Despite their prevalence at your local multiplex and amongst pretty much every major Hollywood studio’s release schedules, sequels are not necessarily the guaranteed box office draw that popular culture has come to label them as. The recent release of Blair Witch – the third film in The Blair Witch Project franchise – hasn’t fared well so far, eliciting flashbacks for some to the year 2000 – when Hollywood rushed to give audiences Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
That Blair Witch sequel sank fast at the box office and was soon relegated to home video bargain bins around the world, deeply loathed for its careless attempt at recreating the fascination and terror of the original. At least, this is what almost everyone has come to believe over the years since the sequel’s release. That story in itself has become its own horrific myth of sorts, supported by the rather obvious fact that Blair Witch 2 simply wasn’t generally considered to be a good film – sequel or not.
But Joe Berlinger, the director of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, has some news for you – and it’s actually quite surprising. Over a recent conversation with Deadline on the grim box office take of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, Berlinger spoke about his disappointments with his 2000 follow up to The Blair Witch Project, as well as some overlooked facts on the film’s financial success. What started as a Tweet from Berlinger evolved into a much more in-depth analysis of his film, the studio’s involvement and how all of it paved the way for his future:
I have nothing but respect for Adam Wingard and I hope [‘Blair Witch’] is great; I haven’t seen it yet. Ironically, I was in Toronto and just couldn’t bring myself to go see it and relive the trauma. What trauma? The studio recut [‘Book of Shadows’] and inserted scenes of gore against my will and I didn’t have the courage back then to just remove my name from the film. And then to be eviscerated by critics on a cut of the film that I did not sanction was doubly painful. That’s not to say that my director’s cut would have garnered a better reaction from critics per se, by at least I could have stood by the film for representing my vision and if people hated that version, it would have been less painful because it’s what I would have wanted to be seen.
But why I tweeted today is this: there is also this myth that the film was a financial disaster… In fact, it was still Artisan’s second highest grossing film in their history, the highest being the original BW. It grossed $48 million worldwide on a $10 million budget and did over $25 million on DVD… Pure gravy on DVD. I know because my DGA residuals on this film paid for my daughter’s college education. It was one of the first DVDs to be a dual disc of soundtrack on one side and movie on the other. That doesn’t excuse the rushed production, the desire to monetize and capitalize on the first film’s success by a new studio that was only interested in their IPO and the mediocre end creative result, but people talk of this film as a total failure and franchise killer.
The first film, which I have tremendous respect for, was a phenomenon because of how it was marketed, as a real documentary, at a naive and early stage of the Internet. That was one of the themes buried in my film that got butchered.”
As for the career benefits of making Blair Witch 2, Berlinger ultimately found himself directing the 2004 Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster, of which he had this to say:
“On the plus side, the Metallica film was a direct result of the failure of BW2, so I am ultimately grateful for the experience because Some Kind Of Monster was perhaps the greatest ride I have taken on a film and it wouldn’t have happened without the perceived failure of my feature debut.”
There’s no doubt that Berlinger was put in a difficult place by being tasked with a sequel to such a hugely successful film. Straight from the beginning, the odds were against him and Berlinger did what he could to make it through what was obviously a difficult process. Blair Witch 2 may not be a great film, but it’s worth acknowledging that his work did find an audience. Thus, at least on a financial level, Book of Shadows wasn’t quite the disaster that many believe it to be.
Blair Witch is currently in theaters.