Horror Show

All the best stuff in "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" happens before the credits--and the credits aren't at the end. This sequel is set after the release of the original "Blair Witch Project," and in the faux-documentary spirit of the original the townsfolk of Burkittsville are interviewed about the havoc the blockbuster movie has wreaked on their lives. Joe Berlinger, a documentary filmmaker himself ( "Brother's Keeper" and the HBO hit "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills"), gets these snippets of duplicitous "reality" just right. It's a clever, funny start, and, for a moment, you may think there actually was a good reason to make a sequel to last year's one-of-a-kind phenomenon.

And then the movie proper begins, in slick 35mm color, and it is just another dreadful teen horror flick--albeit one gussied up with self-conscious notions about the thin line between perception and reality. Once more we set out into the Black Hills of Maryland, but the characters have changed. They are four amazingly unappealing twentysomethings who have paid to go on a "Blair Witch Hunt": a grad-student couple researching mass hysteria (Stephen Barker Turner and Tristen Skyler), a comely Wiccan (Erica Leerhsen) who believes in Nature, not Evil, and the psychic Kim (Kim Director), whose pancake-white Elvira makeup never seems to smudge, even when the orgiastic blood rituals begin. Their tour guide is former mental-institution inmate and Blair Witch entrepreneur Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan), Burkittsville's black sheep. When a competing gaggle of tourists is found slaughtered in the nearby woods, this motley crew become the likely suspects.

Berlinger was an intriguing choice--his documentaries reveled in dark, outre subject matter--but he seems to have no idea how to work with actors. The entire cast should sue him for malpractice: not since the death of B movies has there been so much cheesy overacting. The writing is on a similar level. With each new gory development, someone delivers a variation on the line "What the f--k is going on?" What indeed. "The Blair Witch Project" was no masterwork, but in its no-budget way it gave the audience something it hadn't seen before. There was no way its success could be duplicated. But why would anyone think this was the way to carry on the name? If you harbor any fond feelings for the original, stay far away from this mess.

Book of Shadows:
Blair Witch 2
Artisan
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