'Witch's' broom sweeps small screen 

It's a sad fact of the film lover's life: Everything you see in a movie's prerelease trailer may not be present and accounted for when the finished product bows. The Blair Witch Project follows the trend, with at least one of its promotional spots featuring a scene nowhere to be found in the film's final cut, opening in theaters July 16.

Ever industrious, the Haxan Films team has found a resting place for its spare frames, editing them into a TV special, Curse of the Blair Witch, which has screenings through Aug. 13, on the SCI FI Channel. Staged interviews with folklorists and law-enforcement officials offer varying interpretations of the nasty goings-on that have haunted the community of Burkittsville, Md.; those observations widen the film's narrow frame of reference, in which footage shot by three student filmmakers is our sole document of the area's evil past.

Many of the background pieces are leftovers from the film's "Phase 2" shoot, in which scenes were lensed that explored the continuing fallout from the students' disappearance. When "Blair Witch" was edited down to a manageable running time, those sequences were consigned to the cutting-room floor. Coupled with some newly crafted segments, they were then packaged to SCI FI as a ready-made spin-off.

Watching the special, it's obvious that the "Phase 2" reels aren't up to the finished film's standard. Some TV-news reports about the tragedy suffer from inferior videography and acting. Neither is the fresher material exemplary, with commentary from the students' bereaved loved ones making them seem incongruously well-adjusted. As the "Blair Witch" mythos strays from first-person experience, its believability erodes.

Even though "Curse" may not be a Cannes-worthy offering, it's respectable as a cable supplement to the real thing. The parceled-out back story will appeal to detail-hungry aficionados without alienating those who prefer their mysteries unsolved. Particularly enjoyable are excerpts from "Mystic Occurrences," a clever take-off of the syndicated TV programs that were the inspiration for "Blair Witch."

So what if this side Project doesn't hold up to the scrutiny being visited upon the feature? It's still a decent alternative to another Monday-night viewing of "Friday the 13th: The Series."


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