The Collingswood Story (2002)
By: CJ on May 18, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Anchor Bay Entertainment (UK). Region 2, PAL. 4:3. English DD 2.0, English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1. 80 minutes
The Movie
Director: Michael Costanza
Starring: Stephanie Dees, Johnny Burton, Vera Madeline, Grant Edmonds
Screenplay: Michael Costanza
Country: USA
Anchor Bay UK have a fine tradition of releasing bold and daring genre product onto the DVD market. If it wasn't for them we probably would never have seen the likes of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, Nightmare City, Legion of the Dead et al released on DVD in the R2 UK territory – and for this they are to be highly commended. Progressing in a similar vein to their previous track record, Anchor Bay UK have picked up The Collingswood Story for a UK DVD release – and what a gem it is too.

Taking its cue from such low budget fare as The Blair Witch Project, The Collingswood Story is a micro-budget shot-on-video affair that relies more on atmosphere and compelling performances than on elaborate FX and expensive production design. However, director Michael Costanza certainly knows how to create an engrossing movie without having to spend huge amounts of money. The film is also aided by two superb central performances from Stephanie Dees and Johnny Burton, who are both so natural that it's hard to believe that they're actually acting. They breeze through the film effortlessly and create believable and engaging characters, which is essential for a film of this nature to succeed.

The story is a straightforward affair and tells of how Rebecca (Stephanie Dees) has moved from her hometown to go and study at a college in Collingswood. Her boyfriend (of sorts), Johnny (Johnny Burton), persuades her to buy a webcam so that they can stay in touch. The people who own the house where Rebecca is renting a room have gone away for the weekend, so Johnny is keeping her company via the webcam. Johnny surprises Rebecca by hooking her up with an online psychic for a reading, thinking it would provide a laugh and a bit of fun for Rebecca. However, things start to take a sinister turn when the psychic warns Rebecca about bad things having happened in Collingswood. When Rebecca, looking worried, tells Johnny this, he decides to do a little digging around himself and he soon finds that things might not be what they seem - the house where Rebecca is staying appears to have been the location of some macabre events in recent history…

The film is told entirely via the webcams that Johnny and Rebecca are using and creates a strange atmosphere of constant unease. For regular users of the internet, they will be aware that at times the web can be a very strange place indeed and most people will have been spooked by strange activity at some point in their online life – especially when encountering some internet weirdo! For this reason alone, the film will most likely strike a chord with many people – as it did with me. The use of webcams as a medium for telling a horror story is definitely unique and Michael Costanza is to be commended for finding new territory within the horror genre to explore – not an easy thing to do. The other thing that is impressive is the subtlety of the piece – the building of tension is not obvious and avoids the standard trappings of the genre by employing cheap scares. No, this is far less obvious and much more cerebral and by the time the film reaches its climax you realise that you've been played like a fiddle and wound up like a coil ready to spring – this is very clever filmmaking.
Shot on a shoestring budget, this was never going to look as polished as a major Hollywood movie, but, considering the source elements, this looks excellent and there is very little to complain about. There are no signs of compression artefacts and the colours are solid and vibrant and remaining consistent throughout. The blacks are solid and never smeary and the image is sharp and clear.
Three audio options are provided, all of which are excellent – DD 2.0 stereo, DD 5.1 and DTS. The dialogue is always clear and crisp and the atmospherics are nicely spread over the surround sound platform.
Extra Features
The disc carries a nice selection of supplementary features, which adds value to the package. Included are two shorts by Michael Costanza - Flasher and Mama Said; an alternate scene; behind-the-scenes featurette; cast auditions; bloopers; and a stills gallery. The featurette includes interviews with the director and cast and is quite telling in that it reveals Michael Costanza to be something of a horror movie buff – something that we here at Digital Retribution can fully appreciate! It's also nice to see Stephanie Dees interviewed by our good friend Calum Waddell (who is also an associate producer of the movie) and she talks freely about the making of the film, giving some valuable insight into the production of The Collingswood Story. Overall, Anchor Bay have produced a very worthwhile package and, for once, here are some extra features that are actually worth watching! It makes a nice change from the usual pretentious back-slapping featurettes that appear on major releases, where everyone is gushing about how happy they are and isn't everything great. Yawn…
The Verdict
I'm usually not a fan of micro-budget shot-on-video fare, so this came as something of a surprise. The Collingswood Story just goes to show that intelligent, clever filmmaking can be achieved with next-to-nothing – as long as there is some talent both behind and in front of the camera. It's also to Michael Costanza's credit that he is never self-indulgent – the editing is tight and doesn't labour a point. The pacing therefore moves along at a healthy clip and never leaves time for the viewer to become bored. I can only hope that Michael will go on to bigger things and earn himself the recognition (and money) that he so richly deserves. The same can be said for Stephanie Dees and Johnny Burton, both of whom have proved themselves to be fine actors and able to breathe life into a script that could easily have fallen flat if handled by less capable performers.

The only thing left to say is that I highly recommend this movie – especially if you're a fan of The Blair Witch Project. I think this is the better film though, if I'm honest (then again, I never was very enamoured of Blair Witch). Go in with an open mind and you will find that this is a very satisfying and rewarding viewing experience. And don't be put off by the 4 out of 5 rating – the 5 out of 5 rating is reserved for the likes of Halloween and other classics, that's the only reason it's not got a full five star rating.
Movie Score
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