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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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