An unexpected triumph of conceptualism, The Blair Witch Project had an idea that it upheld to its shaky-cammed end; the sequel has two ideas, but it throws them both away. The first is to tell the story of Blair Witch mania itself and its effects on gullible movie buffs and tourist-swamped Burkittsville, Md. The second is a natural for director Joe Berlinger, who made Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, a chilling documentary about three Arkansas teenagers convicted of murders they clearly didn’t commit simply because one of them was a weekend Satanist: Shot mostly in crisp, fluid 35-mm, Book of Shadows imagines the local (and, ultimately, media) reaction when four Blair Witch touristsa goth girl (Kim Director), an aspiring Wiccan priestess (Erica Leerhsen), and two graduate students researching the phenomenon (Stephen Barker and Tristen Skyler)are led onto the witch’s turf by a local guy who has a history of trouble with Burkittsville cops (Jeffrey Donovan). If this sounds too cerebral for horror buffs, it probably did to Berlinger and co-writer Dick Beebe, too. So they added a string of bloody incidents, shown teasingly in fleeting flash-forwards and flashbacks, and a series of homages to hokey horror flicks. At the end, the film tries to find its way back to being a commentary on mass-cult phenomena and media images, but it just can’t get there. Mark Jenkins
Readers of Erica Hoffmann’s “I Was a Blair Witch Extra” (10/13) will be pleased to know that she does indeed appear behind the film’s closing creditsbut then again, that could be the top of anyone’s head.