Review Date: February 16, 2002
Released by: Cinerebel Films
Release date: 10/29/2002
Region 1, NTSC
In 1999 a little film called The Blair Witch Project
became the "it" film of year. It was heralded as wholly original and downright frightening and went on to take the box office by storm. As is natural with all breakout successes, a series of imitations have been trying to cash in on Blair Witch
’s success. There was the inferior sequel, Book of Shadows, the webcam element in Halloween: Ressurection
and now The Collingswood Story
. Shot with one camera on a micro-budget, The Collingswood Story
has been getting online raves since its debut this past Halloween. Is this a great film along the lines of BWP
or is it just another way to milk the new style of handheld filmmaking?
Opening with a shot reminiscent of Black Christmas
, a figure in black is seen climbing into the attic. The screen goes black…the soundtrack mute…then boom; something or someone invades the screen. The point of view then shifts to the webcams of two former lovers, where it remains intriguingly throughout the rest of the film. Rebecca (Stephanie Dees
) has just moved to Collingswood to attend a better school, or was it just a way of getting away from her ex, John (Johnny Burton
)? John doesn’t know, but the two remain friendly. They have both just installed webcams on their computers, and they are still reveling in its novelty.
It is Rebecca’s birthday, and Halloween is just around the corner, so as a present John decides to hook Beck up with a few bizarre webcam characters. One is a stripper who shouldn’t quit his day job, while the other is a psychic named Vera Madeline (Diane ehrens). She charges for her services, but gives Becky a free consultation. Becky thinks the whole psychic thing is bogus, that is until Vera calls her by her real name. It is shortly after that Becky learns about the dark past of Collingswood and the home she now occupies.
Apparently there is an underground cult in the small New Jersey city, and years ago there were some murders. A priest went bonkers and murdered his kids by drowning them in the bathtub. There is also mention of Alan Tashi, who belonged to the aforementioned cult and who, as rumor has it, brutally mutilated his victims in the attic. Vera warns both John and Rebecca that all is not well, but the two companions are set on uncovering the mystery. That mystery however, could lead to death.
The similarities to The Blair Witch Project
are numerous in the film. The shot of the helpless girl hopelessly panting into the camera, the chilling black and white photography and even the film’s climax all share a similarity with BWP
. However, The Collingswood Story takes the Blair Witch idea one step further by shooting the entire film through the point of view of various webcams. There is some mobility though, as Rebecca has a laptop, but otherwise things remain largely stationary. When one limits his or her means of photographing a film, a sense of isolation and confusion can occur. It does not occur here. Director Michael Costanza is able to take full advantage of this interesting premise by providing enough variety that the gimmick never seems to wane throughout the 80 minute run time.
The film begins with a truly frightening opening, laced with grain and ambiguity. It gives the film that much needed feeling of suspicion and doubt needed to setup the horrors that will take place as the film progresses. Just when the film begins to lose its chilling tone as time is spent developing the characters, Costanza inserts some moody black and white footage that rivals the visual hallucinations in The Exorcist
. In horror and in real life, the unseen is in many ways more frightening than the seen. It is the shadows that scare, not the thing lurking behind them. Costanza knows this, and throughout the film he is able to play with the viewer’s senses in a manner similar to, but not derivative from, The Blair Witch Project
To put it simply, The Collingswood Story
is a memorably shocking film and a low budget triumph. The production values are excellent; the snazzy webcam interfaces really make the film look slicker than it has any right to be. Deep down though, the film still does look very realistic and convincing; these could easily be real people.
The believability of these characters is heightened by the excellent lead performances by Stephanie Dees and Johnny Burton. Dees has that girl next door charm, and is able to look convincingly frightening when it matters most. Burton has real screen charisma and acts with a style and confidence similar to cult favorite Jason Lee. Together the two turn what could have been boring scenes of exposition into convincingly human behavior. They have created likeable and identifiable personas that give the film the emotional connection to the viewer that it needs.
The Collingswood Story
is not a perfect film. It suffers from the same structural problem as The Blair Witch Project
: the characters compulsively capture everything on their cameras, even when logic would have them do otherwise. For instance, near the end of the film Rebecca has hold of her laptop throughout the climax, despite the chilling events that ensue. Yes, what she photographs is stylistically effective, but it strains credibility. This flaw is overlookable though, because by the end of the film the lead characters seem so convincing and believable that the viewer overlooks this flaw just as the lead characters seem to.
There are very few low budget horror films that truly aim for greatness, but thankfully The Collingswood Story
comes awful close. It takes The Blair Witch Project
formula one step further and provides the viewer with more likable characters. Director Michael Costanza is able to fabricate some truly effective moments of pure jump-out-of-your-seat scares. This is a diamond in the rough when it comes to modern horror films, and a true find for independent horror buffs.
The film is presented in full frame 1.33:1 and considering its budget, looks pretty good. The film was shot entirely on Hi-8, so obviously this isn’t going to be a reference quality disc. The webcam footage is in good shape, suffering only from a few mild scan lines that pop up every now and then. The picture is rather soft and contains some grain, but that is due more to the stylistic choices of Costanza, not the transfer. This is supposed to look amateur and gritty, and the transfer does a good job of bringing this through.
The Collingswood Story
contains a stereo track that serves the film just fine. The dialogue sounds as if it were recorded through a webcam microphone, as it should, and is clearly audible throughout. Voices sound tingy, but real, and make the film seem like it could really be happening. The audio in the film is not entirely amateur sounding however, as there are some loud sound effects that invade the senses from time to time. They sound pretty sharp, and will be sure to have your head hitting the roof. The sounds that accompany the computer screen actions are convincing and mesh well with the on screen displays. Collingswood also contains a creepily effective minimalist score by John DeBorde that sounds very sharp on this disc.
This disc is unfortunately sparse in the supplemental department. There is a short two-page production notes section, an even shorter cast and director biographies and a short one-minute trailer. The trailer can be accessed from the extras menu, but it also seems to play upon inserting the disc into the player as well. It is neat, but too revealing, so try and avoid watching it until after the feature. It would have been great to hear a commentary or some interviews surrounding the no-budget production process, but having this film on DVD is good enough.
The Collingswood Story
is a chilling little shocker that works because of its inspired premise, likable leads and some truly jolting frights. Director Michael Costanza has admirably updated The Blair Witch Project
for the digital age. The sound and the video are good considering the source materials, and lend the film a realistic feel. Extras are light however, which is somewhat of a let down given the high price. The film is anything but a let down however, and is easily one of the best low budget films of this millennium. Head on over to http://www.collingswoodstory.com and order a copy now! Oh, and make sure you turn off your webcam first…
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B
Sound - B
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 20 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Stereo
- Theatrical trailer
- Cast and crew bios
- Production notes