Label: Anchor Bay
Release date: 19th June 2006
Running time: 80m
Director: Michael Constanza
Stars: Stephanie Dees, Johnny Burton, Grant Edmonds, Diane Behrens, Glenn Hoeffner.
Michael Constanza’s THE COLLINGSWOOD STORY (2002) is an interesting variation on the low-budget supernatural thriller - combined with a realist aesthetic - instigated by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). But whilst the earlier film pitted its protagonists against unseen forces in the middle of a forest, this one creates terror from isolation within the home; web-surfing “mouse-potatoes” can be in as much danger as adventurers are in the great outdoors.
When Rebecca (Stephanie Dees, HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS) leaves her mid-western hometown to study at a college in Collingswood, New Jersey, her boyfriend Johnny (Johnny Burton) suggests they use webcams to stay in touch with each other during their time apart. But is Johnny’s motive really just to keep in contact, or is the webcam’s real purpose to keep an eye on his absent girlfriend? Johnny is feeling extremely insecure, and matters aren’t helped when his friend Billy (Grant Edmonds) keeps winding him up about it. At the end of one chat session he continues watching and listening to Rebecca as she takes a phone-call from her mother. Eventually, when Johnny is convinced that it really is her mother on the phone, he logs off, and feels guilty about mistrusting her.
The webcam idea, however, proves to be of some comfort to Rebecca, who has been left alone for the weekend in the house in which she is renting a room. She finds herself in total isolation in an empty house with just a phone and computer. With little else to do but study and chat online, it's not long before idle curiosity leads to a dark mystery when Billy hooks the pair up with Vera Madeline, an online psychic who senses all is not well with Rebecca.
Vera Madeline tells Johnny about the town's grim past, which involves a series of cult-related kidnappings and murders instigated in the 1860s by a man named Alan Tashi and believed to be continuing to this day. Tashi’s modus operandi recalls the mutilations in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928), and more recently, in James Ellroy’s book “The Black Dahlia”. Among the long list of atrocities reported to have taken place, the most gruesome of all involved Judge Malcolm Hawks who, in October 1997, murdered his wife and two children before killing himself. Using the Internet to research the story further, Johnny makes a disturbing discovery regarding the location of the most recent killings.
So what does Johnny do, after connecting her to a trio of webcam nutters (including dancer Theodore, played by Glenn Hoeffner, a grey-beard loon who is regularly cast in roles that require a prominent white beard)? He freaks her out with his new found knowledge of Collingswood’s macabre history. As Rebecca now feels uneasy in the empty house, and Johnny feels helpless and impotent with an eight-hour drive between them, they decide to sleep with their webcams trained on each other’s beds, just in case anything happens.
The themes present in this film are similar to those in THE GHOSTS OF EDENDALE (2003, recently released by Anchor Bay UK). In the latter film, the fear was of not succeeding; the girl in the relationship was effectively left behind whilst her partner moved on. In THE COLLINGSWOOD STORY Johnny is physically left behind, whilst Rebecca goes away to study and, presumably, move on to a better life. The problems of long-distance relationships and all the insecurities that accompany them are highlighted.
The film is shot from the point of view of the protagonists via their webcams. Everything we see is on a PC screen; Constanza wrote the film as webcams were starting to take off. A consequence of this technique is that the actors play directly to camera. Under normal circumstances this would disrupt the film’s realism, but here - in this context, it serves to create a realistic effect.
There are however a few deviations from the static webcam perspective; Rebecca hooks her webcam up to a laptop so that she can tour the town, and again in the last 20 minutes, when she explores the house itself, and at one point Johnny researches the Collingswood history on the Internet, but we are still sharing his view of the PC monitor. The only information we share away from the PC monitor is Rebecca’s dream of murder victims and satanic symbols, which occurs first before the opening credits, then later in the film. At this point we are getting an insight into her mental state.
Clearly the best way to watch THE COLLINGSWOOD STORY would be on a computer monitor; in the same way that RINGU (1998) should be watched on a VCR - preferably alone in a motel room. As a nice touch the menu is presented as a PC screen with active icons; the same as used by the film’s characters.
Constanza creates an uneasy atmosphere with a soundtrack consisting of atmospheric groans and white noise, and the exterior John Carpenter-like shots of houses and gardens strewn with pumpkins, weird Halloween decorations, and grotesque figures. The location Lees Lane could be a reference to Robert Lees, the Victorian psychic who allegedly helped the British police to arrest a suspect in the “Jack the Ripper” case. He crops up in Bob Clark’s MURDER BY DECREE (1979), played by Donald Sutherland.
John Carpenter is cited as an influence in the accompanying interview, where we see we see the director seated in front of PSYCHO poster, he also acknowledges THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, most evident in the low budget style of filmmaking, and the naturalistic approach of the unknown actors.
THE COLLINGSWOOD STORY has become a "word of mouth" hit amongst horror fans thanks to its many successful festival screenings. 'Best Indie Film' at the Horror Review Awards, it was the well-received 'Official Selection' at London's Frightfest in 2005, and won 'Best Cast' at the Fearless Tales Festival. It’s a creepy, slow-moving film that builds to a frightening climax, and is well worth a look. But if you are going to watch it alone on your PC, keep looking over your shoulder.
Michael Costanza's award winning short film MAMA SAID
Michael Costanza's NYU student film FLASHER
Optional Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS