Genre: Slasher Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Release Date: March 22nd, 1998 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Christopher Leitch Actors: Sarah Chalke, Soleil Moon Frye, Ben Foster, Christian Campbell, Maggie Lawson, Chad Cox, Tom Dugan, Julie Patzwald, Markie Post, Carly Pope
osemary Zoltanne (Markie Post) and her daughter Sarah (Sarah Chalke) arrive at the old, haunted Lancaster House (built in 1672) in Pinecrest, Massachusetts, for which they’ve already paid six months rent. It’s dusty, creepy, and dark, but the size is quite accommodating and it’s the first step in building a new life away from Los Angeles. It doesn’t help that a black cat just happens to be perched inside of a closet, poised to lunge at Sarah when she begins poking around the place after bringing in some boxes. And then the power suddenly goes out. The telephone isn’t connected, yet a phone call comes in nonetheless, with a scratchy-voiced man growling, “I’ve been waiting for you. Sarah, welcome home.”
It’s enough to spook anyone, yet Sarah handles it all surprisingly well. The following morning, she reluctantly heads to class, where she exhibits an inspiring confidence despite her high school peers being snippy and venomous. Her demeanor remains unruffled even when she visits a quaint bookshop to buy incense, allowing clerk Charlie Gorman (Ben Foster) to explain that the park next door to the Lancaster House was the site of a witch getting burned three centuries ago. And her evil spirit is rumored to have demanded revenge. Since Sarah is interested in palm-reading, fortune-telling, and historical, occult subjects, it’s not exactly a deterrent to learn that witchcraft surrounds her new home. And thanks to her interest as opposed to fear, it’s not long before her classmates begin to suspect that she’s a reincarnation of the vengeful Lancaster witch.
“The real curse of Pinecrest is small minds.” Based on the novel “Gallows Hill” by Lois Duncan, the author of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” this television movie bears a number of similarities, such as the environments, the youthful characters, a sense of troublemaking, and mysterious, brutal deaths brought about by sharp metal objects. There are also countless swells of percussive music used to generate boo moments; pop songs of the era; the theme of outsiders versus the in vogue, or us versus them; teens trading ancient, scary stories, elaborating on petrifying events that will surely manifest themselves in modernized ways; and a serial murderer who exhibits distinct clumsiness. Plus, there are nightmare sequences, which carry on for so long, one wonders if a braver, eerier decision would have been to merge reality more unsubtly with fantasy. And in-crowd kids Eric Garrett (Christian Campbell) and his girlfriend Kyra Thompson (Soleil Moon Frye) set about bullying the new girl. “Let her fly by the seat of her broomstick.”
Due to the television censorship of the time, this modest slasher doesn’t display a classic kill scene until 45 minutes in. And even then, the terror and the bloodshed are incredibly limited. In lieu of traditional, R-rated mutilations, the first victim is, unbelievably, “scared to death” (and, quite unexpectedly, the onscreen body count remains at a measly 1).
Nevertheless, the atmosphere is nicely designed, the cinematography is appropriately unnerving (even though shadow-blanketed or nighttime scenes are basked in problematically ample light), and the actors take their roles seriously. The film is ultimately a mystery, like its bigger-budgeted brethren, which finds the lead protagonist desperately searching for clues not only to unearth the killer, but also to exonerate herself from being blamed for the steadily accruing casualties. “Wrongs need to be righted.” Regrettably, the movie goes to laughable lengths to cast suspicions on every one of the primary cast members, so as to keep the audience guessing. Somewhat humorously, too much rides on the big reveal, making its revelation the component that will make or break the effectiveness of the project as a whole; as a result, the conclusion is steeped in ambiguity to the point that it’s barely cohesive. “It’s always the most unlikely ones who fooled them all.”
– Mike Massie