The Holy Ghost vs. The Unholy Ghost.
The Springfield family – father Nate (David Keith), mother Sarah (Mel Harris), sister Elisha (Leighton Meester) and son Elijah (Douglas Smith) – work for the Veritas Project or something solving difficult cases. Now, aside from the fact that the feds would never hire a whole family – especially one in which the parents were such tools that they give their kids identical-sounding names – these folks seem about as professional as an abortionist with blood in his hair. They’re sent in to a school to investigate why the football team is dying after screaming that a former student who hanged himself – Abel Frye (George Humphreys) – is coming for them. Luckily this family of WASPs will help solve a mystery with the help of their dog named Scooby Doo (William Shakesbear). Actually, the dog is named ‘Max’, but this feels about the level of an episode of Scooby Doo with the exception of a distinct lack of Velma for me to lust after.
Velma’s hot, shut up!
The plot of this film tries to be twisty and complex but is instead leaden. The idea of an angry ghost wiping out the bulling jocks who led him to off himself is appealing, but this one does nothing with it as it’s never really taken seriously by anyone. As one stupid scene follows another stupid scene, we get plenty of red-herrings dangled before us in a desperate attempt to keep us guessing, but, since ghosts don’t use straws, we know that something’s going on and just have to sit back and wait. The problem with a horror movie made by morons is that they couldn’t help but – TV movie style – all but paint ‘psychopath’ on the killer. This is highly annoying as it makes the viewers wait for the highly-trained Veritas Project investigators to come to the conclusion that we did in the first fifteen minutes.
The feds should sue the filmmakers for making their law-enforcement agencies look like a bunch of morons. First, the feds would not be inclined to let a bunch of related people work together as it would present too many emotional issues above and beyond the problems normally associated with field-work. Second, the feds would not ever let children be trained to be agents in the field, the huge liability and public-relations nightmare if it was ever discovered wouldn’t be worth it; additionally, even the brightest kids wouldn’t be experienced or emotionally mature enough to handle such a tough job. Finally, the way these agents operate is incredibly stupid. The kids dress up in black gimp suits to break into the school at night, but they don’t wear any sort of head or face covering! How they managed to ever clear a case is beyond me.
This seems to be a horror film set at John Hughes High School as most of the stereotypes he presented are covered. We have the evil, heartless, meat-headed Jocks who would, no doubt, given the chance, happily tape some kid’s butt-cheeks together. We have the nerds represented as the primary victims of the Jocks, but they’re not interesting and are pointedly ignored. We have the elite princess girls who primp and pout and happily admit Elisha to their clutch of Debbies. The part of the basket case will be played by Goths who are all Satan-worshiping freaks who also have ‘beat me’ signs on them that only bullies can see. Finally, we don’t get a neat John Bender – who might tell us to bite his shiny, metal … earring – instead the criminal is nothing more than a dork! Nice work here, making all the characters less realistic that those in any given high school television show.
To make things worse, there’s a lot of Christianity floating in the bowl of this movie. Now, the funny thing is, this doesn’t actually hurt the film much as it seems the writers knew about as much about Christians as they did about high school students. The Springfield parents are Christian and their kids are also true believers, but there’s an amusing scene in which Nate accidentally enjoys a dirty joke in his wife’s presence, leading to ‘the look’ and his joy ending. That’s not what Christianity is supposed to be all about! A bad thing about the squeaky-clean lead family being fishers in a film for the God-botherer audience is that the less naïve members of the audience know that none of them are allowed to die as that would be mean. What’s much worse than that lameness infecting the plot and killing whatever tension might have accidentally crept into the film, is the way, at the end of the film, Christianity ‘triumphs’ over the Goth kids by making them become ‘normal’ so that they fit in. I think someone involved in making this film was a deep-cover atheist as there’s no way that Christians would ever make themselves look like a bunch of judgmental jerkoffs who require conformity for a happy ending; other than Fred Phelps anyway. That’s right, the film that seems to show that abusing those who are different is wrong concludes by showing everyone becoming the same by becoming WASPs. Nice.
What’s also irritating about the Christian angle is the throwaway argument that Elisha – sans bra I might add – has with her teacher Mr. Carlson (Paul Lucas). Mr. Carlson is one of those stupid liberal secular humanist teachers that regressive talk-radio loudmouths scream about to their audience of knuckle-dragger redneck bumpkins. Am I being too harsh here? Is that an unfair stereotype? It’s kinder than one that undermines a teacher by tossing him a just plain wrong line about kids not being allowed to pray in school with the reason given as it forces those students’ morality on others. This is a load of crap as there’s no law in the United States that is compatible with a student’s First Amendment Rights that forbids student prayer. What is forbidden is teacher-led prayer as that does force a given set of moral laws on students through an authority figure. It would be nice if these issues were dealt with honestly instead of being sneaked in to please people on one side of a hot-button issue. It does nothing but show the weakness of your position when you have to rely on a straw man defense.
The method used to kill in this film is really, really, really, REALLY questionable. Someone is using African wolf spiders to kill, even though they’re not particularly poisonous; I guess that Christians will believe anything. Furthermore, the method used is based on a tribal practice involving spider pheromones … wait, African tribes understand pheromones? Something’s wrong here. Finally, the African wolf spiders breed with brown recluse spiders … but those aren’t even in the same family, let alone the same species! Why is it that the hybrid spiders are tarantulas? That makes another family of spiders thrown into the mess. Look people, spiders are scary, but none of them produce psychoactive venom and creatures in different families can’t breed true. A movie based on a book intended for kids should, in good conscience, be a hell of a lot more accurate than this tripe.
The acting in this film is terrible, but that’s partially because actors are given little besides banal dialog. Coach Marquardt (William R. Moses) is a good case in point, his character is nothing more than a burlesque of gym teachers combined with all the stereotypes tossed around in teen cinema. Even if the actor was world-class, there would be nothing that could be done with such a character. All the peripheral characters are terribly underwritten, meaning that the production company could have saved some money by buying some cardboard cutouts. Some of the acting is pretty wooden – jock Blake Hornsby (Edwin Hodge) isn’t especially interesting – but it’s really hard to disentangle the bad dialog from the performance. I’ll give props to the actor playing the killer, Norman Bloom (Daniel Farber), as he seems to have thought his character was named ‘Norman Bates’.
There is one notable exception to the difficulty of distinguishing whether it’s bad dialog or bad acting though, a case where it’s clearly both. Dr. Algernon Wheeling (Frank Peretti) seems to be suffering from some massive neurological problems as he is so over the top that I think he might be the bastard son of Brian Blessed and Joan Crawford, who abandoned him at birth and left him to be raised in the wild by a tribe of attention-whores with Parkinson’s. He is the conduit from which all the bad science – and much of the bad exposition, dialog, etc. – spews and, had the part been played by an actor who knew what restraint was, might have been a good influence on the film in general. Unfortunately, it’s clear that the part is played exactly as the author intended as … well …. it’s played by the author of the novel himself. This character shows in no uncertain terms that the author distrusts scientists and thinks of them as just more freaks in a world where normal people should prevail. Sorry, a world in which normal Christian people should prevail.