IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 81 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
October 1993. The Beatrice High School performance of The Gallows goes badly wrong when a staged hanging turns into tragedy when the door beneath Charlie Grimille’s feet opens and he falls through with a noose around his neck, killing him in front of his co-stars and the entire audience. Twenty years later, some students at the same school decide to resurrect the failed stage production. Football hero Reese desires to make his mark as the main character, but Ryan, who’s filming all the rehearsals, realises that Reese is only participating to get closer to Pfeifer the lead actress,and decides to return to the theatre with cheerleader Cassidy and the unknowing Reese, who just wants an excuse to stop acting, after dark to trash the set. However, they are first confronted by Pfeifer, than locked in the school amidst a series of increasingly eerie happenings….
This pathetic excuse for a horror film is all the more depressing when one thinks of all the more interesting, more original and actually good horror movies out there which struggle to get released and if they do so only make it onto home viewing. The only reason The Gallows seems to have got into cinemas is that Blumhouse Productions [the Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises, Oculus, Sinister and…..Whiplash!], who have been riding high for some time, decided for some reason that the film was worth picking up and being released. Well, the film has already made a profit, so I guess that commercially it was worth them bringing it to cinemas, but The Gallows really is a lazy, feeble retread of a million other horror films that are all better. The highly effective teaser trailer of the girl in a red lit room with cuts on her neck being suddenly dragged away is the best scene in the film. And the fact that the film, originally called Stage Fright [that’s an original title right there] was heavily re-edited when Blumhouse got hold of it, removing much footage and doing a lot of reshooting so that, reputedly, an initially non-present supernatural element was removed. If Blumhouse think that they improved the film, then I dread to think what the original version was like!
Call me stupid but I actually had no idea that The Gallows was a Found Footage film, so you can imagine my huge sigh when the film begun. Even though every now and again a film comes along in this style which really works, they tend not to be horror films any more and the horror Found Footage subgenre is now really exhausted and needs to be laid to rest. The Found Footage aspect actually works quite well in the opening scene when we assume the point of view of a video recorder which is being used by a member of the audience in 1993 watching a performance of the play of The Gallows. The scene, which has the camera not cutting or moving until right at the end, feels quite realistic and is even rather disturbing as the high school production goes wrong when the accidental victim is caught in the real noose and killed. After this the rest of the Found Footage is supposedly from the camera of one of the main characters who of course decides to record everything. It doesn’t work too badly at first despite at times seeming even more contrived than normal, but after a while the ‘shakycam’ really gets out of hand and for much of the time the viewer is just watching a series of rapid, blurry images of nothing in particular, while surely the people who are supposed to have found this footage and edited it into something resembling a structured story line would have used a computer program to help stabilise the images considering they obviously went to the effort to get rid of any camera flare and red eyes while also adding sound effects?
Infuriating and at times becoming something that can barely be called a film, I doubt that even Ross Hughes and Found Footage fan Matt Wavish would find much to enjoy about The Gallows, though the horrible camera work didn’t make me feel sick or sore eyes as it normally would do because I was so thoroughly bored with the proceedings and the main thought that was going through my head was: “is this crap nearly finished yet?” To be honest, the terribly done Found Footage may not even be the worst of the film’s problems, though the early scenes in which it’s employed are sometimes excruciating because of Ryan’s smarmy voice over which quickly gets so annoying you may want to cover your ears. It is funny how everyone tries to convince Reese that his acting is bad [no kidding], and at times it seems that we might get some interesting stuff regarding the play [which seems to be of a similar nature to The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter] but no, it all ends up just being about four kids, one of the two blokes being so thoroughly loathsome [and this does appear to be a guy whom you’re intended to like and find amusing] that you just want him to be killed off as soon as possible, becoming trapped in a school by what appears to be a vengeful ghost.
Now to be honest it would take a really poor filmmaker not to wring a modicum of suspense and even terror out of the above-described situation but directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing here barely create anything except from stultifying tedium. CREEPING AROUND….ARGUMENT….LOUD NOISE…RUNNING AROUND WHILE THE VIEWER CAN’T SEE A THING….CREEPING AROUND….ARGUMENT….LOUD NOISE ….RUNNING AROUND WHILE THE VIEWER CAN’T SEE A THING– that’s really all you get in such an incredibly mechanical way. I’m sometimes able to exercise an ability to mentally ‘take myself’ to ‘that place’ where I will be frightened by a movie, but in the case of The Gallows my main effort was in trying to stay awake. There ’s one promising bit, quickly thrown away, where our characters approach a dark corridor which promises a really tense moment, and a couple of decent “He’s behind you” moments, but generally The Gallows just isn’t scary whatsoever and, while it mostly avoids blood and gore [God knows why it got a ’15’ rating in the UK and an ‘R’ rating in the US], it really is a good movie for horror film haters to mock the genre with, considering how stupid and contrived it is and how barely sketched the characters are, and is also exactly the kind of crap which gives the genre a bad name.
But do you know what really sinks the film well and truly? It is its utterly dumb ending which makes no sense whatsoever and feels like Lofing and Cluff, who as well as directing are responsible for [along with probably some honchos at Blumhouse] for writing the thing, either had several options to conclude the film and decided to use the very worst of said options, or [this seems more likely] deliberately decided to dumbfound the viewer into thinking they’ve just seen something clever even if they haven’t whatsoever. Honestly, the ending to this movie is one of the worst horror movie endings in years and I seriously cannot believe it was thought that audiences would accept it [the film has made money, but as far as I can tell few people are satisfied with it]. They really would have been better off not bothering with the final scene at all, and the structure of the film would have actually had some symmetry. There would still be potential for a sequel [which could be in the planning as I write….the idea of that is true horror and is far scarier than anything in The Gallows], though how much mileage can really be got with a ghost killer with a bloody noose as a weapon?
Poorly directed, shot, edited, written, acted….you name it, The Gallows is thoroughly feeble in pretty much every way and, aside from a few okay moments seperated by acres of rubbish, it really seems like they didn’t try at all with it despite the reshoots. It’s not even fun in the way that many bad movies can be, just dreadfully dull and lamentably tedious as it almost painfully goes through the motions like a corpse struggling to stay alive. And, while I’m always fascinated by alternate cuts, deleted scenes and the like, The Gallows is one film I have little interest in seeing even an extra frame of.