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As with any massively profitable film, “The Blair Witch Project” quickly became the foster parent to a legion of parodies and imitations trying to cash in on the hype. It didn’t matter that the franchise quickly had its’ wings cut and was buried in a shallow grave under tons of unsold merchandise bearing a stickman logo. “The St. Francisville Experiment” is one of the better knockoff, mainly because it never pretends to be anything more than it is–a low budget horror film dressed up as a documentary that promises a creepy time. Albeit a blatant ripoff, it’s at least somewhat better than what you would expect.
There is a house in St. Francisville, LA with an unspeakable history, one whose past darkness is flowing onto the present. During the 1800s, the house had a cruel mistress of the manor, who tortured and conducted sadistic medical experiments on her slaves. Her evil didn’t die with her, and the house is said to be haunted by dark spirits. Now a quartet of twentysomething investigators armed with digital video cameras are venturing in to see if there’s any truth to the stories, and if so exactly what’s really going on. The team consists of a psychic, a film student, a survivor of an unelaborated paranormal encounter, and a history student–all ready to find and truth and if possible rid the house of it once and for all.
Unlike “The Blair Witch Project”, this entry is more on action and less on atmosphere. While the shocks are more of the obvious and predictable variety, they’re still there and enough to raise your blood pressure. The phantoms are a lot less camera shy than the one in Burkittsville; chandeliers crash and chairs fly conviently when the cameras are running–even a roach and a stray cat lend a hand to add some shocks and get their fifteen minutes of fame. The film also is smart enough to veer off the beaten path and into some audacious territory when things threaten to run out of steam, by having the investigators hold an exorcism to purge the house of evil. Another plus is the cast, who manage to keep their sense of humor despite their eerie surroundings. Aside from a few obligatory “Blair Witch” jokes, there’s also healthy amount of self-mocking and deadpan humor that adds to the likeability of the four. Madison Charap, Ryan Larson, Tim Baldini and Paul James Palmer play their parts well, and even when they descend into petty squabbling midfilm they still manage to remain sympathetic to the viewer. Another plus is the running time, at a brief 79 minutes it’s the perfect length to revisit old material and add some new details.
But despite all that, it becomes apparent the movie’s biggest strength is also it’s weakness. While a fun movie, it’s a movie built mainly on ideas strip mined from another. All the new details were built on concepts invented by someone else. “St. Francisville Experiment” is a fairly good film, but a film good for one viewing and destined for a spot in the $5 DVD bin. There’s nothing special in this film to warrant a second viewing, much less include it in your DVD library as a permanent addition. It’s a good guilty pleasure, and an entertaining way to pass the time. Otherwise, this is another example of the echo failing to drowned out the voice.
Ironically, the film that hooked it’s wagon to the “Blair Witch” star suffered when that star quickly burnt out. Trimark hastily shot the film in the latter part of 1999, and had it ready for the film festival circuit in 2000. When the “Blair Witch” fad fizzled shortly after, hopes of a theatrical release faded and the film was dumped on the home video market.
Ted Nicolaou (director)
CAST: Madison Charap … Psychic – Madison Charap – Participant
Troy Taylor … Ghost Historian
Ryan Larson … History Student – Ryan Larson – Participant
Paul James Palmer … Paul Cason – Team Leader
Tim Baldini … Videographer – Tim Thompson – Participant – Film Student
Paul Salamoff … Producer
Ava Jones … Voodoo Priestess
Katherine Smith … St. Francis Paranormal Expert
Sarah Clifford … Psychic