FEBRUARY 11, 2014
Before Moviepass changed their program, it was pretty easy to find surprise theatrical releases like The Ganzfeld Haunting through their service; their website would list all currently playing movies in your area, sorted by popularity - you just had to go to the last page and work your way back to find these "gems". And of course, by "gems" I mean they were almost all awful (Lost Coast Tapes and Amber Alert were found this way, if memory serves), so it hasn't exactly been a big loss that the app ONLY shows you the popular movies now. To find stuff like this, you gotta go theater by theater and look, which is more trouble than it's worth. But I was stumbling around on the theater's website for a different reason, and came across this thing - a theatrical horror movie starring Billy Zane, Dominic Purcell, and the gorgeous Taylor Cole? SIGN ME UP!
And as a bonus, it actually sounded kind of interesting. In fact, I'll paste the synopsis I read below:
"Trying to prove the possibility of psychic communication, a group of hard-partying psychology students mistakenly unearth a grisly series of murders from their forgotten youth. As ghosts from the past become increasingly violent, the students must solve a 20-year-old crime before they are driven insane - or become murder victims themselves."
Sounds pretty good, right? I figured Zane (or Purcell) played their professor or something, and it would have some of the cool scientific-based horror that I enjoyed in The Stone Tapes or The Apparition (neither of which are perfect movies, mind you - but belong to a sub-genre I wish had more entries). Alas, while that plot synopsis wasn't exactly WRONG, the movie focuses almost exclusively on the "hard partying psych students" aspect - I would estimate nearly half of the film is nothing but one of the four snorting coke, drinking hard liquor from a bottle, smoking a joint, or "letting themselves go", i.e. fooling around at random with one of their fellow students (including a brief lesbian encounter between Cole and Rumer Willis). Maybe another 10% or so is just them yelling at each other. The epilogue, where Purcell finally shows up (as a cop, along with Hoyt McCallany), adds another 5 minutes or so where they just wander around the house saying "Look", pointing at a drug or a bloody weapon, and muttering "What the fuck...".
I'm not going to do the math, but that doesn't leave a hell of a lot of the 85 minute movie for anything involving "increasingly violent ghosts", and no one seems particularly interested in solving any crime (including the cops!). Willis literally spends the entire movie either snorting coke or wandering in and out of the room where the others are, never taking an active role in the experiment or even SAYING anything much of value beyond "What the fuck was that?" or similarly brief, often profane outbursts (what little enjoyment I got out of the movie, besides appreciating Cole, was from imagining Rumer's dad having to sit through this fucking thing). As for the backstory that provides the "mystery", it's completely incoherent - Cole realizes that she is one of the little girls seen in the fragmented flashbacks that pop up whenever they try the experiment (which is a real life theory involving projecting thoughts into another person), but it's not until the end credits that it becomes perfectly clear that all FOUR of them knew each other as children and were witnesses (I guess?) to a murder committed by Billy Zane.
I actually felt bad for Zane. The guy co-starred in one of the biggest films of all time, and both of his co-stars are currently starring in Oscar fare (Leo's being more successful than Kate's) while he shows up in awful horror movies that get single screen releases a week before they hit Blu-ray. His character is a total cipher; he takes home movies (molestation might be an issue, it's too jumbled to know for sure), says nonsensical things while looking out of a window, and plays War with one of his daughters. He's not really in any full SCENES, just scattered shots, and I don't even think his character was given a name. I mean, every single person on screen in this thing deserves better, but Zane in particular could really use a hug for his trouble.
However, it's possible that he was in it more originally. I mean, I'm not surprised that his role was brief, because that's how these things go - a few names are used to get the movie sold, but their screentime is brief. It's just the WAY his role plays out leads me to think that there was more to it; the same way you could tell Donald Pleasence's screentime had clearly been chopped up/reduced in the theatrical version of Halloween 6. And I thought this long before the end credits popped up and listed not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR editors! I read a lot of credits (it's my job!) and I swear, I have never once seen a film with more than 3 credited editors (not counting assistants and such), and the ones I have tend to be giant blockbusters, not random low budget horror films. It also starts in a very jarring manner; the four of them arrive at the house to start an experiment we know almost nothing about (and never really learn) and almost instantly start bickering and talking as if we had already known these people for 20 minutes. There's also a timestamp motif (the movie takes place over 24 hrs) that starts off telling us every hour (6 am, 7 am, 8 am), and then stops until 1 am - another sign of a jumbled up, re-edited mess.
And it's a shame, because there IS a good movie to be made from this concept. They are supposed to go to a neutral place to ensure that any flashes or images they get won't be of their own memories of the place, and they fuck that up (Cole's character says her family owns the house but she has supposedly never been there), but I can buy that contrivance (the fact that they have apparently ALL been there and were friends as kids is too ridiculous to even begin to critique, however) if it was serving a scientific-based approach to the usual "long buried memories of a tragedy resurface" plot. The ghost element is rather interesting too; the girl appears more or less in the same spot and doing the same thing every time, which obviously limits its use but is kind of cool in its own way (I'm sure it's not the first example of a ghost being stuck in a loop of sorts, but it's certainly not OVERused), though it's pretty benevolent - why couldn't Zane's ghost be around as well? Or is he even dead? Ah, who knows.
Hilariously, nearly all of the problems were the same ones I had with The Traveler, which was also directed by Michael Oblowitz (something I just learned 5 seconds ago). Like that movie, which also featured an actor who is REALLY slumming it (Zane here, Val Kilmer there), the plot was obtuse and repetitive, the ending was baffling (one of the four just wanders out of the movie, I guess), and it featured horribly misguided music choices (some angry loud guitar stuff in Traveler; here we get some Skrillex type shit performed by someone who obviously hates humanity). At first I thought maybe this was one of those deals where a filmmaker got a movie taken away from him by producers and would give him the benefit of the doubt, but when he has two different films that suffer from the exact same problems, I have no choice but to believe that maybe he's just not a very good filmmaker (he's also behind The Foreigner, one of the worst Seagal films I've seen, which is saying something). I won't forget his name again - it will serve as a warning that not even Moviepass should be paying to see this guy's nonsense.
What say you?
P.S. The movie got a little bit of press last week when Corey Feldman inexplicably showed up at the premiere pretending to be a journalist, hoping to get mock interviews with Zane and Willis for some online TV show he has. But neither of them showed up. That anecdote is far more interesting and entertaining than the movie, I assure you.