Franchise Killers: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Blair Witch 2

It’s hard to overstate the impact that The Blair Witch Project had when it was released in 1999.  The no-budget found-footage horror movie became an overnight sensation.  Even if no-budget found-footage horror movies where young people get lost in the woods and are menaced by rocks and twigs weren’t your thing, there was no escaping the Blair Witch phenomenon.  The image of a runny-nosed Heather Donahue speaking directly into her camera became one of the most satirized moments in cinema.  The Blair Witch was up there with The Matrix and The Sixth Sense as one of the most influential movies of the year.

It was also among the most profitable movies ever made.  With a budget of less than a million dollars, The Blair With Project grossed close to a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide.  That’s some crazy return on investment right there.  So it’s understandable at that executives at Artisan wanted a sequel right away.  The pencil pushers had a plan for a series of Blair Witch movies released every October just in time for Halloween.  There was only one problem.  Absolutely nothing about The Blair Witch Project would work a second time.

Blair Witch 2

No matter what you thought about the first movie (“over-hyped” is a word that comes to my mind) you have to be at least a little impressed with its ingenuity.  A couple of novice filmmakers with almost no resources went out into the woods and made a movie starring complete unknowns and succeeded on a level that A-list directors only dream of.

You would think, having struck gold on their first attempt, that co-writers and directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez would have been eager to cash in.  But when Artisan came calling for a Blair Witch sequel, the creators of the original film passed on it.  According to Myrick, they felt it was best to wait until some of the Blair Witch mania had died down.  But the accountants at Artisan, the MBAs who somehow find themselves making decisions about supposedly creative endeavors, well, they knew better than the two guys who spent years developing the product they intended to mass produce.

“Strike while the iron is hot!” was the mantra.  So Artisan decided to proceed with a Blair Witch sequel without the involvement of anyone who had been associated with the success of the original.  The first movie had performed so well, the Artisan brass was confident that anything with the Blair Witch name would be a can’t miss money-maker.  They already had plans for a third film.

When it came time to choose a director for Blair Witch 2 (the “Electric Boogaloo” is implied), the studio made an unconventional choice.  Instead of hiring an established genre director, they went with Joe Berlinger.  Berlinger was a documentary filmmaker best known for his series, Paradise Lost which recounts the legal battles of three teenagers wrongfully convicted of murder.

Blair Witch 2

From the beginning, Berlinger and the Artisan higher-ups didn’t see eye to eye.  Berlinger saw his movie as a relatively goreless psychological thriller that would comment on social issues like violence in the media and the dangers of groupthink.  The Artisan guys wanted a blood-soaked horror movie they could sell to the teens on Halloween weekend.  Preferably a cheap one.

The one thing that everyone involved agreed upon was that you couldn’t just make another Blair Witch.  The things that were scary in the first movie had become the stuff of satire in the intervening year.  The sequel would have to find a way to tie into the premise of the original while also being radically different.  The solution was to make the Blair Witch sequel into the most meta horror movie ever made.

Blair Witch 2 starts off with a series of clips of media reaction to the first movie.  When your sequel starts out with Ebert and Siskle’s review of its predecessor you have pretty much shattered any illusion that what you are watching might be based on fact.  Which, not for nothing, was a major selling point of the first movie.

The story sees a group of tourists gathering in Burkittsville, Maryland where the original movie was shot.  A mercenary pothead played by Jeffrey Donovan has decided to make a quick buck on the legend of the Blair Witch by selling tours of the woods where the movie was filmed.  If Donovan is a stand-in for the execs at Artisan, his customers represent different factions of the original Blair Witch audience.  There’s a Wiccan and a goth and a couple of intellectuals.  The group goes out into the woods to camp in the Rustin Parr house where the original movie had its ambiguous ending.

Book of Shadows aims for some level of ambiguity as well.  Or at least, that’s what Berlinger is trying to accomplish.  After a night of wild partying, the tourists wake up and realize that something has happened.  But all of them have blacked out and no one can remember who did what.  Whether or not anything supernatural has occurred could be left to the audience’s imagination (as it was with the first movie).  But Artisan didn’t like that idea.  So instead, they shoehorned in as many genre tropes as they could squeeze in to their budget.

Blair Witch 2

What made the original Blair Witch into a pop culture phenomenon was that it was unlike anything else.  But the studio couldn’t take chances on a movie that was different.  They wanted the relative safety of a proven horror formula.  So weeks before the movie was released, they demanded extensive reshoots to add the gore and violence that the horror fans supposedly crave.  The original cut of the film opened with Frank Sinatra’s song, Witchcraft.  But the studio replaced Ol’ Blue Eyes with Marilyn Manson so the Blair Witch sequel could feel exactly like every other horror movie in theaters.

Not surprisingly, the studio guys were proven wrong.  Whether or not Berlinger’s vision for the movie would have worked, we will never know.  All we can know for sure is that the executives who made every decision based on risk-aversion ended up making a sequel that flopped.  The plans for an annual Blair Witch series were scrapped.  Hopefully some of the suits who were trying to protect their jobs were fired, but who am I kidding?  If they were, they probably got hired at a studio down the road.

Artisan Entertainment didn’t last much longer after that.  In 2003, it was bought up by Lions Gate.  Following the success of Blair Witch Artisan overspent releasing one bomb after another.  Eventually, they just got gobbled up.

Let’s break this down:

How many movies in the series? 2

How many of them were good? 1 – Good is debatable, but the first one was undeniably influential

Health of the franchise before it died? Strong

Likelihood of a reboot? Slim, other found footage movies have become what a Blair Witch franchise might have been

Any redeeming value? No snot-nosed confessionals directly into the camera?

More Franchise Killers


Posted on October 27, 2015, in Franchise Killers, Movies, sequels and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I was completely underwhelmed by The Blair Witch Project. I didn’t think it was interesting at all. And that’s coming from someone who hates horror movies – I scare really easily. I think it was more a psychological kind of horror, because they left everything to the imagination, but that to me was exactly the problem: I was bored out of my brain because NOTHING happened.
    So I never bothered with the sequel, mostly though because frankly, it looks like crap. I just watched the trailer you posted, and now I think even to call it a B-movie would be too flattering. You’d be better off watching The Craft I reckon, if you’re in the mood for that kind of stuff… I’m just saying, it’s not good but it’s probably a million times better than that Blair Witch 2 tripe.


    • I wouldn’t say The Craft is all that similar to Blair Witch 2, but it is definitely better. Blair Witch 2 is really bad.

      I actually got to screen the original Blair Witch before the hype. Those of us who watched it then were really surprised by how it became a big thing. We weren’t all that impressed. But when it finally opened, you could not get tickets anywhere. It was sold out all over town for a couple of weeks. There weren’t enough prints in play to satisfy demand.


      • Why do you think it became such a phenomenon? I have to be honest, I never really got it. Was it just hype or was there really something special about it that I’m just not getting?


        • Timing was a big factor. At the time, viral marketing was a brand new thing. Blair Witch was the first movie to really make use of it in a clever way. A lot of people in the audience actually believed what they were seeing was real. It was only 15 years ago, but it was another age in a lot of ways.


  2. BLW2 – What a piece of garbage. I thought the first movie was okay. It was something more of style than substance. The marketing really did make it something of an event, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. The second one on the other hand…..Hoo boy. They should have to do SOMETHING remotely similar to the first one. I waited for the sequel to come out on DVD before I watched it. It looked terrible and looked nothing at all like the first one. When I saw it, I remember a lot of head-scratching. I’m not even sure how they could tie those two together, aside from the tour of the woods where the first movie was shot, because they had nothing else in common at all. I think one of the chicks got naked in it, which is the only thing I remember from it, aside from my utter boredom.


    • It was a purely mercenary move to make a sequel at all. The execution screamed “cash grab”. BW2 was the opposite of the original in many way. The original was a no budget movie that was successful because it was original. The sequel was relatively expensive, gory and cliched.


  3. Cinematic Excrement – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

    Good Bad Flicks – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2


  4. I thought the original film was unique, creative, and interesting, but there was no need for a sequel. It was like a good idea became boring and sloppy.


    • When they announced it, I thought there was no need for a sequel. But then, the Paranormal Activity series has figured out how to do found footage sequels. So maybe it could have worked. Book of Shadows wasn’t the way to do it. That much, we know for sure.


  5. Well, good. I hated “The BWP 1” with passion. One of the most disappointing movie experiences I’ve ever had. No plot, no nothing. Just a bunch of invisible people shrieking over stupid things like bushes or twigs on the ground. I felt conned.

    It also put me off “shaking-camera-documentary-style-movies” for a decade, at least.


  6. There is a Blair Witch 3 coming out


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