31 DAYS OF HORROR REVIEW: BLAIR WITCH (2016)

CAST

James Allen McCune (Snitch)
Callie Hernandez (Alien: Covenant)
Corbin Reid (How To Get Away With Murder)
Brandon Scott (Wreck-It Ralph)
Wes Robinson (Roadies)
Valarie Curry (Veronica Mars)

In 2014, James Donahue finds a video containing a supposed image of his sister Heather who disappeared in 1994 near Burkittsville while investigating the legend of the Blair Witch. Believing she is still alive, he heads into the woods, accompanied by friends Peter Jones, Ashley Bennett, and film student Lisa Arlington, who wants to film the search for a documentary. Locals Talia and Lane join them.
Upon setting up camp for the night, Lane and Talia discuss the disappearance of Heather’s film crew, and other mysterious occurrences, which they ascribe to the Blair Witch. After hearing noises during the night, the group awakens to find strange stick figures hanging from the trees. Unnerved, they elect to leave. Lisa notices twine in Lane’s backpack and both he and Talia are banished after admitting to creating the figures. After hours of walking, the four arrive back at their original campsite, having gone in circles. Lisa pilots a drone to obtain their location, but it malfunctions. Ashley becomes sick due to a wound on her foot, forcing the group to camp again. Peter is chased by an unknown entity, gets wounded, and disappears.

During the night, Lane and Talia emerge, claiming they have been wandering around the forest for five days without a sunrise. Believing that he is hallucinating, Lane runs off. The next morning, James and Lisa are stunned to find that it is still dark outside and discover larger stick figures. Talia sees clumps of her hair tied to one of the figures. Ashley accuses Talia of crafting them and snaps the figure in half; Talia is then snapped in half. An unseen force lifts their tent and the ensuing panic separates the group. Ashley finds the drone and climbs a tree to recover it but falls and is pulled off-screen by an unseen force.

A rainstorm ensues as Lisa and James stumble across Rustin Parr’s cabin. James seemingly spots his sister upstairs, enters the house and sees Peter standing in the corner. He soon realizes that something is chasing him and barricades himself. Lisa spots a ghoul and runs into the basement. She finds an aged and hostile Lane who traps her in an underground tunnel. Lisa escapes and is forced to stab and kill Lane when he attacks her. Chased by the entity, Lisa runs up to the attic with Lane’s camcorder creating the paradox that lured them all to the woods. She reunites with James and they try to barricade the door. James tells Lisa to face the corner of the room and desperately apologizes to her for their fate before the ghoul enters. James is tricked into turning around, believing that he hears Heather’s voice, and is attacked out of sight. Lisa uses Lane’s camcorder to view what is behind her and begins walking backwards. However, hearing James’s apology again, she turns too, and is attacked.A much more faithful sequel than ‘Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2’. It feels like the next logical step in the Blair Witch story, with clever use of modern filming technology. It takes the horrifying ideas in the first one and expands upon them, but without going too far like a lot of horror sequels do.

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31 DAYS OF HORROR REVIEW: BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2

CAST

Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice)
Kim Director (Inside Man)
Erica Leerhsen (Wrong Turn 2)
Tristin Skyler (The Intern)


In November 1999, a group of young tourists—Stephen and his pregnant wife, Tristen, who are researching the Blair Witch for a book they are writing; Erica, a Wiccan; and Kim, a goth psychic—arrive in Burkittsville, Maryland, after seeing The Blair Witch Project. Jeff, a local man, is their tour guide and a paranormal investigator who says his equipment will capture any supernatural events that happen while they visit the Blair Witch site.They camp for the night in the ruins of Rustin Parr’s house, and Jeff places cameras around to capture anything supernatural. As the group gets drunk around a campfire, another tour group arrives and claims to have jurisdiction over the ruins. Jeff and his group convince the others that they saw something horrifying at Coffin Rock earlier, and the other group leaves to investigate. Jeff and his group wake the next morning with no memory of the previous night. Tristen and Stephen’s research documents are shredded and strewn about, and Jeff’s cameras are destroyed. However, Jeff’s tapes are found unharmed in the same spot the Blair Witch Project footage was discovered. Tristen notices that she is bleeding and has miscarried.
The group goes to the Burkittsville hospital, where Tristen’s miscarriage is confirmed. As she is about to be discharged, Tristen sees a ghostly young girl walking away backwards. Jeff takes the group back to his home, an abandoned broom factory against a steep hill in the woods. It has an elaborate security system, surveillance cameras, and a front door alarm. The group reviews Jeff’s tapes and find hours of footage missing. Only one scene remains, which depicts a naked Erica holding onto a tree and swinging around it backward. Erica remembers no such event and runs off to pray, weeping as she does so. Each of the members of the group now begins to have hallucinations of horrible things (like eating a dead owl, murdering someone, or being locked away in an asylum).Kim goes to town to pick up food and alcohol, and has a heated argument with the convenience store cashier. The van she drives is attacked by locals as she leaves, and she crashes the vehicle after seeing ghostly children on the road. Back at Jeff’s, she reaches into her shopping bag and pricks herself on a small, bloody nail file stuck among the bottles of beer she purchased.
The three tourists decide to leave the next morning, but Erica mysteriously disappears and no one heard the front door “barking dog” alarm sound. Kim discovers Erica’s clothes, surrounded by a circle of lit candles. They attempt to call Erica’s father at his office, but are told by his secretary that he had no children. Jeff discovers his van is wrecked, but Kim says she only dented the fender. The county sheriff calls to say that the other tour group was found disemboweled on Coffin Rock. He demands that Jeff reveal what he knows about the crime, but Jeff denies any involvement and hangs up.Kim decides to call for help, but while looking for a telephone directory discovers dossiers on each of the tourists in Jeff’s desk. Tristen (whose mental health is rapidly deteriorating) suddenly claims she can see Erica through a window, naked and swinging around a tree. Stephen runs outside to confront Erica, but the walkway connecting the building to the hill collapses under him when he does so. As he climbs to safety, Stephen sees the same girl Tristen did. The sheriff calls again and says he is at Jeff’s front door. The security monitor shows the bridge is now intact.Jeff hears the sheriff shouting at the door, goes downstairs, grabs a shotgun from a closet, and opens the door. But the bridge has returned to its damaged state and the sheriff is not to be seen. Stephen, Kim, and Tristen arrive as Jeff opens the closet to put the gun away, and all three discover Erica’s corpse in the closet.Tristen suggests that everything they have experienced is running backwards. They play Jeff’s damaged tapes in reverse. The footage now shows Tristen leading the group in satanic worship and a drunken orgy, and their murder of the other tour group. Jeff begins taping Tristen as Stephen demands that she confess. Tristen alternately sneers at the others and asks them for help, luring them to the second floor. Stephen accuses Tristen of deliberately killing their baby. Tristen ties a rope around her own neck, threatening to kill herself. Stephen pushes her over the second-floor banister in a moment of rage, and causes her to hang herself.
After a jump cut, the audience sees that Jeff, Stephen, and Kim have been arrested. Each is interrogated separately, with the police showing each person footage of their crimes. Security camera footage shows Kim stabbing the cashier in the neck with the cashier’s nail file. Surveillance camera footage shows a naked Jeff killing Erica, arranging her clothes, and putting her dead body in the closet. Jeff’s video shows Stephen assaulting Tristen, accusing her of being a witch and pushing her over the banister (but not Tristen putting the rope around her own neck). All three, close to a nervous breakdown, proclaim their innocence as the police arrest them.
The film is well acted and after a slow first half builds nicely to it’s conclusion, although the clues the viewer is given throughout do tend to give away the ending somewhat. The film deserves points for it’s creativity even though much of it isn’t entirely successful and does turn out a little generic. Book of Shadows is difficult to recommend as it is so different to it’s predecessor.

31 DAYS OF HORROR REVIEW: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

CAST

Heather Donahue (Taken)
Joshua Leonard (Bates Motel)
Michael C. Williams (The Objective)

The film opens with introductory text: In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.
In the footage, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard set out to produce a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch. They travel to Burkittsville, Maryland, formerly Blair, and interview locals about the legend of the Blair Witch. The locals tell them of Rustin Parr, a hermit who kidnapped seven children in the 1940s and brought them to his house in the woods where he tortured and murdered them. Parr brought the children into his house’s basement in pairs, forcing the first child to face the corner and listen to their companion’s screams as he murdered the second child. Parr would then murder the first child. Eventually turning himself in to the police, Parr later pleaded insanity, saying that the spirit of Elly Kedward, a witch hanged in the 18th century, had been terrorizing him and promised to leave him alone if he murdered the children, but was hanged anyway.
The second day, the students explore the woods in north Burkittsville to look for evidence that the Blair Witch exists. Along the way, two fishermen warn them that the woods are haunted and recall that in 1888, a young girl named Robin Weaver went missing, and when she returned three days later, she talked about “an old woman whose feet never touched the ground.” The students hike to Coffin Rock, where five men were found ritualistically murdered in the 19th century, and then camp for the night. The next day they move deeper in despite being uncertain of their exact location on the map. They eventually locate what appears to be an old cemetery with seven small cairns. They set up camp nearby and then return to the cemetery after dark. Josh accidentally disturbs a cairn and Heather hastily repairs it. Later they hear crackling sounds in the darkness that seem to be coming from all directions, but assume the noises are from animals or locals.Image result for the blair witch project 1999
The third day, they attempt to return to their vehicle but cannot find their way. That night, they again hear crackling noises but cannot see anything. The next morning (their fourth), they find three cairns have been built around their tent during the night. Heather realizes her map is missing and Mike reveals he kicked it into a creek out of frustration the previous day. They realize they are now hopelessly lost and decide simply to “head south”. They discover a multitude of humanoid stick figures suspended from trees. That night they hear sounds of children and bizarre “morphing” sounds. When an unknown force shakes the tent, they flee in a panic and hide in the woods until dawn, starting their fifth day. Upon returning to their tent they find that their possessions have been rifled through and Josh’s equipment is covered with a peculiar translucent slime. Later, they pass a log over a stream that was identical to the one they had passed earlier despite having traveled directly south all day, seemingly going in circles.Image result for the blair witch project 1999
The sixth morning, Heather and Mike awaken to find that Josh has disappeared. After trying in vain to find him, they slowly move on. That night, they hear Josh screaming in the darkness but are not able to find him. The seventh morning, Heather finds a bundle of sticks and fabric outside their tent. As she searches through it, she finds it to contain blood-soaked scraps of Josh’s shirt, as well as teeth, hair, and possibly a tongue, but though thoroughly distraught by the discovery, she does not mention this to Mike. As night falls, Heather films herself apologizing to the co-producers of her project as well as their families and breaks down crying and hyperventilates, understanding that something terrible is hunting her and Mike and will eventually take them. Later that night, they again hear Josh’s agonized cries for help, and discover a derelict, abandoned house in the woods, which contains runic symbols and children’s handprints on the walls. Mike races upstairs, following what sounds like Josh’s voice, while Heather tries to follow. Mike then claims he hears Josh in the basement. He runs downstairs and after what seems to be a quick struggle, goes silent and drops the camera. Heather enters the basement screaming in fear while her camera catches a glimpse of Mike facing the corner. Something unseen is heard hitting Heather, causing her to drop her camera violently to the floor and the footage ends.Image result for the blair witch project 1999
This film is not exactly a horror in the usual meaning of words as we never see what exactly threatens the three students lost in woods – but ultimately a cold chill creeps into this experience once we realize that leaving this darn cold wet forest is for humans as difficult as escaping a spider web when you are a fly. The more they struggle, the worse they trap themselves. And that kind of nightmare is always a pretty scary experience. I cannot say that this is a great masterpiece. With a very limited budget the unexperienced makers of “Blair Witch Project” managed to do a greatly original thing, cleverly disturbing and artistically successful.