Because the critiques of the 2000 sequel E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 rolled in, director Joe Berlinger, days earlier than his fortieth birthday, curled up in a ball in his mattress, questioning if his profession was over.
“Everything — and I mean everything — that made The Blair Witch Project a little indie masterpiece has been falsified and trashed in this spectacularly bad sequel,” Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian. “For all its clever notions, Book of Shadows often seems more like a montage of pasted-together images than a coherent horror story,” Steven Holden stated in The New York Times, whereas providing faint reward of the film’s average scariness. Jonathan Rosenbaum famous in The Chicago Reader that “reality, characters, and fear are all well beyond the capacities of this feature.” And Roger Ebert, who lauded Berlinger’s work on movies like Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Misplaced: The Youngster Murders at Robin Hood Hills, took a shot on the filmmaker’s very being: “He is one of the best documentarians around. But now that I’ve seen Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, I’m disturbed.”
The reviled horror sequel did not finish Berlinger’s profession. In reality, the director cites its colossal failure as the rationale he tracked down Lars Ulrich, pitched him a movie on Metallica, and made one of the all-time nice music documentaries, Some Type of Monster. To climb out of a pit of melancholy, he chased a dream undertaking. However to this present day, the mere point out of Blair Witch 2 stings Berlinger. He’s hardly ever mentioned E-book of Shadows through the years, and on a current name with Polygon, stated he couldn’t bear in mind the final time he really watched the film.
And but. On Oct. 30, Berlinger will hold court at the Nitehawk Cinema Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, for a gaggle of patrons prepared to provide the film a second shot. Like so many of the eccentricities bursting out of Hollywood’s 2000s churn, E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 has been reclaimed by the horror community as “actually good” — or a minimum of impressed. Berlinger says he agreed to the screening, in spite of the movie’s potential for triggering painful reminiscences, as a result of he will get what the pro-E-book of Shadows contingent sees in it.
“I don’t hate the movie,” he says. “I hated the experience of what happened.”
The unique Blair Witch Challenge solid a spell over the 1999 Sundance Movie Pageant. Was it reality or fiction? There was an apparent reply, however the executives at Artisan Leisure noticed potential within the confusion. The studio purchased the rights to the film out of the competition, and in preparation for a launch in July, orchestrated a Internet 1.0 advertising and marketing marketing campaign that preyed on an viewers that hadn’t but developed a style for found-footage horror. The rumors surrounding the misplaced videotapes of “Heather,” “Michael,” “Joshua,” and their seemingly supernatural demise turned Blair Witch into a world phenomenon that earned greater than $240 million worldwide off a price range within the low six figures. What critics noticed as a one-of-a-kind experiment, Artisan noticed as a gold mine. By November 1999, simply 4 months after launch, the studio had commissioned no fewer than three screenplays for a sequel.
On the identical time, Berlinger was out pitching a script he hoped can be his leap from documentary to narrative movie. His 1992 doc Brother’s Keeper interrogated media protection of a homicide in upstate New York; Paradise Lost probed the lives of the “West Memphis Three,” three youngsters Berlinger believed have been wrongfully convicted of homicide. (He went on to make two sequels to that movie, and performed a serious half in a courtroom’s choice to overturn the ruling and release the men from prison.) Berlinger hoped his narrative directorial debut can be The Little Fellow within the Attic, a true-crime-esque story of a lady who carries on a doomed affair with a person hidden in her basement. Artisan was , however as Berlinger talked to an increasing number of executives about making the movie, it grew to become obvious the corporate had ulterior motives.
“I’m about to do the pitch for the fifth time with the three co-presidents of Artisan, Amir Malin, Bill Block, and John Hegeman. And I start, and they put up their hand and they said, ‘No, no, you’re not here for that. We think you would be an interesting choice for the sequel to The Blair Witch Project.’ The subterfuge of getting me there and not being honest with me about why I’m having all these meetings should have been a clue [about how things would go].”
The Blair Witch Challenge was efficiently handed off as a documentary, so a documentarian directing a sequel made good sense to the studio executives who wanted a Blair Witch 2 as shortly as doable. Berlinger spent Thanksgiving 1999 studying via the three current scripts, and he thought they have been abysmal. All three introduced Heather, Michael, and Joshua again, by method of the identical found-footage type as the primary film.
“I called them up on Monday and I said, ‘Look, I’m passing, because all three drafts to me make a mistake,’” Berlinger says. “As a documentarian, I don’t want to participate in making fake documentaries. And secondly, Heather, Josh, and Mike have been on Letterman and Leno and on the cover of Time and Newsweek. How can you continue the found-footage conceit? Years later, I realized that’s all the fans really wanted, and I was being way overly intellectual about it.”
Artisan listened, and requested Berlinger to pitch his personal tackle the film. His method in: As a substitute of a straight sequel to The Blair Witch Challenge, he would piggyback off the real-life mania induced by the movie. Within the months after Blair Witch’s launch, Burkittsville, Maryland — the real-life city where Heather, Michael, and Joshua went lacking within the movie — was overrun with vacationers hoping for their very own Blair Witch encounter, and retailer homeowners cashing in with merch. Berlinger discovered that dynamic ripe for lampooning. In his movie, a gaggle of rabid followers would descend on Burkittsville to find out whether or not the Blair Witch actually exists, solely to turn out to be so misplaced within the blur between actuality and fiction that they commit homicide. There wouldn’t be a Blair Witch or something supernatural, simply grisly terror introduced on by a media circus.
Artisan purchased the pitch, then gave Berlinger two months to write down a script. Blair Witch 2 was going into manufacturing in January 2000, it doesn’t matter what.
Berlinger can’t say if the pure model of his film would have been good, however he would have most well-liked to flame out on his personal phrases. “My cut had a very satirical tone that takes a horrifying twist at the end, kind of like a Scream,” he says. “I was making fun of the whole idea of actually doing a sequel. It was a meditation on the dangers of blurring the lines between entertainment and news, between fiction and reality in our society — never dreaming where we’d land today.”
It’s doable that Berlinger’s subversive Blair Witch 2 would have been one of the extra prescient motion pictures of the 2000s, however money and time constraints didn’t permit him to make the film he wished. Berlinger and co-writer Dick Beebe (1999’s Home on Haunted Hill) eked out a script in time for the January manufacturing deadline and assembled a promising solid, which included a then-unknown Jeffrey Donovan as a nü-metal-styled Blair Witch tour information, Kim Director as a goth bombshell, and Stephen Barker Turner and Tristine Skyler as two grad college students researching mass hysteria. Berlinger remembers the solid being on his wavelength and delivering precisely what he wanted to make E-book of Shadows’ tonal experiment work. He additionally remembers being fully left alone by studio executives all through the shoot in Baltimore.
“I literally had no studio supervision, except they kept telling me, looking at the dailies, ‘Love it, love it, keep going!’” he says. The motive is apparent to him now: The executives at Artisan had their eyes on larger prizes. “They were taking Artisan public in this IPO craze based on the performance of Blair Witch. Those guys were just too busy counting their money before it came in.”
Berlinger wrapped on E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and shortly assembled a tough minimize he “thought was terrific, and [he] was really happy with it.” As he locked image and labored with composer Carter Burwell on the ultimate rating for the movie in August 2000, only a few months shy of the deliberate October premiere, it felt like his workforce was about to drag off a minor miracle. There was rather a lot at stake. In keeping with Berlinger, the deliberate six-country, 3,000-screen rollout was set to be one of the largest worldwide releases of all time at that time — and the director wasn’t the one one feeling the strain. Three months earlier than launch, a brand new advertising and marketing govt at Artisan, Amorette Jones, arrived on Berlinger’s doorstep with notes. Blair Witch 2 apparently wanted extra scares and extra blood. “So they ordered reshoots and added things that just to this day boggle my mind,” he says.
The last-ditch effort to make E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 a generic splatterfest are very obvious whereas watching the film. The movie’s opening is blisteringly humorous, with an unseen documentary crew interviewing Burkittsville locals in regards to the Blair Witch frenzy, and Donovan going full townie creepster. The studio made Berlinger minimize away to a scene of Donovan’s character being surveyed in a psych ward to create early unease, and it’s the one reshoot second he thinks works — already, the protagonists’ views are in query.
However it’s downhill from there. As Donovan’s Jeff leads a gaggle of Blair Witch-inspired hunters on a visit into the woods, the film violently volleys between two vibes: Berlinger’s slow-burn psychological descent, and bits straight out of the Noticed motion pictures. Sprinkled all through the film are bits of gore, extreme encounters with an unseen malignant pressure, and random flash-forwards to the police interviewing the group of 20-somethings about what occurred on the market within the woods. The flash-forwards have been particularly grating for Berlinger, whose total plan was to comply with the fanboying children as paranoia festers into insanity and homicide. However the studio wished to rush up and get to the brutality.
“I cringe every time we go to those flashbacks,” Berlinger says. In his minimize, the police interrogation of the vacationers was a nine-minute reveal sequence on the finish of the movie. “You’re supposed to spend the whole film confused and thinking that the Blair Witch was a real possibility.”
Berlinger tried to push again on the edits, arguing “the whole point of the film, and the whole point of the Blair Witch legacy, is that all the violence happens off screen.” Throughout one dialog with govt Amir Malan, the director invoked Alfred Hitchcock to elucidate why violence off display screen might be as or simpler than the depiction of literal homicide. As he remembers, Malan informed him, “Our audience can barely spell ‘Hitchcock.’”
“Total disrespect for the audience,” Berlinger says. “So I hate to this day all those re-creation scenes of knife stabbings and whatever.”
E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 hit theaters on Oct. 27, 2000, proper on schedule. As a deflated Berlinger is aware of all too effectively, the film was a crucial failure — however not a monetary one. The sequel made cash, each in theatrical launch — incomes practically $50 million on a $12 million price range — and residential video. Of the numerous concessions Berlinger finally made through the making of the movie, one which benefited the field workplace, was the choice to swap moodier music for jams of the occasions. Whereas the director’s minimize opened on swooping Paradise Misplaced-esque photographs of Maryland timber set to Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft,” the theatrical minimize replaces the crooning with Marilyn Manson’s “Disposable Teens.” Godhead, P.O.D., Rob Zombie, and System of a Down all discovered their method on the Blair Witch 2 soundtrack so Artisan may bundle a CD with the eventual DVD launch. Berlinger believes the studio made $25 million on the bundle alone.
None of this eased Berlinger’s frustration over Blair Witch 2’s launch. His title was nonetheless on a horrible film, and only some critiques stepped again far sufficient to see how a studio gunning to capitalize on hype would possibly waylay a filmmaker making an attempt to say one thing substantial. The reactions ate away at him for weeks after the film hit theaters, although at this time, the fireplace unleashed in his path a minimum of makes a bit extra sense.
“I think any movie called Blair Witch 2 rushed out a year later… People just wanted to hate the movie,” he says. “I underestimated the amount of venom that anything called Blair Witch 2 was going to have.”
Time has been form to E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, although Berlinger can’t fairly shake the curse. The film sits with a bleak 14% optimistic ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. But when the person as soon as paralyzed by the expertise of directing the rattling factor can rethink and watch it once more, possibly audiences will, too. He nonetheless believes, via all the studio-mandated extra, the movie has one thing to say in regards to the second.
“I think the movie predicted what’s happening now,” he says. “That blurring of the road between information and leisure, between reality and fiction, has gotten to the purpose where our society is deeply dysfunctional. Congress is dysfunctional, for instance, as a result of rather a lot of individuals who have been elected to Congress have been elected as a result of they’ve a really completely different model of actuality from their constituents. We’re a rustic that may’t agree on what coloration the sky is. We’re within the center of this Israeli-Hamas horror present, and there may be a lot misinformation and disinformation and pretend movies. That’s the period we reside in. And that tendency, that blurring of the road between fiction and actuality, was what I used to be going for in Blair Witch .
“There were a lot of really smart ideas that were ahead of its time, but the studio at the 12th hour got scared. I think that’s what people are seeing.”