The Collingswood Story - The Collingswood Story(Blu Ray) [Cauldron Films - 2021]
The Collingswood Story is one of the more creative and quietly effective found footage films of the early 2000s. It builds from slight kooky 'n' charming beginnings, moving onto moments of subtle dread and unease, before ramping up to a tensely chilling finale. The film has been out-of-print for some years now and has never got a Blu Ray release. So, it’s great to have this new region free Blu Ray from the guys at Cauldron Films- taking a new scan of the film, with a director’s commentary, and a few other extras.
The Collingswood Story (aka Mischief Night) was released in the year 2002- it was directed & written by NYC born Michael Costanza. He had three other directorial credits to his name- guardian angel fantasy comedy There's No Place Like Homegirl( 1994), gross-out Comedy Flasher(1995), and gay hate crime drama Beat the Bash(1996). With The Collingswood Story been his last feature-length credit- though he’s credited with ten shorts/ Tv series episodes- including awarding-winning crime drama Mama Said(1993).
The film is set in the world of early 2000’s internet video chat- so initially it may feel a little dated, but give it a little time and the old tech limitations will drop away and your left with a (fairly) well-acted supernatural found footage film. The films lead/ central characters are Rebecca(Stephanie Dees) and Johnny( Johnny Burton)- an in their early 20’s couple who are carrying out a long-distance relationship, while Rebecca is studying in Collingswood New Jersey- staying in an older house, where most of the film takes place.Roger Batty
The film starts off with the pair logging onto video chat on Rebecca’s birthday- Johnny sets up a few surprise video calls from a selection of quirky characters- there’s a long grey-bearded man who oddly rants at her, an Asian man playing the banjo & singing happy birthday, and most important to the plot dial-up medium Vera Madeline(Diane Behrens)- who appears in shades in a dingy candle lite room. Initially, we get to know the two lead characters well enough, and the tension/ insecurities on both sides about their relationship are clear. And at points, Johnny rings up his drinking buddy Billy( Grant Edmonds)- who is little or no help.
As we get into the film we find out Collingswood has somewhat of a dark past- involving cults, drowned children, and cut out eyes. Typical of the found footage genre we get documents and paperwork relating to the dark tales- and these are mainly found on the internet, so once again we do have the rather dated look coming to the fore, but again these aren't too bad, and personally were kind of nostalgia- as I remember the early dial-up days of the net with fondness.
The film nicely moves from the charming and quirky first quarter, moving into the creepy/ dread edge second/ third quarter, before building nicely to a decidedly tense, jumpy, and chilling last fifteen minutes or so. As with most found footage films, it’s very much a film you need to have patience with- making sure you watch out for the creepy clues, and take in the building feeling of unease. We do move out from the house where Rebecca’s staying, out into fall greyness and eerier darkness of night-time Collingswood. The film's pace nicely builds, with the script making you feel for the characters, and believe the chilling history the pair uncover. The use of video chat/ webcam element was of course way ahead of its time, and this went on to be used to great effect in the likes of Unfriended, the Paranormal Activity films, and last year’s excellent Host. On the whole, if you can sidestep the dated elements, The Collingswood Story is a very effective and ultimately chilling example of the found footage genre.
Moving onto this new region free release. And we get a new commentary from writer/director Michael Costanza- and this is most interesting. He talks about shot set-ups, locations, set dressing, the actors, various graphics/ tech images used, and more- at points he does dropping into describing what’s going on screen blandness, but thankfully this doesn’t happen that often, and on the whole, it gives you a very good insight into the films making. On the extras front, we get a recently made making of- this runs fourteen minutes, and sees a new interview with Costanza, snippets of an interview with actress Stephanie Dees from 2006, behind the scenes footage, and on set photos- this is well worth a play too. Lastly, we get two sets of interviews from 2005/ 2006- one with the films two actors(5 mins), and one with Stephanie Dees(10 mins), and an original trailer.
As a huge fan of the found footage genre, it’s great to see The Collingswood Story- getting this wonderful reissue from Cauldron Films- with a rewarding commentary track, and some neat extras. Cauldron Films really are becoming the genre reissue label to watch of late, as they have been putting out some great releases- going from the nasty crime thriller meets ghoulish horror of Beyond Terror, Italian/ Danish gialli The Crimes Of The Black Cat, and now, of course, found footage.