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Actress Kim Director:
"I was sceptical like everyone else"
 real 28k

Joe Berlinger, the director of Book of Shadows:
"What worked in the first movie may not work in the second"
 real 28k

Friday, 27 October, 2000, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
Blair Witch II: The 'anti-sequel'
Blair Witch II
Blair Witch II: Something nasty in the woods
Joe Berlinger, the director of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch II talks to News Online's Peter Bowes on the day the film is released jointly in the UK and the US.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch II is nothing like the hugely successful Blair Witch Project - the marketing phenomenon made for $30,000 (21,000) which grossed more than $250m (171m) around the world.

The much-hyped $15m (10.4m) sequel has all the hallmarks of Hollywood - graphic violence and slick editing.

At a time when film-makers are coming under increasing pressure to tone down the gratuitous nature of violent acts shown on screen, Blair Witch II, would appear to provide more ammunition for the critics.

The original film told the story of three student film-makers who disappeared in the woods near Burkittesville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary.

I don't think the violence is gratuitous, I don't think I glorify violence

Joe Berlinger
The amateurish, shaky camera-work combined with a plot that relied largely on the audience's vivid imagination, led to a movie that became a cult sensation around the world.

The sequel, told almost entirely as flashbacks, features a new group of students who are obsessed with The Blair Witch Project.

They venture into the same haunted woods with a mission to unearth the truth, and enter a scenario far more frightening and dangerous than the legend itself.

"I decided to make a movie about five kids who become so obsessed with the media imagery and the media hype of the first movie that they go on a killing spree," said director Joe Berlinger.

"I chose to portray that graphically."

Berlinger, a documentary-maker and first-time feature film director, said his movie never intended to "rip off" or commercialise The Blair Witch Project.

Erica Leerhsen
The film is "uncompromisingly violent"
He describes the film as an "anti-sequel".

"It comments on the first movie without continuing the story," he explained.

It postulates that by the end of the movie, maybe the Blair Witch doesn't exist at all - and all the evil we've seen in this movie is derived from human action."

The expectations of die-hard fans, many of whom were attracted to the original film through the so-called buzz it generated on the internet, have long since been watered down.

Early reviews suggested audiences would be disappointed that the sequel fails to resolve the question "what really happened" in part one.

"There's no way you're going to catch lightning in a bottle and do the exact same magic formula," explained Berlinger.

"That process would have been foolish. I wanted to make a different movie, have it stand on its own and say different things."

The film is uncompromisingly violent and several characters end up dead.

People won't see the deeper level to it - they'll just be annoyed that it's a cheesy horror movie

Joe Berlinger
As a documentary-maker, Berlinger said he approached it with an eye on American society and current trends in Hollywood.

The aim, he added, was to highlight the increasingly blurred line between entertainment and reality - a phenomenon which he described as "cultural hysteria".

"Because of my desire to deal with a very different theme the first movie portrayed, I feel it is important to show some violent acts," he said.

Importantly, I don't think the violence is gratuitous, I don't think I glorify violence. The violence in this movie is related to a mystery that is unfolding - I think it is relevant."

Kim Director plays one of the teenagers in the film, a woman with telepathic abilities. She said her initial reaction to the concept of a sequel was suspicion.

The students are obsessed by the media hype surrounding the Blair Witch legend
Five auditions later her attitude changed. "I had no idea how they would approach a second film. Once I realised it was more of a sequel to the phenomenon of the Blair Witch Project as opposed to a sequel to the story - that's what was so amazing."

One of the first critics to view the film was the internet writer Harry Knowles - the reviewer many credit with spearheading the first Blair Witch picture to blockbuster status.

According to his Ain't It Cool News web site, Knowles, "really loved" the sequel.

By contrast, the Hollywood trade paper, Variety, described the movie as "disappointing in every aspect".

Writer Dennis Harvey said of it: "Even formula-slasher-pic fans are likely to find this hectic, unfocused effort a letdown."

Joe Berlinger acknowledges that the second movie is a poisoned chalice, in that many people will find a problem with the movie.

"My fear about this film is that people will not come to it with an open mind - that people will have pre-conceived ideas about it what it should be.

"They won't see the deeper level to it - they'll just be annoyed that it's a cheesy horror movie."

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch II opens in the UK and the United States on 27 October.

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05 Feb 00 | Tom Brook
Hollywood carries on screaming
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