Hangman's Curse review by Mike Long

I love being surprised by movies, so I rarely do any research on a movie before I sit down to watch it. If possible, I'd love to know nothing at all about the film so that the entire experience will be new. In addition, I don't do much research for my reviews either, save for looking up the previous works of the cast and crew, and possibly information relating to budget, filming locations, etc. Why? Because any small tidbit of trivia could skew my viewing experience. A good example of this is the newly released "horror" film Hangman's Curse.

Strange things have been happening at Rogers High School. Three of the school's premiere football players have been hospitalized following bizarre behavior in which they appeared to be seeing ghosts. The ghost in particular would be that of Able Frye, a lonely boy who hung himself in the school some ten years ago. Now, the students of Rogers are terrified and most are convinced that goth-kid Ian (Jake Richardson) is somehow using Abel's spirit to take out his tormentors. Into the picture comes the Springfield family, who are part of an agency known as The Veritas Project, a covert group who investigates supernatural mysteries. The Springfields go undercover in the high school with dad Nate (David Keith), posing as a janitor, mom Sarah (Mel Harris), taking a post a school counselor (Yeh, right, that's a job that just anyone without training can fall into...), and the teenaged twins Elijah (Douglas Smith) and Elisha (Leighton Meester), will be enrolled as students. The family soon discovers that there could be many causes for the odd attacks, as several students felt bullied by the football team. Is there a ghost haunting the halls of Rogers High, or is this the work of a madman?

I didn't know what to expect from Hangman's Curse going in, other than, based on the cover, this appeared to be a horror movie. What I found was the film equivalent of a "Goosebumps" novel. This is definitely "horror-lite" and is aimed at a decidedly teenaged audience. But, that doesn't mean that the movie should be immediately dismissed, as it does have some positive aspects. The film's basic premise essentially takes The X-Files and makes the investigators a family instead of two FBI agents. And having the story focus on the teenagers makes for an interesting twist, and a story which will naturally appeal to youngsters. Despite the film's younger slant, it doesn't shy away from attempting to be scary. The movie piles on creepy scenes, but there is no gore or violence. Unfortunately, director Rafal Zielinski has crafted an uneven film. Many of the scenes are strangely edited, and the actors honestly appear to be standing around waiting for the call of "Action". These scenes often have stilted dialogue and resemble rehearsal takes. This is truly unfortunate, as these miscues disrupt the flow of what is otherwise a serviceable thriller, which (I must admit) had me guessing until the end, and in this post-Columbine world, presents a pretty accurate portrayal of the lengths someone will go to to get revenge on bullies.

Now, having judged the film on its own terms, I can talk about the research that I did on the movie. Hangman's Curse is based on a novel by Frank Peretti, who writes Christian fiction. Supposedly, the novel has a decidedly Christian slant. I learned this going into the film and kept waiting for "The Message" to arrive, but it never does. This isn't a criticism against the movie, it's just something that left me puzzled. The film contains many themes and images which would shock the devout Christians that I know, so I'm not entirely sure who this movie is aimed at. There is a moment at the end which is overtly religious, but only if you know to look for it. I also have questions about the film's marketing. According to IMDB.com, the movie played theatrically in Birmingham, Alabama and Colorado Springs, Colorado. Granted, Hangman's Curse is nothing more than a mediocre movie, but it's a lot better than some of the crap I've been watching lately and deserved a better fate than this. The movie is a harmless thriller that one can watch with younger siblings until they are ready for the hard stuff.

Hangman's Curse swings onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks pretty good, as the picture is relatively free from grain and defects. There is some slight grain in the daytime shots, but it's nothing distracting. The colors look good, and the night-time scenes are never overly dark. There is some noticeable edge-enhancement, but this won't bother most viewers. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which has its pros and cons. The good part is that the track provides clear dialogue and nice reproduction of the rock soundtrack. The bad part is that surround and subwoofer effects only kick in during the "fright" scenes, giving the track an otherwise lackluster feeling.

The DVD has a few extras. "Frank Peretti" From Page to Screen" (11 minutes) is basically a "making of" featurette which focuses on writer Peretti, who also appears in the film as an annoyingly goofy scientist. This segment contains a lot of behind-the-scenes footage. Animal handler Brian Gibbs is profiled in "The Spider Wrangler: The Spiders of Hangman's Curse" (9 minutes), and that's all that I can say about that, lest I spoil the movie. Finally, we have a brief trailer for Hangman's Curse, which is full-frame and resemble a commercial for The X-Files.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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