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The Collingswood Story
cast: Stephanie Dees, Johnny Burton, Diane Behrens, Grant Edmonds, and Glenn Hoeffner

director: Mike Costanza

80 minutes (18) 2002
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
The Collingswood Story takes place over two nights approaching Halloween in a New Jersey town that has a century long history of cult murders. Rebecca (Stephanie Dees) has just moved to the university town for studies, though why so late in October we're not told. I assume that the writer could not disassociate himself from either of two ideas, one, the long distance relationship of the young couple and, two, the horror setting of the national holiday for it. Rebecca has left a boyfriend John (Johnny Burton) behind in the home state, but he has set them up with an Internet video link and the story is told almost entirely through this point of view device, in the usual digital shoot compensatory fashion. Rebecca is alone in a big house; its owners out of town, and everyone with whom they link that night are also alone. They include the drunken berk of a mate in the debris of his holiday revelry and assorted freaks reeled out as birthday gifts, the star attraction of which is an on-line psychic Vera Madeline (Diane Behrens). She alerts them to a deadly threat in Collingswood, and, predictably, in the house in which Rebecca lodges. A voodoo poppet plays peek-a-boo on both web pages and in the attic, convincing firstly John of the coming occult horror and then involving the estranged couple directly.

What keeps Mike Costanza's The Collingswood Story interesting is the engaging central performance by Stephanie Dees, en face and close-up in a potentially vulnerable position but bubbling, buoyant and veritable in her role throughout. Johnny Burton holds up his end of things too and the story is rolled out slowly but personably. The supernatural events are put off for too long and when they come they are not particularly special. Some of the creepier moments come in early sequences when anything is yet to happen. The camera is placed on a girl in an empty house with an open doorway to a kitchen behind her and to the back of that room a window onto a dark night. It persuades you to look behind her to both doorjambs and from them to that window expecting someone or something to step out or show up. The effect is lost when the camera is moved to a position with a wall and shelving cabinet behind. When she takes the camera on walkabout and up into dingy attic rooms you can only dismiss her as stupid and deserving of her fate. An evening car journey provides the only other creepy moment when the drive throws up a few Halloween leftovers including a coven of still white figures on a lawn. The horrors to come are comparative nonsense.

The POV style carries with it the suggestion of a reality but told via the Internet meant that the makers needed an interface for each of the users. Microsoft were clearly not going to come on board without stern contracts and costs and Constanza instead commissioned a fantasy desktop, with loud icons, some of them clich�d particularly and peculiarly to the user. It thwacks away any credibility in the scenario. It gets away with a first viewing but I suspect it will be a stubborn get through on the second visit, which I don't see happening soon.

Anchor Bay can't resist teeming it with extras. There are lengthened scenes (billed as alternate), an audition reel (the best actors for the parts were chosen though that is not to knock any of those reading for parts and it does put the unsuccessful candidates on the IMDb), a stills gallery, rather dull bloopers, and the pushing of the film at Sundance and Cannes. A couple of superior short films by Costanza are in the content, though each runs for only three minutes. Flasher is his New York University student film, and is a quirky portrait of a nude old man in his personal detritus. Mama Said is a faux music promo also in black and white, reproducing a soul music act and cutting in images of segregation, contrasting them with the joyous song. There are a couple of Easter eggs to be found. On the main menu on the fake screen hit the 'Internet' button and you are given 23 seconds of Rebecca's demonically leering up-lit face. For the second enter set-up options and select one, then hit the exit cross in the top right hand corner of the fake screen. Revealed is a sequence of the director getting home late following a days shooting and accidentally waking up his mum. Rock 'n' roll! The St Francisville Experiment is far and away the cleverest and best of the POV haunted house films. The Collingswood Story is ultimately clumsy and unimaginative.

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