Because the opinions of the 2000 sequel E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 rolled in, director Joe Berlinger, days earlier than his 40th birthday, curled up in a ball in his mattress, questioning if his profession was over.
“Every part — and I imply all the things — that made The Blair Witch Undertaking somewhat indie masterpiece has been falsified and trashed on this spectacularly dangerous sequel,” Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian. “For all its intelligent notions, E-book of Shadows typically appears extra like a montage of pasted-together pictures than a coherent horror story,” Steven Holden stated in The New York Occasions, whereas providing faint reward of the film’s reasonable scariness. Jonathan Rosenbaum famous in The Chicago Reader that “actuality, characters, and concern are all effectively past the capacities of this function.” 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 likely one of the finest documentarians round. However now that I’ve seen E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, I’m disturbed.”
The reviled horror sequel didn’t finish Berlinger’s profession. In truth, the director cites its colossal failure as the explanation he tracked down Lars Ulrich, pitched him a movie on Metallica, and made one of many all-time nice music documentaries, Some Type of Monster. To climb out of a pit of melancholy, he chased a dream undertaking. However to at the present time, the mere point out of Blair Witch 2 stings Berlinger. He’s not often mentioned E-book of Shadows over time, and on a latest name with Polygon, stated he couldn’t bear in mind the final time he truly watched the film.
And but. On Oct. 30, Berlinger will maintain court docket on the Nitehawk Cinema Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, for a bunch of patrons prepared to offer the film a second shot. Like so most of the oddities bursting out of Hollywood’s 2000s churn, E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 has been reclaimed by the horror neighborhood as “truly good” — or not less than impressed. Berlinger says he agreed to the screening, despite 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 film,” he says. “I hated the expertise of what occurred.”
Photograph: Artisan Leisure/Everett Assortment
The unique Blair Witch Undertaking solid a spell over the 1999 Sundance Movie Competition. Was it truth 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 pageant, and in preparation for a launch in July, orchestrated a Internet 1.zero advertising 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 finances 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 Misplaced probed the lives of the “West Memphis Three,” three youngsters Berlinger believed had been wrongfully convicted of homicide. (He went on to make two sequels to that movie, and performed a significant half in a court docket’s choice to overturn the ruling and launch the lads from jail.) 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 increasingly executives about making the movie, it turned 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, Invoice Block, and John Hegeman. And I begin, they usually put up their hand they usually stated, ‘No, no, you’re not right here for that. We predict you’d be an fascinating selection for the sequel to The Blair Witch Undertaking.’ The subterfuge of getting me there and never being sincere with me about why I’m having all these conferences ought to have been a clue [about how things would go].”
The Blair Witch Undertaking 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 attainable. Berlinger spent Thanksgiving 1999 studying via the three present scripts, and he thought they had been abysmal. All three introduced Heather, Michael, and Joshua again, by means of the identical found-footage fashion as the primary film.
“I known as them up on Monday and I stated, ‘Look, I’m passing, as a result of all three drafts to me make a mistake,’” Berlinger says. “As a documentarian, I don’t wish to take part in making faux documentaries. And secondly, Heather, Josh, and Mike have been on Letterman and Leno and on the quilt of Time and Newsweek. How are you going to proceed the found-footage conceit? Years later, I spotted that’s all of the followers actually wished, and I used to be being manner overly mental about it.”
Picture: Everett Assortment
Artisan listened, and requested Berlinger to pitch his personal tackle the film. His manner in: As a substitute of a straight sequel to The Blair Witch Undertaking, 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 the place 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 bunch of rabid followers would descend on Burkittsville to find out whether or not the Blair Witch actually exists, solely to change into 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 jot 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 lower had a really satirical tone that takes a horrifying twist on the finish, sort of like a Scream,” he says. “I used to be making enjoyable of the entire concept of really doing a sequel. It was a meditation on the risks of blurring the traces between leisure and information, between fiction and actuality in our society — by no means dreaming the place we’d land at the moment.”
It’s attainable that Berlinger’s subversive Blair Witch 2 would have been one of many extra prescient films 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 utterly left alone by studio executives all through the shoot in Baltimore.
“I actually had no studio supervision, besides they saved telling me, wanting on the dailies, ‘Like it, like it, preserve going!’” he says. The reason being apparent to him now: The executives at Artisan had their eyes on larger prizes. “They had been taking Artisan public on this IPO craze primarily based on the efficiency of Blair Witch. These guys had been simply too busy counting their cash earlier than it got here in.”
Berlinger wrapped on E-book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and shortly assembled a tough lower he “thought was terrific, and [he] was actually proud of 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 staff was about to tug off a minor miracle. There was loads at stake. In keeping with Berlinger, the deliberate six-country, 3,000-screen rollout was set to be one of many largest worldwide releases of all time at that time — and the director wasn’t the one one feeling the stress. Three months earlier than launch, a brand new advertising govt at Artisan, Amorette Jones, arrived on Berlinger’s doorstep with notes. Blair Witch 2 apparently wanted extra scares and extra blood. “So that they ordered reshoots and added issues that simply to at the present time boggle my thoughts,” he says.
Picture: Artisan Leisure/Everett Assortment
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 lower 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 bunch 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 films. Sprinkled all through the film are bits of gore, extreme encounters with an unseen malignant drive, 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 had been particularly grating for Berlinger, whose total plan was to observe the fanboying children as paranoia festers into insanity and homicide. However the studio wished to rush up and get to the brutality.
“I cringe each time we go to these flashbacks,” Berlinger says. In his lower, the police interrogation of the vacationers was a nine-minute reveal sequence on the finish of the movie. “You’re alleged to spend the entire movie confused and pondering that the Blair Witch was an actual risk.”
Berlinger tried to push again on the edits, arguing “the entire level of the movie, and the entire level of the Blair Witch legacy, is that every one the violence occurs off display screen.” Throughout one dialog with govt Amir Malan, the director invoked Alfred Hitchcock to clarify why violence off display screen may very well be as or more practical than the depiction of literal homicide. As he recollects, Malan informed him, “Our viewers can barely spell ‘Hitchcock.’”
“Whole disrespect for the viewers,” Berlinger says. “So I hate to at the present time all these re-creation scenes of knife stabbings and no matter.”
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 important failure — however not a monetary one. The sequel made cash, each in theatrical launch — incomes almost $50 million on a $12 million finances — and residential video. Of the various 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 instances. Whereas the director’s lower opened on swooping Paradise Misplaced-esque pictures of Maryland timber set to Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft,” the theatrical lower replaces the crooning with Marilyn Manson’s “Disposable Teenagers.” Godhead, P.O.D., Rob Zombie, and System of a Down all discovered their manner on the Blair Witch 2 soundtrack so Artisan might 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 identify was nonetheless on a horrible film, and only some opinions 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 the moment, the fireplace unleashed in his route not less than makes a bit extra sense.
“I feel any film known as Blair Witch 2 rushed out a yr later… Folks simply wished to hate the film,” he says. “I underestimated the quantity of venom that something known as 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% constructive 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 of the studio-mandated extra, the movie has one thing to say in regards to the second.
“I feel the film predicted what’s taking place now,” he says. “That blurring of the road between information and leisure, between truth and fiction, has gotten to the purpose the place our society is deeply dysfunctional. Congress is dysfunctional, for instance, as a result of lots of people who’ve been elected to Congress have been elected as a result of they’ve a really totally different model of actuality from their constituents. We’re a rustic that may’t agree on what colour the sky is. We’re in the midst of this Israeli-Hamas horror present, and there’s a lot misinformation and disinformation and pretend movies. That’s the period we stay 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 have been plenty of actually good concepts that had been forward of its time, however the studio on the 12th hour received scared. I feel that’s what individuals are seeing.”