DID YOU READ

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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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