Take a Dekko at this EVIL! “The Collingswood Story” reviewed! (Cauldron Films / Blu-ray)



Rebecca moves from her small town of Bedford, Virginia to Collingswood, New Jersey to attend college.  Her small town boyfriend, Johnny, buys her a webcam to keep in touch with long distant video chatting, or to more so keep tabs on the sanctity of their fraying relationship.  For her birthday, Johnny provides her an entertaining list of audiovisual phone numbers to call, one such number belonging to an enigmatic online psychic Vera Madeline who is compelled to reveal Collingswood’s gruesome, satanic ritualistic history with one of the town’s most horrific mass murders having occurred at the very house Rebecca currently resides.  As Rebecca and Johnny investigate deeper, the webcam keeps rolling as their curiosity leads them into a dark and deadly supernatural mystery that will engulf them both. 

Talk about dated content!  “The Collingswood Story” is the 2002 trailblazer for the paranormal webcam subgenre that has ballooned over the last decade with the success of “Host,” “Followed,” and even the “Paranormal Activity” mega-franchise.  Writer-director Mike Costanza’s early 2000s film starkly contrasts how internet communication technology has changed over the last two decades with the ridiculous long corded phone jack plugins, time consuming uploading of camera footage before the invention of social media live platforms, and the lack of a pre-multiple participant teleconference with a limited single caller-to-caller video application. Once under the working title of “Mischief Night” as the story is set around Halloween night, “The Collingswood Story” is one of Constanza’s first feature films after branching out from the Paramount Pictures’ art department and right into the low-budget horror constraints, but the novel stylistic idea, based off real reports of a mass murder in a New Jersey town and saw little-to-no post-completion success traction back in the early 2000s, was a sell-produced production by Constanza’s Cinerebel Media along with associate producer Beverly Burton.

An interesting tidbit about “The Collingwood Story’s” shooting with the cast is that all the actors were shot individually since everything was done on essentially a webcam. Constaza would be in the room and read opposite the actor in performance. What’s spliced together makes good on delivering reasonable and believable menace, but without talent performances, there would not have been a revisiting home video release of this title. Stephanie Dees got her start in a major horror franchise by playing a minor role in “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” and 13 years later, Dees finds herself in the lead role of pioneering computer horror as birthday Rebecca. Opposite Rebecca is the lovesick paranoid puppy Johnny, played by Johnny Burton in his only credited role. Rebecca and Johnny go through the song and dance of his skirting around his relationship controlling paranoia as he bounces from Rebecca to his crass friend Bill (Grant Edmonds) while Rebecca is the picture of studious student, ignorant to the self-imposed friction in Johnny’s head. Burton’s a little stiff around the gills in his one-note and uninspired blue collar rendition of a longing, small town boyfriend whose personality matches his small bedroom as a background that never changes with the character unlike Rebecca who seems to grow into her environment with ever frame. In what’s probably her biggest identified role in a feature film, television actress Diane Behrens lurks in the shadows as the enigmatic psychic Vera Madeline wresting the story away from the slow burn of a dissolving relationship of young lovers and diverting into what we all came here for – a thrilling ghost story. Behrens plays the part with showmanship and a subtle inking that anything itching to come off her of mouth will be infomercial and portentous.

What Costanza has accomplished technically with “The Collingswood Story” is nothing short of amazing in his ability to seamlessly film and edit not only the scenes together coherently but also fabricate a meaningful connection between the two actors, shooting separately without a breath of another’s creativity to pull from, over still rather new and evolving technology to which some opposing critics would consider the technology to be disassociating the social standards.  “The Collingswood Story” is not a point and click monotony of talking head syndrome one might expect as Costanza, despite the gratuitous B-roll footage recorded by Rebecca as she drives around Collingwood searching specific locations, adds enough main footage filler of Johnny’s suspicions of a secret boyfriend, Johnny’s lowlife, yet witty, friend Billy giving him bad advice, and of psychic Vera Madeline’s mystifying mysticisms to keep viewers engaged while looking through the garbled eyeglass of lower compression bitrate quality of webcam footage shot on a Hi-8 camcorder that truly gives Costanza’s film that 90’s SOV feel at times.  There’s also the age-old theme of helplessness associated with webcam horror where those characters watching, just like us viewers, can only watch in an eye-widening terror unable to be a lifesaving branch of help when the supernatural stuff goes down.  Costanza also conveys the sense that the paranormal has zero limitations on a medium, in either a soothsayer or an internet conduit facet, to extend evil from the beyond, but the limitations on sensibility can extend only to a certain point in a culminating of Rebecca’s foreboding curiosity as her expedition into her lodging’s attic behooves her to take her laptop, along with its super long extension jack plugin cord, in order for her boyfriend, who lives a good 600 miles South, to accompany her into the darkness.  At this point, technology has yet to catch up with “The Collingswood Story” need and that’s where plausibility of the characters logic fumbles coinciding with an open for interpretation ending that wraps too quickly and asks more questions than provide answers.

For the first time, “The Collingswood Story” receives a proper North American release where technology has finally caught up to Mike Costanza’s vision! Cauldron Films presents the worldwide debut of a high definition, unrated, and region free Blu-ray release, remastered from the original source tapes by Costanza himself. Filmed on a Super Hi-8 camcorder, with Costanza undoubtedly the DP, “The Collingswood Story” remains presented in it’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and what also remains is the compression artefacts associated with transferring the source tapes. Certainly nothing devastating beyond a handful of B-roll scenes as much of the webcam shots look neat and tidy, but I’m surprised the reversal, aka webcam perspective of the person talking, scenes still shows a fair amount of blocky noise. The English language 2.0 stereo mix emits noticeable background static from, more than likely the culprit, the digital interference. The faint hum of dialogue track feedback hum is annoyingly choppy and it’s not just the play on the webcam mic of come-and-go vocals and background noise; however, the dialogue is clean and clear. The choice of soundtrack, a sundry of late 90’s-early 2000s placid rock, is audibly limp even for the dual channel output. The release comes with option English SDH subtitles and has a runtime of 82 minutes. Special features includes a behind the story with Mike Costanza looking back at the genesis of the idea as well as noting his inspiration for the idea, an interview with Stephanie Dees, an interview with Johnny Burton and Grant Edmonds, a director commentary, image gallery, and trailer. Despite it’s antiquated flaws, the crossbreeding of tech and terror in “The Collingswood Story” should have lifted the film into the cult status rafters of found footage films with the likes of “The Blair Witch Project,” but in lieu of the world’s massive oversight, Cauldron Film’s release is a big leap forward that looks back to the past.

Own the Limited Edition “The Collingswood Story” on Blu-ray Today!

Reap the EVILS You Sow. “Wired Shut” reviewed! (101 Films / DVD)

The failings of a once famed novelist, Reed Rodney, have come calling after a horrific car accident leaves Reed with reconstructive surgery and his mouth wired shut.  Stuck in remote mountain home, sipping pain meds through a straw and hitting terrible writer’s block after the critically trashed last novel, fortune and distinction never seemed so lonely until his estranged daughter, Emmy, shows up at his front door, looking to spend some time with him before going to school abroad.  Their hoary embattled relationship, built on alcoholism, lies, and abuse, urges Reed for a change of heart, willing to reconnect with Emmy by any way necessary, even if that means being a punching bag for her bottled up emotional outpourings.  When an unexpected intruder exposes a callous secret and lives are at stake, Reed and Emmy must rely on each other to survive a twisted prowler’s sadistic games. 

“Wired Shut” is the teeth-clenching, family quarrelling, sociopathic surviving inaugural full-length feature from Vancouver born director Alexander Sharp.  The home-invasion thriller too hails from Vancouver, Canada with an old-fashion tale of an inside job story co-written by Sharp and the director’s steady collaborator Peter Malone Elliott in which the project is also the first full-length script for the two writers.  “Wired Shut” houses a single location with a small cast but indulges varying levels of crazy and a good amount of bloodshed initially pie-eyed by the immense build up of downtrodden characters.  Singed family relations, the ebb and flow of trust, and the untangling of an ugly knot to retether a stronger bond becomes the parallel of reconnecting in this GoFundMe crowdfunded film under Lakehouse Productions and Alexander Sharp’s Sharpy Films presented by Motion Picture Exchange or MPX.

In a role where you have to keep your trap shut at all times because you’re playing a former self-centered rake who crashed his Lamborghini and had to have your mouth wired shut, Blake Stadel (“Rise of the Damned”) has one of the easiest parts in all of move making history.  Thank about it.  Zero lines of dialogue, you’re feigning an ego that is as shattered as your character’s jaw, and you write or type if you have to communicate.  Now, I’m not belittling Stadel’s once famous novelist, Reed Rodney, as the actor has to absorb the pity, the verbal abuse, and the overall confinement resulted by his injury as a sort of surrender to unfortunate happenstance.  Reed’s moment of life-altering clarity came pre-introduction when crashing the Lambo that left him vulnerable and alone, two bad, pre-depression dispositions of mind and being.  Across the table stews the stark opposite with Reed’s daughter Emmy, played by Alexander Sharp’s sister, Natalie Sharp (“Baby Monitor Murders”).  Pent up with anger and seething with intent, Emmy is executed with these qualities with perfection by Sharp.  However, Emmy extinguishes her fiery eyed hate too quickly in the fate upturning twist that creates a dubious bubble around her and not in a good way.  Emmy’s defining moment of clarity is weakly pawned off just for her and her dad to have a slither of reconnection in a breakneck transition without any struggle or sacrifice to change her mind.  Her blurry change of heart quickly becomes moot by Behtash Fazlaili’s (“The Evil In Us”) unhinged performance as Emmy’s delinquent boyfriend, Preston.  Preston eclipses the entire father and daughter dynamic with a clichéd villain by monologuing and squandering wasted opportunities to end it all and getaway scot-free.  Fazlaili’s performance also doesn’t inspire terror or much of anything at all except for frustration with the cavalier, walk-on act that’s supposedly a mentally broken man fallen to and reshaped by life’s hard knocks.  What’s on screen is Joker-esque mush relating little backstory that drives him to scheme and to be completely off his rocker whereas, in contrast, we know what motivates Emmy and we know what motivates Reed.

The slow burn of “Wired Shut’s” first two acts attempts to humanize Reed as a dejected and alone with Emmy sparking life into an object he can now be fixated on to mend his meaningless, post-accident existence, but Emmy, herself, lugs her own daddy-issue baggage giving way for the two to buttheads in exacting their feelings upon one another.  Sharp fishes for sympathy but keeps loose with expressing Reed and Emmy’s contentious relationship; a relationship that truly never existed with an alcoholic Reed’s persona no grata behavior around Emmy’s mother and her that extends his jet setting lifestyle with the next mistress.  Though loose, you can see both stand and the foreseeable twist coming because of it in an unsurprising turn of events.  What is surprising is Preston’s sudden Jekyll and Hyde as if Reed’s salivated score is Sharp’s theme that for the love of money is the root of all evil.  The theme is peddled and not exactly discerned in Fazlaili’s character who’s more concerned with the cat and mouse game of unbelievable hilarity.  Part of the absurdity has to do with Reed’s three story house with a built-in elevator and if you’ve ever ridden an in-home elevator, the cramped, smaller versions of a regular Otis are slow as Hell dripping with molasses.  Yet, somehow, Reed and Emmy happen to beat Preston down a meager two stories with the push of a button while Preston stops to take an injury breather at the third story landing.  Getting in the elevator should have been easy pickings when exiting, but in entertainment for some, keeping the audience attentive is pinnacle even if that means sacrificing the story for cheap thrills by stretching the realism just a little bit.

“Wired Shut” will leave you speechless with a pedestrian anticlimax after watching the DVD. Distributed by the United Kingdom’s 101 Films, the region 2, PAL encoded, 91 minute thriller is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio on a DVD5 and thoroughly soaked in a sea of tenebrous blue tint as the first, many firsts for these filmmakers, feature length cinematography for Martin Taube. Crystalized sleek and fresh with a modern, straight-edge finish, Taube main objective centers around personal space and to detox comfort with the strain and psychopathy, using close ups and up or down angling to exact an uneasy position during strenuous moments. The continuous tinting from start to finish could have been done without as it chokes the story in nearly an unviewable consumption. The English language Dolby Digital Stereo AC3, 5.1 surround sound mix, is a LFE sound cannon with a bass-heavy rattling industrial soundtrack by Oswald Dehnert and Rayshaun Thompson. The soundtrack’s sonorous tone crackles at the format’s compression, leaving granulated pops when the volume levels peak, which is really surprising for today’s digital and format spec cautious handling. Dialogue levels render nice and clear and the sound design’s not bad either with a complex range of soundbites inside a single setting, especially when Reed pops the wires when forcing open his mouth. The DVD is bare bones with special feature and the DVD cover itself is poorly misleading with a hooded figuring, standing backlit in the woods, with a large blade in hand. There is no such slasher figure in the movie. “Wired Shut” is not a slasher. I repeat. Not a slasher. “Wired Shut” is rated 15 for strong threat (gun pointing, knife to the throat), injury detail (stabbing, slicing, and surgical fastening coming undone), and language (Yes, foul language is present). As far as home invasion films go, “Wired Shut” says nothing new about the subgenre, but offers an intriguing ingredient of incapability and the strength to push through to the other side with the if there’s a will, there’s a way mentality underneath intruder chaos.

Evil Asks, Why Haven’t You Checked the Children? “When A Stranger Calls” and “When A Stranger Calls Back” review!


High schooler Jill takes a babysitting job, overseeing two sleeping children while the parents have date night. The phone rings and an assumed prankster tries to scare Jill, either asking why she hasn’t checked the children or doesn’t say a word, but as Jill fields calls throughout the night with the same terrorizing voice, the terrified sitter phones the police whom trace the call from inside the house. Jill barely escapes the deadly encounter that left two children victims to a psychopath; yet the now happily married, mother of two small children is faced with the same killer seven years later after he escapes from a mental institution. Hot on his trail is detective turned private eye John Clifford who will stop at nothing from stopping a maniac who will kill again. Years later, Jill and Clifford team up once more to investigate a similar case of a co-ed being specifically terrorized by an obsessive stalker through the span of five years to the point where his next move could be her last.

Perhaps one of the best, if not the best, openings to a horror movie ever, Fred Walton’s “When A Stranger Calls” puts a freeze on the heart, forces to choke down the breath, and tightens the already painfully clenched fists with sheer, thick tension bred from an urban legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs. Walton, and co-writer Steve Feke (“Mac and Me”), develop two successful thriller from script to screen, spanning over the course of 14-years. Walton’s uncanny ability to invoke fear through a conduit of simple objects, such as a telephone ring or in the thicket of dead silence, and leading a direction of motivational hesitation or slowness to the story and through it’s characters is dread absolute. There’s similarities between Fred Walton and “The Driller Killer” director Abel Ferrara with a scent of realism and grittiest blanketed with a knack for the abstract in certain facets. Though slightly fluffier to Ferrara’s shock value, Walton builds anticipation in not just his hit first film in 1979, but also in his made for TV movie in 1993.

Starring as the lead in both films is Carol Kane. The “Scrooged” actress shells out a white knuckling performance in Jill, the terrorized babysitter phoned inside the house by man upstairs. The harrowing night that will scar for Jill for life will continue through into the sequel, “When A stranger Calls Back.” As Jill grows through both films, so does Kane who builds the character a tougher exterior to match wits with second psychopath stalking a hapless co-ed. She’s teamed with legendary actor Charles Durning. Essentially in Walton’s “When A Stranger Calls,” Kane and Durning never have any scenes together, performing in almost two separate stories until the climatic that intertwined that collaboration. During’s a fine actor and can be the bull of any detective and/or private dick lead, but, to be honest, Durning always carried a hefty, front-heavy load that didn’t quite fit his character, John Clifford, chasing on foot a much leaner foe. “When A Stranger Calls” cast also includes Ron O’Neal (“The Final Countdown”), Tony Beckley (“In the Devil’s Garden”), and Colleen Dewhurst (“The Dead Zone”) while “When A Stranger Calls Back” also includes Jill Schoelen (“The Stepfather”) and Gene Lythgow.

A fleeting glimpse of brilliancy can go relatively unnoticed in Fred Walton’s “When A Stranger Calls.” Much of what makes the film so effective is essentially obsolete; for example, rotary phones are dinosaurs or even landlines for that matter. Also, the way Walton breaks up the film into a definitive three separate acts perfectly stretches the urban legend much more than warranted and the director also completes the story and character arcs. Dana Kaproff’s sophomore score can be characterized as menacing, suspenseful, and aesthetically unfit to the point of inspiring dreadful sensations that heighten the story’s already engrossing nature. In “When A Stranger Calls Back,” the opening is basically a mirror image of the original film with a slight (of hand) change and the narrative itself is captivating enough to get engrossed with, but there’s something about the made for TV movie that doesn’t quite sit right. Perhaps, the killer’s underdeveloped motives doesn’t make things crystal clear or just maybe the killer’s use of a ventriloquist and body art into his perverted and obsessive arsenal is too zany. Despite being a made for television movie, Walton’s followup film was premiere on Showtime back in 1993, giving the movie a not-so-diluted and PG-13 appeal; instead, bits of grittiness and some strip club nudity rivals the tone of it’s predecessor.

Second Sight presents “When A Stranger Calls” and “When A Stranger Calls Back” double feature on Blu-ray home video in the United Kingdom. Despite the upgrade, a DVD-R was provided for the review so technical aspects will not be reviewed. The disc did include bonus features such as Fred Walton’s inspirational short film “The Sitter” and interviews with director Fred Walton, Rutanya Alda, and Dana Kaproff, and Carol Kane. Carol Kane has more recently been the quirky and city-salty landlady that’s quick to whip sarcasms and clobber any hipster with a gentrifying agenda with a baseball bat in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” but Fred Walton saw Kane for how the actress could truly perform under a realistically terrifying moment, a moment that savors being on tenterhooks and frozen in time for almost the last 40 years as a classic and iconic scene in horror movie history. “When A Stranger Calls” and “When A Stranger Calls Back” is simple, yet deploys effective thrills with pure impending loom and dread in massive, lucrative quantities that may have been antiquated by time, but is epitomized as vintage and elegantly construed horror.