Wednesday, October 2, 2019

stage shite.

Another 31 Days of Horror and the first, of many no doubt, found footage shocker.

But will this deliver the goods or just leave us hanging?

The Gallows (2015).
Dir: Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff.
Cast: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, John Tanksly and Cassidy Gifford.

"Don't say his name!"

There's nothing like throwing the viewer in at the deep end so we begin way back in 1993, slap bang in the middle - well possibly nearer the climax but who really cares? - of a hellish high school production of The Gallows, a kinda sub-Scarlet Letter/Crucible rip-off only with half the charm and an abundance of substandard Shakespearean dialogue delivered in that cringing mockney tone that Americans seem to think is a true representation of an 'English' accent.

In the stalls the proud parents of fright-wigged freak teen Charlie Grimille are busy recording the play for posterity as they admire their son's plumb-mouthed performance.

If I'd have known by this point that this grainy home movie footage was a good as the film got I would have given up now.

It's not all arsed-up accents and wonky wigs tho' because as the play lurches toward its climax - which features Charlie's character being hung from the aforementioned gallows - tragedy (or good taste, take your pick) strikes when the door beneath him opens accidentally hanging him in front of the entire school.

Which if I'm honest is really raising the bar for whoever takes the drama class the year after.

I mean how the fuck would you follow that?

A musical version of Salo?

That typesetting is off.

Jump forward to the present day, where the school (for some reason known only to the parent council and woefully incompetent script writers) have decided the time is right to restage the play - with the same costumes, prop gallows and everything.

Surely that'd be like Columbine deciding to stage a version of Gus Van Sant's Elephant using the shooters actual guns as props?

But I'm not American so what do I know?

There's no time to dwell on such matters tho' as we're quickly (come on the running time is only 81 minutes) introduced to the frighteningly horse faced Ryan (Ryan Gosling via a drunken police photofit Shoos), an arrogant arsehole who's main interest seems to be baying at his own jokes in the manner of an idiot manchild who's just discovered the power of speech.

Waving his camera around like an easily amused monkey playing with their own shit, Ryan is busying himself filming his best friend Reese's (Youthful Daze's Randy Milhouse, Mishler) woeful attempts at acting whilst looking good in tights.

It appears that he's playing the same character Charlie played last time around but luckily for him the brain-power it seems to take to enable him to walk and talk at the same time leaves him precious little to worry about the whole hanging thing with.

To be honest he seems more concerned with having to share an onstage kiss with the doll-like - albeit one with a massive head - lead actress Pfeifer (Brown, a kinda more homely Danielle Harris).

This is because he loves her don't you know.

I just look at this picture and it makes me too angry to even consider writing a vaguely amusing caption. Sorry.

After several minutes (that'll I'll never, ever get back you bastards) of watching Ryan following Reese around - in between taking the piss out of all the geeky students and interviewing a group of woman who witnessed Charlie's death in a vague hope of keeping our interest - our fowl-faced friend finds a door with a broken lock, which gives him the idea of sabotaging the sets and saving Reese the agony of looking like a complete tit onstage.

Ryan's button-nosed girlfriend Cassidy (Gifford, daughter of Barry and Kathie Lee, possibly) agrees the this would probably be a good idea and the pals agree to meet up that night to put the plan into operation.

And before you ask the school obviously has no alarms.


Even before that tho' we have to have a scene where Reese's manly as fuck dad Rick (Tanksly, last seen leaving your mums bed early yesterday morning) shouting at his son in an almost predatory manner whilst telling him not to do the play.

This may become important later.

After this fantastic scene of parental concern cum character building the toothsome trio quickly head over to the school and are soon channeling their rebellious nature by violently kicking over a few plant pots and smashing some bottles before settling down to unscrewing the stairs leading to the gallows.

Right on.

The fun(?) is bought to a sudden end tho' when Pfeifer pops up out of the shadows after claiming to have seen Reese's car in the car park.

No idea how tho'....perhaps she carries a ladder around with her.

Anyway, this being a found footage gig Ryan blatantly leaves the camera recording as Reese uncomfortably tries explain to Pfeifer why they're sneaking around the school late at night, luckily for him (and us) he's interrupted by a series of loud thumps (as in the noise, not ones to his head unfortunately) and what sounds like a bell ringing.

Perhaps it only rings when the script hits a certain cliché level in order to warn the audience to leave?

The only spirit haunting these poor fuckers is the ghost of Showgirls.

Never having heard a bell in a school before the  kids get a wee bit spooked and decide it'd be best if they just went home and forget about the whole thing but try as they will the broken door is now locked.

If that wasn't creepy enough they soon discover that none of their phones are working  meaning that they've no way of calling for help or saving the audience from even more tedious out of focus "he's behind you" shenanigans.

Frustrated by the obscene amounts of horror tropes on show Cassidy confesses all to Pfeifer (well not all, I mean she doesn't go into detail about the nude romp with Jenny (Mackie Burt) from the cheer leading squad or show the pictures of her pleasuring herself with Ryan's massive chin but we can dream), causing poor Pfeifer to angrily stomp off into the darkness.

I assume it's anger tho' it may have been a case of slight constipation.

Burt: Nude cheerleading.

Gingerly (and you don't often get to use that word in a horror review) exploring the school for a way out the group soon come across a hidden door in a storeroom that leads them to a document filled cupboard where an old TV is playing looped footage of the local news report of Charlie's death.

Just in case we'd forgotten why we are here obviously.

That's not all tho' as the screen is soon filled (well as filled as one of those old 4:3 screens can be) with Charlie's folks footage of the accident (obviously You've Been Framed rejected it due to the focusing issues) as well as an interview with Charlie's girlfriend (then not now obviously), who just happened to be one of the women that was watching the rehearsals earlier that day.

What are the chances?

It turns out that Charlie was the understudy for role and only took over when the original student called in sick due to painful hemorrhoids caused by spending too much time sitting on the cold stage.

At this point Reese makes a noise like a startled mouse and runs off in the direction of the school's 'Gallows' memorial display.

Grabbing the cast photo from the case Reese is shocked to discover that the original actor cast was his dad Rick.

Again, what are the chances?

Pretty high if your script writing skills are this lazy obviously.

"Hello French polishers? You may just have saved my life!"

Trapped in the school with no means of escape our scared students begin to realize that something supernatural may be afoot and Charlie may have returned from beyond the grave to extract an ill-conceived and poorly thought out revenge plan that, upon closer inspection (well any inspection if I'm honest) makes no sense whatsoever.

Will our heroes survive?

Will anything remotely original happen?

Will one of the characters be revealed to be a hitherto unmentioned child of Charlie's?

Will the film end with a clunkily added coda that attempts to set up the villain as a new horror icon only to leave you giggling like a French schoolgirl?

And is it wrong to find myself more and more attracted to Pfeifer Brown the sweatier and more shot to fuck she becomes?

Scraping the bottom of the cinematic barrel (probably the same one that Josh put Megan in) comes a film so contrived and with so little respect for it's audiences intelligence that one can only assume that it was greenlit as some kind of bizarre post-modern experiment in using cinema to cause atrophy in brain tissue.

I never usually say this but spoilers/plot holes ahead for anyone brave enough to risk viewing it:

After such a tragic accident, would a school (any school, the one I went to excepted) actually restage a play that resulted in the death of a student and use the same prop?

Would no-one (teachers, parents etc.) not mention the fact that the lead actor was the son of the original lead? I mean his photo is in the schools main lobby....did no-one bother to look?

And does the school not keep pupil records?

You see it turns out that Pfeifer is the daughter of Charlie's ex girlfriend, born a few months after his death....and it was her that lobbied to get the school to restage the play....did no-one think this a wee bit odd?

Everyone appears to know that the stage door is broken, did the schoolboard think "Fuck it, we can't afford a padlock, it's not like anyone ever breaks into schools"?

And that's just the ones I made a note of before I started dribbling and trying to spoon out my eyes.

Good job I didn't tho' as the  joint writing/directing team of Lofing and Cluff do manage to deliver a couple of nicely creepy set pieces, it's just unfortunate that they're quickly smothered by the sea of warmed up shite that surrounds them.

Honestly there's the bare bones of a nice little mocumentary/found footage chiller lurking beneath the mess, it just needs a wee tweak to make it work.

For example, up the age of the students slightly and have them discover the whole gallows tale online, deciding to do their film studies final project around it they travel across State to interview folk involved and finally discover the prop still exists....rebuilding it to stage a 'true-drama' re-enactment for the projects climax.

Plus by moving the location - and altering the timeline to make the incident happen a few decades earlier as opposed to a few years eliminates the majority of the plot holes.

Pfeifer could be the grandchild not child, which also gives a creepy "You look a wee bit like Charlie" vibe to the whole thing that would leave you guessing is it possession or revenge?

You're welcome.


The thing that makes me the saddest tho' is that regardless of how badly written and generally cack handed the whole thing is is the fact that the relatively inexperienced cast are all fantastic, bravely doing their best with material that by rights shouldn't even been given a second thought let alone typed up and made.

Ryan Shoos is perfectly punchable without ever drifting into parody as the bullying jock whilst Reese Mishler performs the difficult act of balancing put upon pal with a kind of shy pathos that really makes you believe in his character, I just wanted to give him a hug and reassure him that everything was alright around the halfway point.

Mainly due to him having to be in such an awful movie but still.

Pfeifer Brown is fabulous too, going from crying cutey to spooky psycho on the spin of a coin and fair play to Cassidy Gifford who draws the short straw (and even shorter shorts) by managing to make a character whose main traits seem to be stating the obvious and screaming actually watchable.

They - and us - deserve better.

But let's be honest nobody deserved a bloody sequel.....

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