When surprise horror hit “The Blair Witch Project” inspired a fast-tracked sequel — one that hit the big screen less than two years after the original debuted at the Sundance Film Festival — it was long before the days when such things were considered a given. Yet the film’s smash hit box office numbers and wild word-of-mouth seemed to earmark it as the exact kind of film — horror or otherwise — to franchise, and fast.
Although the film mostly veered away from the found-footage style of the original, it did feature a filmmaker well-equipped to dealing in first-person storytelling: Documentarian Joe Berlinger, in his first narrative directing gig. The film was ultimately plagued by notorious issues, including a studio-led recut that robbed it of much of Berlinger’s vision and a marketing campaign that all but rejected the flash and style of the first film’s ambitious methodology. In short, it wasn’t very good, and it wasn’t very good for a number of reasons.
By the time this year’s “surprise sequel” to the original film, Adam Wingard’s “Blair Witch” (previously known as “The Woods,” before its true nature was revealed at this year’s Comic-Con), unveiled itself to fans, it finally seemed as if the world was ready for a new take on the beloved mythos. Or, perhaps not. Early buzz on the film quickly dissipated, and the film ended up making just $9.6 million in its first weekend, while also pulling in a surprising D+ CinemaScore. Bad enough, right?
Oh, and it actually made less in its opening weekend than Berlinger’s film, a film that’s long been held up as a gold standard of a “bad” sequel.
Filmmaker Berlinger tweeted that the new film “had far worse opening w/e at box office then my 2000 BW sequel. Maybe folks were a tad too hard on me?” Check it out:
— Joe Berlinger (@joeberlinger) September 19, 2016
In its opening weekend back in the fall of 2000, Berlinger’s film made $13.2 million, opening at number 2 against “Meet the Parents” (which, in its fourth weekend, was still pulling in huge numbers). As of this writing, “Blair Witch” currently holds a 36% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while “Book of Shadows” is sitting tight at a 13% Rotten rating. (The original film boasts an 86% Fresh rating.) “Book of Shadows” eventually made $48 million worldwide (adjusted for inflation, that’s about $70 million) did $25 million in DVD sales.
“Blair Witch” is currently in theaters. “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” is available on DVD, if you’re thinking it’s time for a critical reappraisal (or at least a rewatch with some fresh eyes). You can also check out Berlinger’s very honest DVD commentary here, check out the chapter in his book all about it (via download here) and even read his original notes from the film (via download here).