The St. Francisville Experiment (2000)

Starring Madison Charap, Troy Taylor, Ryan Larson, P.J. Palmer, Tim Baldini

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: I hate Blair Witch, so a rip-off probably isn’t much better.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:


“I love all the ghosts.”

That is one character’s protective mantra throughout the film and it became mine as I tried valiantly to remain conscious through the film’s running time. The funny thing though is that I actually enjoyed watching The St. Francisville Experiment for the most part, it’s just that so little happens and the characters are far too uninteresting to make for an overall pleasing film. So why would I enjoy watching something like this? Well, because I’m a cinematic masochist of course, but besides that if you buy into it just enough it’s pretty easy to have fun with it. I can imagine a group of thirteen-year-old girls renting this for a slumber party and having an absolute ball.

The premise here is simple: there’s a haunted mansion and a film producer has rounded up four college students to go in with cameras and try to document some ghost activity. Everything is presented as if it were a real documentary; there are no opening credits and the film is all shot on handheld video cameras. Anyone that actually watches the movie shouldn’t be fooled past ten or fifteen minutes in, but at least initially it does a good job of selling the documentary “found footage” idea of the picture. Not that that’s original or anything. This film exists purely to shamelessly rip off the success of The Blair Witch Project. That film dropped the year before and Full Moon and company were quick to spring on its success. From my limited research into the found footage genre, this seems to be the first rip-off released after Blair Witch too, so if that truly is the case, you have to give Full Moon credit for moving faster than anyone else.

Director Ted Nicolaou gets no on-screen credit, so I’ll have to believe that IMDB is correct and he actually did direct this film. It doesn’t bear any similarities in style to his previous films, but due to the found footage aspect of this, I wouldn’t expect it to. It is clear that someone is directing the film though, as many times throughout the film it will cut between cameras in a scene and the camera is clearly not wielded by one of the four students. It’s not that you see all four people or anything as obvious as that, but instead it’s a question of point of view. If in one shot you can see that only two characters have cameras, but yet we’re cutting between three (or more) viewpoints it all becomes pretty obvious. In addition to this, sometimes the viewpoint might line up with a character but the camera is more static than it should be. I don’t think the average viewer would notice little things like this, but to me, they are glaring.

There was one interesting shot that had me wondering if the filmmakers behind [Rec] had seen this film prior to crafting their amazing, tense take on the found footage film. At one point in the climax, a character drops his camera and it lands facing him. He lies on the ground in front of it and is then dragged quickly away from the camera down the hallway while he stretches out his arms towards the camera lens… just like what happens in the climax of [Rec]. I’m sure The St. Francisville Experiment wasn’t the first film to utilize this chilling shot, but it definitely wasn’t the last.

What’s interesting is that every issue I had with the film never really detracted from my enjoyment except the somewhat languid pacing. It definitely needed a shot in the arm of either quality dialogue or something more interesting happening on screen. There are genuinely scary moments, but they are spread much too thin for this film to garner any deliberate recommendation. Regardless though, I had fun with it and I’m sure others out there would too. Just remember to recite that age-old mantra to get the ghosts on your side:

“I love all the ghosts.”

Next week, I’m unsure that I’ll have any reviews! If I do, I’m gonna try to watch the early Full Moon film, Meridian: Kiss of the Beast!

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