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Movie Review

Instead of creating a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, Joe Berlinger brings to the big screen a clumsy "documentary" about what happened in the real world after the release of Blair Witch in July 1999. Blair Witch wasn’t real. Neither is this. But Berlinger pumps this popular urban legend for all it’s worth. Book of Shadows begins with archive footage of various news stories (that cropped up in the wake of the first movie) about the throngs of fans who descended on tiny Burkittsville, Md., and the movie’s Web site and notorious publicity campaign that duped so many. For nearly half of the film’s 90-minute running time, it feels more like a spoof of Blair Witch than a continuation thereof. That feeling ends abruptly when quantities of blood, gore, violence and nudity begin splashing around.

Recently released from a mental hospital, Jeff cashes in on the Witch craze in his home town, selling trinkets over the Internet and launching a "Blair Witch-Hunt" tour of the area. Kim (the Goth-girl), Erica (the Wicca-girl), Tristen (the "normal" girl) and Stephen (the quiet-but-just-on-the-edge-of-exploding boy) sign up for the tour’s maiden voyage. From that point on, there’s little to say except that things spiral predictably downward into carnage, terror, paranoia, lust and murder.

positive elements: None.

spiritual content: Witchcraft is portrayed both positively and negatively. Erica espouses her Wiccan views and defends the Blair Witch, claiming she’s just a poor, misunderstood Wiccan. Erica hopes to ask the witch (or at least her ghost) to be her mentor as she learns the Wiccan craft. She intimates that witches can be both good and bad so one shouldn’t judge them sight unseen. She insists that she doesn’t believe in the Devil ("That’s a Christian tradition"). Still, as in the first movie, evil ends up consuming everyone. Even Erica. She tries to fight the darkness with her incantations and spells but to no avail. Fire, it turns out, cannot be quenched with fire.

sexual content: Unlike its predecessor, Book of Shadows embraces both graphic nudity and sexual violence. In fact, the group jokes about how stupid it was that nobody in the first movie had sex. Numerous shots of Erica dancing nude fill the screen. Only occasionally does her long hair obscure her breasts. Stephen fantasizes about sexual foreplay with Erica which ends with Erica scratching his stomach, producing cuts that bleed profusely. A black and white video reveals a nude Jeff and a topless Erica. A local youth makes a crass comment to Kim about oral sex. She responds in kind. Fuzzy video images show the group cavorting around a bonfire. This orgy of sorts includes two women kissing and Erica sitting nude and clenching between her legs something that vaguely looks like a skull.

violent content: Slowed-down, close-up images of large knives twisting in victims’ stomachs. Repeated stabbings. Oozing blood. These wrenching images are strewn haphazardly throughout the film. A woman is hanged—the cameras linger as she dangles high above the floor. A knife slices someone’s throat—the cameras zoom in for the kill. The Blair Witch Project avoided gore in favor of Hitchcockian sequences that leave some of the horror to the imagination. Book of Shadows revels in glamorizing the acts of mutilation, torture and killing.

crude or profane language: About 75 f- and s-words. Obscene gestures. Obscene expressions. Profane uses of Jesus’ name. Pathetic.

drug and alcohol content: Kim craves alcohol constantly and lets everybody know about it. She and the rest of the group consume quite a bit of the stuff, several times accompanying it with marijuana. Kim wishes she had amphetamines but says she’ll settle for the weed. The campfire orgy is driven by drugs and booze.

other negative elements: Tristen is pregnant with her boyfriend Stephen’s child. Early in the film she miscarries. Her blood soaks her pants. It is insufferable that Berlinger would choose to abuse such a heart-wrenching tragedy merely to get more blood on the screen.

Also, it becomes apparent that Jeff brazenly and unapologetically sells stolen merchandise on eBay and local law enforcement is stereotyped as being vengeful, mean and stupid.

conclusion:"We wanted people to have the experience of seeing a snuff film," says Artisan CEO Amir Malin about the first Blair Witch. Ugh. With that kind of mentality, it’s not surprising that Artisan not only wanted a sequel but, according to Entertainment Weekly, demanded that Berlinger "amp up the terror." Not that a sequel was avoidable since The Blair Witch Project grossed $141 million domestically and more than $109 million overseas.

One final nail in this coffin of a review. Book of Shadows mocks the reality that people sometimes mimic the violence that they see at the movies. As the carnage unfolds, news reporters blame each killing on maniacs affected by the first Witch film. But as everybody watching knows—wink, wink—it was really the Devil who made them do it. That ungodly force must also be behind the development of Blair Witch 3 which is already underway.

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