RATING |

Way, way back in the 1990s, when America still seemed so young, so full of promise, a lil $60,000 horror film came along that scared the bejezus out of audiences and made pop-cult history - and a sweet $248.6 million at the box office.

A slow-burning anxiety-fest without gore, The Blair Witch Project terrified using old-fashioned tools like sound design, dialogue, and - that most powerful type of special effects - the audience's own imagination.

Three 20-somethings, armed with two cameras, go in search of a mythical witch in the wilds of Maryland. What began as a camping outing turns into a nightmare as they are snatched and killed by her. Or so it seems. The ending is ambiguous.

The pic had personality, and humor, supplied primarily by its star, Upper Darby's Heather Donahue. It was an exciting example of pure DIY: The actors shot the pic.

Its legacy is massive. The Blair Witch Project spawned the found-footage genre - and a thousand awful, miserable imitations. It's an act for which I still believe co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez should be prosecuted.

Seventeen years later, the world is engulfed in the war on terror, and Hollywood execs hire one of the best writing-directing teams in horror - Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard - to recapture that evanescent lightning-in-the-bottle, that magic Blair Witch effect.

Imaginatively titled Blair Witch, it's a sequel of sorts scripted by Barrett and helmed by Wingard, who are responsible for some of my favorite horror films of the decade, including A Horrible Way to Die, You're Next, and The Guest.

Never really a fan of the original, I was pleasantly surprised when I watched it again after so many years, to prepare for the new one. Then, after months of hype, I'm in my seat at a press preview, and the film begins.

Blair Witch mirrors the plot of The Blair Witch Project. It's set in the same location, uses the same iconography, has pretty much the same sequence of events.

My reaction? It went something like this: Yawn. Groan. Right, so that was that?

It's nothing more than a sophisticated clone of the original, and it really overdoes the shaky-camera thing - even more than in some of the worst found-footage movies The Blair Witch Project spawned.

My prognosis: It'll probably make an insane amount of money and be forgotten in a few months.

James Allen McCune (The Walking Dead) stars as Donahue's brother James. He was 4 years old when his sis disappeared with her two friends. Now a strapping 21-year-old, he's all charged up when he discovers a YouTube vid shot in Black Hills forest that suggests she may still be alive - and still trapped in those awful woods.

Following the found-footage logic, James enlists filmmaker friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and his childhood friend Peter (Brandon Scott) to go in search of sis. Peter's girlfriend, Ashley (Corbin Reid), tags along for moral support. An urbane young woman, she's not given to camping - she got a pedicure for the expedition.

They are guided by the couple who posted the YouTube item, stoner-lovers Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry).

But the real star of the film is the ridiculously sophisticated arsenal of digital film, surveillance, and tracking equipment they bring, including a drone helicopter equipped with a 360-degree panoramic camera.

Needless to say, the electronics fail miserably, the group becomes hopelessly lost, and they're haunted each night by freaky noises. Their energy and spirit sapped, their élan gone, they bicker. Then come the attacks. Oooh, that golldarn witch! She's after them!

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MOVIE REVIEW

Blair Witch

ss (Out of four stars)

yDirected by Adam Wingard. With James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry. Distributed by Lionsgate.

yRunning time: 1 hour, 29 mins.

yParent's guide: R (profanity, terror, disturbing images).

yPlaying at: Area theaters.

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