Matty swoons over J.R. Bookwalter’s splendid sequel.
After honing his craft with seminal backyard epics The Dead Next (1989), Robot Ninja (1989), and Ozone (1995), Ohio horror auteur J. R. Bookwalter wound up in the employ of Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment during the late ‘90s. Beginning as a one man post production unit where he oversaw the likes of Shrieker (1998) and Curse of the Puppet Master (1998) for longtime Band associate — and early Bookwalter champion — David DeCoteau, at the turn of the millennium, Band tasked Bookwalter with making a sequel to DeCoteau’s original Witchouse (1999). One of Full Moon’s biggest renters since Puppet Master (1989), Witchouse had done gangbusters in video stores, its success propelled by the buzz surrounding the then-upcoming Blair Witch Project (1999). Of course, witchy-poo centric title aside, Witchouse was far removed from Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s game-changing chiller; DeCoteau’s throwaway potboiler is, in fact, just another Night of the Demons (1988) variation that, according to legend, the enterprising director slapped together as a de facto audition piece for a spot helming a mooted fourth NOTD film, which eventually came to be as a DeCoteau-less remake a decade later. However, with The Blair Witch Project becoming a genuine pop culture phenomenon between the first and second Witchouse, there’s something incredibly satisfying about the way in which Bookwalter begins his full-bodied follow-up by shamelessly ripping off the Blair Witch with a found footage prologue, only to twist WITCHOUSE II: BLOOD COVEN into a quality chunk of pulp fantasy by the time it finishes.
While lacking the kind of punk-y edge that bubbles beneath the rest of Bookwalter’s output, Blood Coven is a pleasure to watch because it’s so well done. Made for a paltry $120,000, Blood Coven’s budget is a splash in the ocean compared to a lot of other B-movies of the period (Phoenician and Nu Image, for example, were churning out programmers for $1.2million a piece) but, in Bookwalter’s hands, a man used to figures of 25k or less, it’s an astronomical amount of cash that he uses to his full advantage. In short, Bookwalter plays. Stylistically, tonally and rhythmically, Blood Coven is the work of a filmmaker firing on all cylinders; there’s imagination and movement and energy and craft bursting from every frame, and the vim with which Bookwalter juggles Hammer-tinged gothic, camcorder creepiness, and comic book macabre is joyous.
Decently scripted by Douglas Snauffer (who’d previously worked in various capacities on Bookwalter’s The Dead Next Door, Ozone, and Polymorph (1996), and who’d go on to co-script Bookwalter-produced Full Mooners The Vault (2000) and Killjoy 2 (2002)), Blood Coven finds Ariauna Albright sort-of-reprising-but-not-quite her role as the evil Lilith. A stand-alone tale, this time, the awkwardly denture’d hell-bitch is brought back from the dead by a professor (Albright again) and her young team, who’re trying to identify a bunch of unmarked graves that have recently been discovered in some quiet, Burkittsville-esque hick town (actually Romania).
USA/Romania ● 2000 ● Horror ● 79mins
Ariauna Albright, Elizabeth Hobgood, Nicholas Lanier, Andrew Prine ● Dir. J.R. Bookwalter ● Wri. Douglas Snauffer
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