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Pagans in the Media

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Views: 1,836,953

Year: 2008 ...

The Media Witch's Look Back at 2007: Part One, TV

Year: 2007 ...

Witch Cinema 23: The Number 23

Witch Cinema 24: The Golden Compass: Magic, Daemons and Polar Bears!

Year: 2006 ...

Witch Cinema 21: The Wicker Man, 2006... What a Waste!

Witch Cinema 22: DVDs for Giving and Gazing

Year: 2005 ...

Witch Cinema 20: Come Over to the Dark Side…

Year: 2004 ...

Witch Cinema 19

Witch Cinema 18

Witch Cinema 17 - 2003 Wrap-Up

Year: 2003 ...

Witch Cinema 13

Witch Cinema 12

Return of the King - Peg's Review

Witch Cinema 14

Witch Cinema 15

Year: 2002 ...

Buffy: Season Finale 2002

Witch Cinema: Richard Harris

Witch Cinema 10

Witch Cinema 06

Witch Cinema 11

Witch Cinema 08

Witch Cinema 07

Witch Cinema 09

Year: 2001 ...

The Mists of Avalon: Peg's Review

The Mists of Avalon: A Preview

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Peg's Review

The Fellowship of the Ring - Peg's Review

Witch Cinema 03

Witch Cinema 01

Witch Cinema 02

Le Bijou Sorci?re! - 6/4/01 WHITE

Year: 2000 ...

Blair Witch - The WitchVox Review

Solstice Cinema: or, What to Watch on Chilly Nights of Winter

Blair Witch - Interview with Joe Berlinger

Blair Witch II - Peg's Trip to the Webfest

Blair Witch II - How Peg Became Involved

Year: 1999 ...

Blair Witch Project - a pre-review

Blair Witch Project - an Interview with the Directors

Blair Witch Project - Movie REVIEW

Judging Amy -- A WitchVox Review

Judging Amy -- Comments Pg 1

BWP Comments 1

BWP Comments 2

BWP Comments 6

Judging Amy -- Comments Pg 2

BWP Comments 3

BWP Comments 5

BWP Comments 7

Judging Amy -- Comments Pg 3

BWP Comments 4

Year: 1998 ...

Practical Magic: Curses and Hauntings and Love Spells, Oh My!

Charmed - Initial Thoughts

48 HOURS: *Not* Burning the Midnight Oil Doing Homework...

X-Files Epidode that Infuriated Witches (02/08/98)

The Clearwater - Madonna Shrine

World's Largest Cauldron comes to Salem Mass

Politics - CELLUCCI Slams Witches!!!

Year: 1997 ...

Xena, Warrior Princess

The Crucible (Peg's Review)

Witch City (The saga of Salem)

X-Files Epidode that Infuriated Witches

Sonys The Craft

NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.

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Article ID: 3050

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Section: media

Age Group: Adult

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Blair Witch - The WitchVox Review

Author: Peg Aloi [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: November 5th. 2000
Times Viewed: 21,221

"What is there in the dark that is not there in the light? Call it our worst impulses, hiding in the quaking branches. Call it fear, shuddering beneath the forest floor of layers of dried leaves, smelling of mold and decay. Call it The Other: chthonic, earthbound, wordless and almost always female. Some will call it The Supernatural. And some, no doubt, will call it Witchcraft."

--From "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid, of the Dark" (Witchvox film review, 1999)

I thought it appropriate to begin my review with last summer's parting words on The Blair Witch Project. To pick up where we left off and ground ourselves, if fleetingly, in what we know. For as we return to the Blair Witch mythology, we venture once more into the realm of the unknown, of secrets, fear, loss, anger, frustration, and, last but not least, horror. This sequel is nothing if not horrific. And it is in many ways more unsettling than the first film which bears its name. Book of Shadows is apt to make us all unsure of what we know, or think we know, about who, or what, the Blair Witch may be. Or why we need so badly for her to be real.

Most sequels bring us back to familiar territory: places, characters, plot elements, unfinished business, and, in the case of horror sequels, unvanquished evil or unresolved vengeance. The demon is destroyed, the house is purified, mother and child are reunited, the secret scrolls are deciphered, the killer is apprehended, the violated bones of the dead find their final place of rest. Or not.

Put away your expectations. Calm your curiosity. Forget your need to know what really happened to Heather, Mike and Josh. You won't find any answers here. While you're at it, don't hope to learn very much about the Blair Witch and her legacy, beyond what you have probably already gleaned from the first film, the website (, the Sci-Fi Channel special "Curse of the Blair Witch, " The Blair Witch Project Dossier, or the actors' appearances on Letterman. You won't find out what happened in that basement and maybe that is for the best.

You will find evil, and torture, and obsession, and murder, and sex, and pain, and madness, and lies.

You will find Satan. And Persephone.

You will find The Exorcist. The Omen. And Evil Dead 2.

And even, so help me Goddess, an abbreviated grimoire for Wicca 101.

But the only mention you will find of the Blair Witch, also known as Elly Kedward, is from a handful of characters who learned about her exactly the way that you did: from the first movie (and the websites and the TV shows and the books and the fan clubs and the Ebay auctions etc.).

Director and co-writer Joe Berlinger has done something unique with this sequel-making opportunity: he has crafted a film which, rather than continuing the fictional premise of its predecessor, comments upon its real-life success. No film in recent memory has enjoyed the runaway popularity and financial success of this modest little indie project by a group of horror buffs from Orlando; and any sequel must shoulder that baggage. To continue the story where it left off (in that basement) would probably only work on a satirical level, if at all. Berlinger instead examines the ins and outs of how and why this film, for all its advance hype, was able to perpetrate a highly successful hoax upon a large portion of its audience. (Personally, the magazine interviews with the actors and their subsequent appearances in other films convinced me it didn't really happen). Did people want to be frightened and fooled? Or were they simply incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction?

The characters in Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 are all obsessed with the Blair Witch for different reasons, but all are in agreement that there is more to the myth than a fictional movie. Knowing the film was "fake, " these five young people nevertheless harbor the belief that the phenomenal success of the first film, and the obsessive, sycophantic fan clubs which sprung up in its wake, must at least in part indicate that the original myth is a powerful one, worth taking very seriously.

The five central characters are all played by actors who share their first names, in only one of many strange (and often eerie) meta-cinematic parallels to the "real" world. Berlinger is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker who, with his partner Bruce Sinofsky, made the award-winning films Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost, and Revelations, all of which investigate true-crime stories and the communities they occurred in. Berlinger is clearly utilizing his documentary skills here, as he slyly and often playfully challenges viewers to determine just what is real and what isn't. And although Blair Witch 2 is in many ways not as frightening as its predecessor (though many who did not find that film's subtlety effective will appreciate BW2's considerable violence and gore and more formal cinematography), there is a pervasive sense that what we are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential for the purest forms of human evil. (For more on Berlinger's thoughts on this film, see our exclusive interview.)

Just as Heather, Mike and Josh were ordinary college kids who unwittingly got caught up in something mysterious and frightening, which may have been fuelled by their belief in the Blair Witch, the sequel's cast (Jeff, Erica, Kim, Stephen and Tristen) embark upon their adventure with confidence, which for some is tempered with cynicism or wonder. I was intrigued by the way each of these characters seemed capable of recognizing their own gullibility and their willingness to be sucked into the abyss of rumor and fear-mongering... and yet helpless to stop it from happening.

The five gather to attend a weekend-long Blair Witch Tour of Maryland's Black Hills (where Heather, Mike and Josh supposedly disappeared, where Rustin Parr supposedly murdered seven children because the witch told him to, where Eileen Treacle supposedly went missing, where her search party supposedly met an unfortunate, disemboweled end upon Coffin Rock, and where Elly Kedward, the witch of Blair Township (later renamed Blair), supposedly lived and practiced her healing arts in the woods and was supposedly banished from the community in the dead of winter for performing bloodletting on village children. The tour is organized by Burkittsville townie, stoner and entrepreneur Jeff Patterson (played by Jeff Donovan, who, incidentally, I knew in grad school and acted in several plays with. I was Charlotte Corday to his Marquis de Sade; he is a fine actor and I am tickled his career is flourishing). Patterson's troubled mental history is hinted at in some chilling scenes which are a clear homage to Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies, a documentary which exposed the abusive treatment of mental patients in a Massachusetts psychiatric facility. Patterson casually says he was "in the hospital" when the first film came out, but later became obsessed with it and started his own business, selling stick figure fetishes, t-shirts, caps and other memorabilia--and offering guided tours of the Black Hills forest.

The film's opening moments are in documentary style, beginning with video clips of Roger Ebert's review of The Blair Witch Project (a nod to the same conceit which opens Berlinger's documentary sequel Revelations: Paradise Lost 2. More archival "footage" of tourists and locals establishes a mockumentary tone: residents comment on the explosion of visitors scouring the woods for traces of the witch (the town's sheriff is seen admonishing a group of black-clad seekers "You clear outta these woods-there is no goddamned Blair Witch!") This of course is art imitating life: thanks to the uncanny success of the internet-based hype engine surrounding the first film, (some organic, some quite intentionally orchestrated), the actual denizens of Burkittsville were indeed inundated with unwelcome visitors (mostly young cyber-savvy goth types, according to Berlinger). Blair Witch 2 shows that the result of this has been that, rather than fight the invasion, some enterprising residents have given visitors what they want: a full-blown tacky tourist experience.

This phenomenon receives tongue-in-cheek commentary from real "residents" of Burkittsville (including a Hitchcockian cameo by the director himself) who eagerly describe their various Blair Witch scams: rocks (too heavy to ship profitably via the 'Net, complains one jaded local businesswoman), stick figures, t-shirts, etc. Jeff's own franchise, perhaps facing competition from other t-shirt purveyors, offers tours of the woods meant to give an up close and personal experience of the place where it all began.

Here the film's central story begins: Jeff's four tourists are brought together to embark on their weekend journey. Kim (played by Kim Director) is a badass goth whose perfect pale make-up, Edwardian/New York Dolls fashion sense and tough-cookie demeanor cannot hide a gentle soul: she is psychically sensitive and, though she grudgingly admits she comes along because "I thought the first movie was cool, " Kim is more attuned to the psychic debris and remnants of evil haunting the woods than the others. When Jeff's van arrives at the cemetery to pick her up, Kim is lying upon the crypt bearing the name "Treacle": as in Eileen Treacle, the young girl whose disappearance (she supposedly drowned in Tappy East Creek) eventually led to the grisly murder of seven men dispatched to search for her in the woods. This is a subtle foreshadowing of Kim's visions of the child's gruesome-looking ghost later on.

We meet Erica (Erica Leerhsen), the token "Wiccan, " a slender, sensual nymphet bedecked with silver jewelry; she is a defender of modern witchcraft and identified with Elly Kedward's persecution at the hands of bigots. Neo-pagan platitudes fall casually from Erica's lips (Leerhsen's research materials for the role included ten best-sellers on the Craft from Llewellyn, despite the spurious media quotations saying she watched exhaustive video footage of "satanic rituals"), and her newbie enthusiasm is refreshingly familiar, if a tad annoying.

Erica is something of a sacrificial lamb in the story (more on this later), and if anything her presence is cautionary: even so-called "experts" on the occult may be brought low when the true evil which lurks is not supernatural, but human (much more insidious and unpredictable). Erica is well versed in the ways and principles of Wicca and she makes sure her fellow travelers know it. Jeff has his camera turned on to film the weekend's events (come on, you knew that was going to happen, didn't you?), and his first words to Erica are: "Not only a hottie, but a real live Witch: a Wiccan, " he teases, and later, fixing the camera on her, says "I want to make a film: 'Wicca: A Way of Life'." (He flatters Kim with the same suggestion: "Goth: A Way of Life.")

The other two guests are an attractive couple: Stephen (Barker Turner) and Tristen (Skyler), two graduate students co-writing a thesis entitled "The Blair Witch: History or Hysteria?" (or is it "Hysteria or History?" Actually, these two can't agree on that, either) Though these two level-headed academics would appear to be the skeptics of the fivesome, we soon learn that even ivory-tower dwellers are as prone to delusion and loss of control as anyone.

What happens is this (caution: many plot spoilers follow):

The five head for the woods. As they climb into Jeff's van, there is a brief snippet of footage: Jeff is in a police station being interrogated. The date flashes onscreen: November 15." "We found blood in the van" says a detective to Jeff. Then we see "November 12" on the screen and are back in the van on the way to the Black Hills. So we now know that at some point in the weekend Jeff will be involved in something which makes him a suspect in an apparently violent crime. As the film continues, Kim and Stephen are also occasionally shown in the police station being questioned, and then the narrative flips back to the preceding three days, which unfold more or less chronologically. Frequent flashbacks, so brief they have the quality of dreams, so violent they have a disturbing, unnerving effect, occur frequently: what are we seeing, from whose point of view, and what exactly has happened?

After some getting-to-know-you dialogue en route, wherein Erica explains witches have always been persecuted, Jeff hits on Erica, Kim realizes Tristen is pregnant (and that Stephen wants the baby more than Tristen does), they come upon a rival your group which insists they have permits and have more right to be there than Jeff's group. After Jeff threatens this second group (which includes tourists from Japan and Germany), and Erica reminds them that "It's gonna come back at you threefold, man!" they go off.

Erica does some benevolent magic working (sanctifying a circle in the woods where they set up camp) and explains to Tristen she is communing with the spirit of Elly Kedward. The group finds a boulder with graffiti scrawled on it and Erica defends the pentagram there as positive, saying "Only those who don't understand Wicca would be afraid." Erica passionately defends the innocence of Elly Kedward ("They tied her to a tree and left her to fucking die!") and Tristen observes that Erica makes her sound helpless: "I thought witches could summon powerful energy." Erica concedes: "We can; but we still have to eat, shit and die like the rest of you."

Herein is a central plot element: the stereotyped personalities of these five characters, distinct caricatures in terms of their suitability as horror movie victims, seem to suggest that anyone is capable of the most disturbing acts, if the time, place and circumstances converge just so. That is how Erica, even though she professes to be a peace-loving Wiccan who lives by the Threefold Law, ends up implicated in the same horrific acts of murder as the others.

Yes, murder. Wouldn't be a horror film without it.

As to what place, time or circumstance have to do with why these five act as they do, that is anyone's guess. Berlinger isn't telling (or at least isn't offering one pat explanation), and many potential explanations are hinted at. The most plausible one seems to be hysteria-fuelled abandon, seasoned with intoxicating substances, colored by an obsession with violence, and tempered with denial of individual responsibility.

Life in America, in other words. Except most average twenty-somethings don't go camping and end up involved in ritualistic murder. These five do. Or do they?

For the film's chillingly effective editing suggests that these images of bludgeoning, stabbing and orgiastic abandon may be just one more example of the things these people imagine they have done, merely because they have become fascinated or obsessed with such images. In other words, their tendency to become stirred up by horror and fantasy, including the fictional Blair Witch mythos, suggests their malleability and vulnerability to, not only imagining committing these acts, but somehow unwittingly participating in them. Or participating willingly, but forgetting immediately.

As the five set up camp and prepare to spend the night within the ruined foundation of Rustin Parr's house, they drink a lot of beer and whiskey and smoke a lot of pot (probably supplied by Jeff, whose healthy plants are quite visible later on in his home). There are furtive, flirtatious glances and embraces, dancing, laughter, general raucous goings-on, twenty-somethings having fun in the woods. Stephen and Tristen have a drunken discussion: "Perception is reality, " she pleads. And in a wicked jibe at BWP, Jeff, fondling one of his many cameras he has brought along, says at one point: "Video never lies. Film does, though." Grainy shots of their forest soiree are interspersed with quick flashes of violent images: blood in hair, knives noisily cutting flesh, the sound of bones breaking, the thumping of blunt force trauma, as the TV hospital shows call it--most of it so fast it is hard to say what is really going on in those shots.

And that seems to be the point.

For somewhere in the night, the five have lost track of what happened. They wake in the morning, looking weary and hungover. The stark morning light shows flecks of white, like rectangular snowflakes, blowing about the campsite and falling on them as they sleep. Tristen appears to wake, to walk down to the stream and place a rolled towel under water. Blood seeps upward, and we think we are seeing the results of an early miscarriage, perhaps. Until, in a frame reminiscent of Ken Russell's Gothic, a tiny white hand pokes up out of the water. Then we know it must be a dream.

Tristen does wake then, shaken by her dream. She notices the white flakes and wakes Stephen, who immediately realizes it is their research, shredded into bits. With delicious horror movie logic, we learn they didn't back up their research on the computer: their only copy now lies strewn around the forest floor. The implication at this early stage is that the Blair Witch has somehow made this happen. An act of ridicule, perhaps? Anger? Warning? Whatever the cause, supernatural or rational, the five are spooked and start to think they should leave.

Jeff then discovers his cameras and videotapes are missing. Kim knows where they are, and points to the spot under the house foundation where Heather, Mike and Josh's videotapes were "found." The tapes are indeed there. Fear is now palpable, and Stephen discovers Tristen has indeed had a miscarriage.

Cut to November 15: "We found blood in the van, " the detective insists. This time Jeff has an answer: "Tristen had a miscarriage." Then we are with the five in the hospital. Erica does a tarot reading as they wait for Tristen. Then they all go together to Jeff's enormous house ( a former institutional building, with a long metal bridge at its entrance) in the woods. I know, I know; why wouldn't they all go their separate ways at this point? But they don't.

At Jeff's place, he offers the tour of his workroom where he creates his mail-order trinkets for BWP devotees, and shows off his elaborate film-editing set-up. At one point he notices an ugly red welt on Kim's shoulder. She shrugs it off: "Chafing from my backpack."

Tristen and Stephen show the others the only known drawing of Elly Kedward; Tristen then describes the brutal murder of the members of the search team who were disemboweled and arranged so their heads were touching, in the shape of a pentagram. ("Sure, the great American pastime, " grumbles Erica, "Blame it on a witch!") The group rambles through the enormous house exploring Jeff's various odd treasures. He plays the videotapes of their time in the woods and notices that several hours in the middle of the night are missing. He and Kim try to figure out why this is by fiddling with the editing equipment.

When Tristen and Stephen, lying down in an upstairs bedroom, hear children crying outside and argue about Tristen not wanting the baby, Stephen gets flustered and goes downstairs. He talks with Erica and she offers him a backrub, which turns sexual. (Hey, come on, we all know witches are sluts who go after other women's men. Been there, done that.) Just when they begin to make love, Erica scratches her nails across his stomach and deep cuts appear. Then suddenly they are sitting across the table from each other as if nothing untoward had happened; but both are visibly shaken, as if they had shared the same vision.

They make their way downstairs where Jeff is trying to reconstruct the missing hours of videotape. When he is playing it at high speed, a fleeting human figure can be seen. When the frame is frozen, it is Erica, naked, dancing backward around a slender tree. The others appear confused, and Erica is upset "How did you do that?" she demands). Jeff tries to soothe her, saying "If it's some sort of Wicca thing, you can tell us."

The next scene finds Erica kneeling alone in a room, chanting an invocation to Persephone. "By earth and water, fire and smoke/Persephone do I invoke." (Yes, it's my one and only contribution to the script of the film, despite spurious rumors I was some sort of official "Wiccan Advisor." Had I known the context of the entire story at that point, I might not have chosen the goddess of the underworld. But the director/writer asked for help with a protective invocation and, having just done a Persephone ritual with my coven which was very grounding and had allayed my own anxieties about death at the time, I thought it would work well. As it turns out it was oddly appropriate for this scene, since soon afterwards Erica turns up missing and, later, is found dead.) Kim wanders into the room while Erica is performing the ritual and asks what's up. "We brought something back with us, " Erica says, frightened and worried.

She then shows Kim the red welts on her own stomach, which have the appearance of runic lettering that have been carved with knives. "It's an ancient pagan alphabet, " she says (not one I've ever heard of, by the way), "they say it means you've been touched by a witch and you're going to die." The fact that a politically-correct Wiccan like Erica would come out with something like this is a good clue that she is very unbalanced at this point. Kim scoffs at this explanation, says "We all have it, it's just poison oak or something." Erica continues her chanting and Kim leaves her alone.

"I need alcohol, " she says and takes the van to a local store for (what else?) some Pete's Wicked Ale. She gets into a scuffle with the general store's cashier and some local hoodlums, and on her way back to Jeff's house sees a vision of seven dead children standing in the road (presumably the ones who disappeared the year after Elly Kedward was banished). She smashes the front of the van slightly.

Erica offers to drive Tristen and Stephen home. Erica and Stephen look at each other and both experience another brief flash of having sex. When Erica leaves the room, Tristen, who has grown distant and distraught, says out of the blue to Jeff: "They dip their hands in your blood and then they press them on your body." She lifts Jeff's shirt to show red handprints all over his abdomen. Erica comes in to tell Jeff the van is completely totaled. Kim swears it wasn't like that.

The others go to look at the van, and notice Erica missing when they return. Kim is the first to find a trace of her: Erica's clothes, laid out carefully on the floor, even her silver pentacle necklace where it should be: but no body. No one knows what may have happened to her. But it is clear by now that the fivesome has experienced some sort of memory lapse, and all are having trouble reconstructing what has happened.

Stephen begins babbling about "collective delusion" and "group hysteria" as ways to explain what is happening to them, to calm everyone in their concern about Erica's disappearance. They try to call her parents, but the Episcopal minister's secretary they reach on the phone claim the man Erica named as her father has never had any children. When the phone rings, it is the town sheriff, shown in earlier flashbacks interrogating Jeff. He tells Jeff to watch the news. Talking into his cell phone and waving at Jeff on camera, the sheriff, in a live news report, says the disemboweled bodies of five tourists have been found in the woods, their heads facing inward, heads touching, in a pentagram shape. The sheriff implies Jeff will be questioned about the crime. Cuts to the interrogation room have Jeff saying to the sheriff "You've been looking to pin something on me since I was ten years old." (It can be read as an eerie reference to the real-life story (chronicled by Berlinger in Paradise Lost and Revelations) of the teenaged Damien Echols, accused and convicted (many say unjustly) of three murders in a town where he was seen as a spooky outsider).

That night, the four discuss their situation, continuing to drink and smoke heavily, and Jeff tells Stephen threateningly he won't take the fall for this alone. Kim echoes Erica's words: "We brought something back with us." And Jeff says "It's Erica, she's a witch, man, she's casting spells, she appears, she disappears!"

Sometime later, Erica's body is found, nude, standing, in a closet. Not one of the remaining four can determine how she got there, but, in classic horror movie fashion, all suspect the others and paranoia mounts. Since the videotapes showed unusual footage of Erica dancing nude, it is decided the tapes must hold some other clue of what happened to her, and of what transpired in those missing hours in the woods. Kim decides for no good reason ("I know it doesn't make any sense, just do it!") that playing the tapes backwards may offer answers.

After some tinkering with the reverse and play buttons (a subtle reference to The Exorcist, where the demon's true utterings are revealed only when played backwards), the missing hours are revealed: drunken cavorting and playfully ritualistic antics give way to something darker: Tristen is seen dressed in a hooded black robe, holding a knife, and appears to be leading the others in some sort of rite. Violent, graphic images of bloody embraces, howling, dancing, screaming, demonic laughter, nudity, it's all there. It might as well be straight out of an Anton LaVey video (oh, wait a minute, it is! The director had the actors observe filmed "Church of Satan" rituals from the 1970s, and they loved some of the images so much they are used in this film)

By now the others suspect Tristen of orchestrating the whole thing. Stephen starts to sound increasingly like Cotton Mather as he turns against her, blaming her for the miscarriage of their child ("The witch kills children!" he taunts). Completely distraught and hysterical, Tristen, saying "You wanted this!" hangs herself from the rafters of Jeff's huge loft.

The short scenes in the interrogation room, previously punctuating the long flashbacks of the weekend, are now dominant as the authorities investigate precisely what happened in the woods, and afterwards. A startling number of people are dead: the rival tour leaders, the Japanese and German tourists, Erica, Tristen, and the cashier at the store Kim visited. As the police question Jeff, Kim and Stephen, they deny everything. The police say they have proof: videotaped proof.

And they do.

It's all caught on tape: Jeff, nude, stuffing Erica's lifeless body into the closet. Stephen, like some sort of crazed Salem Village justice, screaming "Confess!" into Tristen's horrified face before he puts a noose around her neck and pushes her. Kim, stabbing the cashier with a letter opener.

The only answer the three accused have is to deny what is right before their eyes. "That's not what happened!" Kim wails. Stephen insists "Somebody fucked with those tapes!"

But who?

Who, indeed.

I believe a number of viewers will assume what they assumed about the first film's unhappy ending: the Blair Witch is somehow behind it. Elly Kedward controls people and video equipment from beyond the grave. Whether she is some sort of capable physical entity, or a shadowy dead one with telekinetic abilities, or, the more common theory, her grandiose all-consuming evil is so powerful, so pervasive, that it infects the minds of others and controls their behavior (like Rustin Parr, or the killer of Heather, Mike and Josh); no matter the shape her evil takes, many will wish to place blame on her.

Berlinger's director's statement offers his thoughts on the ways in which reality and fantasy have become blurred in our society. How many of us know at least one person who was so fooled by the Blair Witch hoax that they truly thought three college students were still missing and presumed dead? (I myself was fooled initially by the Blair Witch hoax, in the early days when the story was all over the Internet. It took an interview with the filmmakers, who were gleefully discussing the new foosball table they were installing in their offices after cutting a distribution deal at Sundance, for me to realize they weren't being cavalier about the deaths of three people. They were being cavalier because their film was a success. And the hoax perpetrated on the public was also a success, although it must be said that anyone who bothered to look deeply enough would have understood it was just a movie.)

The point seems to be that, if we can believe the Blair Witch legend is real, or that the disappearance of three college students is real, we can fool ourselves into believing anything: even that we haven't committed murder, when the facts would indicate that, oops, we have. Berlinger knows this works both ways, and that the sort of hysterical, occult-tinged panic which tinged the West Memphis homicides very likely led people to believe in the guilt of three innocent people. It was a more attractive scenario to the community, this fiction of teenage devil worshippers, than the thought that a parent or other trusted adult could do something so horrific. Mundane human evil is apparently a harder sell than supernatural evil.

If we will believe this, why wouldn't we believe a witch's ghost forces people to commit murder? Or, if these young people are innocent, why wouldn't we believe a witch's ghost could alter videotape to make it appear they are guilty? Or that a witch's ghost can somehow cause people to do things, horrible things, they would never do if a witch's ghost hadn't forced them?

It certainly is much more palatable than believing a Goth, a Wiccan, two academics and a harmless stoner from Burkittsville got caught up in their own horror-movie mindset and lost all control.

Watching this film I was reminded again and again of the powerful novel by Donna Tarrt, The Secret History. In it, a group of mild-mannered, eccentric Greek students at an exclusive college in Vermont find themselves the perpetrators of a murder. Trying to emulate the frenzied, ecstatic states of a Greek bacchanal, they have a ceremony in the forest one night and in the morning discover they have killed a local farmer: literally ripped him apart with their bare hands. The book is intentionally shadowy with details, and no detailed description of the murder exists, instead offering fascinating glimpses into the complex personalities of these young people and the circumstances they find themselves in. The novels' central question is this: Are studious, hyper-intelligent, attractive students from privileged backgrounds capable of murder and deceit and manipulation? Apparently so.

Are level-headed, sophisticated, discerning adults capable of fooling themselves into believing a clever, no-budget film is really the document of a triple murder caused by the ghost of a witch in the woods?

Apparently so.

I know many witches will find the film's suggestion that a "Wiccan" could commit murder offensive. Especially a Wiccan who spends most of her onscreen time espousing the tenets of modern witchcraft: the Law of Three, the Witches' Rede, etc. Many might think it is irresponsible or sensational to portray a character in this way; others will point to shoddy research (although if Erica can quote Scott Cunningham's books with such rapid-fire eloquence, it would appear this same preparation would have hammered home the point that Wicca is a life-affirming religion).

It is tempting to say that nothing is as it seems, and people are easily fooled, and that no matter what label someone puts on themselves, it is no guarantee what they are, or are not, capable of. But these sorts of platitudes seem as empty as saying "An it harm none, do what ye will" when you don't really mean (or believe) it.

I think Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is far more complex that it appears to be. There are many complex issues and ambitious ideas being explored here (perhaps too many), and anyone expecting a straightforward sequel, or further insight into the Blair Witch legacy, will be disappointed. (Best wait for the prequel by the original creators, Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez). On a purely cinematic level, the film's visual appeal and taut pacing add up to a satisfyingly frightening event, despite some minor problems with the script (which occasionally descends into clunky dialogue and weak moments of humor). As entertainment, the film is successful, even if it disappoints those with deeply ingrained expectations.

But as a commentary, on what contemporary horror films have become (over-the-top gore fests devoid of subtlety)... a commentary on what our electronic societal infrastructure (where we obtain our news, entertainment, groceries, school research, clothes, books, personal correspondence, banking, and, Aphrodite help us all, our sex lives, from computers) has wrought... a commentary on what commonly passes for truth these days (images of cinematic mayhem emblazoned upon the collective unconscious)...

...and, perhaps most of all, as a commentary on *what we haven't learned* from hundreds of years of human history in which women and men were hanged, burned, raped and tortured, made martyrs, made pathetic, demonic scapegoats, all in the name of vanquishing evil from the land...

On all those points, I consider this film to be a studied and intelligent meditation. One which merits viewing more than once.

Rumor has it, this same director wants to do a remake of The Wicker Man. Speed the day.

Peg Aloi
Media Coordinator
The Witches' Voice
November 5th., 2000 c.e.

Email: [Staff Email]

Also See Peg's Review of this Film
Also See Peg's Interview with the Director of this Film


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