and expecting you to jump with fright. Well, honestly. After this, sequel standards will definitely have to be dropped a couple of notches.

Still, one imagines that with "Blair Witch" it's more difficult to refrain from making a Part 2, since every facet of Part 1 screamed for it. The blurred and enigmatic ending, all those unanswered questions and, most importantly, the total absence of the title character. Where was the witch? It's natural for the filmmakers to count on their audience wanting to know these things. It's natural to want to lead the audience once more into those forbidding woods.

If any of the original "Blair Witch" magic carried over into "Book of Shadows," it's found in the woods where, once again, the environment is cold and hostile. There are no furry animals to ease the anxiety. Rather than get what mileage he can out of this setting, however, director Joe Berlinger (a veteran documentarist before this project) takes the story out of the woods and sticks it in a house, trapping the action and terror within four gray walls. Without the trees, the story disintegrates, despite the characters' insistence that "we brought something back from the woods. It's here with us!"

Speaking of which, the other huge problem lies in the total lack of connection with the characters, all of whom seem either fresh out of acting school or ready to return to their day jobs as soon as the shoot is over. It's not that they're overwhelmingly unconvincing or unattractive or unglamorous: They're all these things combined.

In the end, there wasn't one character you could latch onto, one character who could make you feel that this is a movie and not some fraternity prank involving lots of weed, beer and Squirt-O-Blood on hands and shirts.

There's a cheapskate feeling at work here, which makes one feel conned, especially since original writers/directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez are in the executive producers' chairs. The duo had achieved fame and notoriety with the previous "Blair Witch," but none of that is visible in "Book of Shadows." This is sad, since the story kicks off with a clever premise: that it's a documentary about what happened after the release of the original documentary, "The Blair Witch Story."

Since the original's release, the town of Burkittsville, Md., has become deluged with tourists "believing in the Blair Witch," and the locals are milking the attraction for all they can. Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan) is one of the more successful entrepreneurs who has set up his own Web site, sells related merchandise and leads tour groups into the woods.

Four people sign up for his "Blair Witch Hunt," which consists mostly of camping, drinking and smoking until the small hours. But what started out as a few hours of good fun turns to terror in the morning. No one can remember what happened during the night, and the whole campsite is torn to shreds. "Was it the witch?" someone asks. The whole group turns pale . . .

Are you getting excited? Didn't think so. If the sequel had worked, it would have been what the Japanese call a "second loach under the willow tree" -- like having your cake and eating it. As it is, however, there are no loaches, no electricity and . . . no witch. Which probably leads to the painful assumption that there will be a "Blair Witch 3."

"Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" is playing at Warner Mycal Cinemas Itabashi and other theaters.


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