Five Lessons We Hope “Paranormal Activity 2” Learned From “Blair Witch 2”

Five Lessons We Hope “Paranormal Activity 2” Learned From “Blair Witch 2”  (photo)

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When “Paranormal Activity” came out last year it was hard not to think about “The Blair Witch Project”: two heavily improvised, found footage horror films shot independently on shoestring budgets that became enormously profitable hits thanks to ingenious internet marketing campaigns. So with “Paranormal Activity 2” opening this week, it’s hard not to think about “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” which, like “Paranormal Activity 2,” was rushed into production to capitalize on its predecessor’s surprising success and made by a different creative team than the original film.

Based on the “Paranormal 2” trailers it’s clear they’ve already avoided a few of the pitfalls of “Blair Witch 2,” most notably maintaining the original’s docsploitation visual style instead of shifting to a more conventionally shot fiction film. But Paramount has kept a tight lid on just about everything else. Having enjoyed both “The Blair Witch Project” and the first “Paranormal Activity,” and having suffered through “Blair Witch 2,” here’s five lessons I hope “Paranormal 2” writer Michael R. Perry and director Tod Williams learned from that unholy mess.

Lesson #1: Don’t Make a Movie About Weirdos

“The Blair Witch Project” was an ingeniously simple movie: the supposed documentary footage of a crew of student filmmakers who went missing investigating a legendary witch and were never heard from again. Heather (Heather Donahue), Mike (Michael C. Williams), and Josh (Joshua Leonard) might have come unglued by the end of the film but they weren’t psychopaths: they were ordinary people trapped in extraordinary circumstances. But the scenes everyone remembered were the ones where they looked kind of crazy, like Heather, boogers dripping from her nose, apologizing to Josh and Mike’s moms with her face millimeters from the camera lens.

At some point, someone decided this was what people wanted from a “Blair Witch” sequel: people acting bananas. So instead of three college kids, “Book of Shadows” follows a former mental patient (“Burn Notice”‘s Jeffrey Donovan), a witch who speaks to ghosts (Erica Leerhsen), and a goth chick with vaguely defined psychic abilities (Kim Director), plus a couple (Tristine Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner) too dumb to survive in normal society (who brings the only copy of their manuscript on a camping trip to the haunted woods?). The keys to “Blair Witch” were believability and relatability, being able to accept that the events of the film could have happened, and that if placed in a similar situation, we in the audience might have done the same. Unless you happen to be a psychic witch, neither is true of “Book of Shadows.”

Lesson #2: Don’t Let the Characters Know About The First Movie

The title card that opens “Book of Shadows” reads “The following is a fictionalized re-enactment of events that occurred after the release of ‘The Blair Witch Project.'” And all the nutters in the film make their way to Burkittsville, Maryland to take part in a tour of the film’s shooting locations. That dumb couple is looking for evidence for their book, the witch wants to prove that witches are nice people, the mental patient is looking to profit from the “Blair Witch” craze. They all say things like “Newsflash everybody! That was just a movie!” but eventually they all get possessed, think they’re having sex with each other, imagine they’re being tormented by little children wearing eye shadow, etc.

Here’s why this is a problem: it makes the characters idiots. Because if they know the movie, then they have to know the movie is fake. If there was a real documentary that featured kids actually dying at the hands of some kind of supernatural presence (or even just an old hill country hag) it would set off a media firestorm, an FBI investigation, and get the entire state of Maryland quarantined. But if that was the case, you wouldn’t have much of a horror sequel. “Paranormal 2” trailers suggest the film is about relatives of the characters of the first, which is a good sign. But if they happen to find the footage from “Paranormal 1″…

Lesson #3: Don’t Make a Generic Horror Movie and Call It A Sequel

The worst part about “Book of Shadows” is that the references to the first “Blair Witch” are essentially window dressing for what is otherwise a very generic horror movie. After the first half hour in the woods, it’s basically just a bunch of obnoxious people hallucinating and yelling at each other in a dumpy loft. It would not surprise me in the slightest to learn that “Book of Shadows” began its life as an unrelated screenplay about hallucinating tourists that some producers found and sprinkled a few Blair Witch references on. Because that’s what it feels like. “The Blair Witch Project” was scary because it didn’t look like a scary movie. “Blair Witch 2” isn’t scary because it looks like every scary movie.

Lesson #4: Don’t Let Your Think Pieces Go To Your Head

Again, “Blair Witch” was a simple film. But it was so rigorously designed, and was such an interesting mix of objective (since we only see what the camera sees) and subjective perspectives (since we only see what Heather, Mike, and Josh’s cameras see) that it produced a lot of interesting writing about its take on mediated reality, point of view, and the thin line between documentary and fiction. But none of that was commented upon in the film, that was what people read into it.

Well, there was no need to read anything into “Book of Shadows,” because it conveniently spelled it all out for the viewer. “If people believe something, isn’t it real? Perception is reality!” a characters points out during one of the many arguments about whether “The Blair Witch Project” is real or not. The First “Blair Witch” was a phenomenon. You know how not to recreate a phenomenon? By deconstructing that phenomenon onscreen during lengthy philosophical arguments.

Lesson #5: No Evil Owls

This one speaks for itself.


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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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