Friday, 13 November 2015


One of the best horror trailers I've seen in recent months was that for Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing's The Gallows. You may have seen it — the long setpiece in which a terrified girl cowers in a room lit only by a red light as a menacing hooded figure slowly approaches, unseen, by his prospective victim.
I loved the look and the tension of the scene and it really piqued my interest — then came the reviews.
Many panned the film as a clear example of everything that's wrong with modern horror. I'll be honest, the backlash I read was SO strong, it put me off watching the film for a while. 
Ultimately, however, I decided that I had to at least give it a chance.
Now, with the film receiving a UK DVD release this Monday 16th November, I'm finally penning my review. Is this one as ropy as critics have suggested? Or was it worth hanging around for?
Read on…


Dir: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing

Starring: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Alexis Scheider, Price T Morgan, Theo Burkhardt, Melissa Bratton

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

In 1983 tragedy struck Beatrice High School when an accident on the set of the school play, The Gallows, saw a student, Charlie Grimille, die onstage in front of a live audience.
Now, 20 years later, the school drama department looks to pay tribute to that fateful night by performing the play once again. 
Among those involved in the production are brash jock Ryan (Shoos) and his football team-mate Reese (Mishler). As Ryan documents the proceedings via his video camera (and makes his sarcastic disdain for the project quite clear) we come to see Reese's reason for signing up — his costar Pfeifer (Brown). The precociously talented and irrepressibly enthusiastic Pfeifer has landed the female lead role while Reese has been cast opposite her as the male lead — and he hopes to use this to get close to the object of his affection.
However, there's one small hitch — Reese isn't much of an actor and he's struggling with his lines, something Ryan is quick to mock.
Finally, on the eve of the performance Ryan convinces Reese that he's destined to blow it, so the two hatch a plan.
Later that night the pair, along with Ryan's cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy sneak into the school auditorium through a broken side door, intent on vandalising the set to prevent the play from taking place. However, as they set about their task they are interrupted by Pfeifer who wants to do some last minute rehearsing.
Things look pretty bleak for Reese when Pfeifer discovers his true intentions but that becomes the least of his problems when the youngsters realise they are now trapped in the building... and they are not alone. Somebody (or something) is prowling the school hallways, eager for revenge...

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): The Gallows is a teen-friendly Found Footage flick, but I'm not one of those people to whom this instantly equates crap. I believe that any sub-genre can entertain, provided it is executed well. And for the most part, The Gallows is executed very well indeed.
It's quite difficult to make a Found Footage film that appears visually stylish, by their nature they are rough-and-ready in their presentation, supposedly capturing real events as they happen, and with that eliminating a lot of the cinematography tricks that would take us out of the moment. The Gallows manages to make a strong visual impact without betraying its premise by utilising a striking colour palette. The scenes in which the hooded spectre stalks the hapless teens are often bathed in intense burning reds or ethereal greens. What's more directors Cluff and Lothing and their cinematographer Edd Lukas make good use of light and shadow, the spotlights and deep shadows heightening the sense of isolation for our beleaguered leads. 
This sense of creepy dread is an area in which the film is a tremendous success. At times it is unbearably tense, the set-pieces exquisitely executed, varying from disorienting and frenetic to eerily still and silent. The hooded figure doesn't make a huge number of appearances but, when he does, each and every one counts. I must say that Cluff and Lothing deserve plenty of praise for the way in which they craft their scares. 
A major part of the creepiness also comes from the exquisite production design from Stephanie Hass, Mark Hatwig and Jennifer Sullivan, especially in a number of decidedly unnerving sets (especially that fantastically frightening prop/costume room) and props (the crackling TV in one scene is used to marvellous effect).
The story told by Cluff and Lothing (who penned, as well as directed the film) is a simple one, taking the age-old trope of revenge from beyond the grave, but with a clever twist. However, it is the manner in which the story is told that really works. The pair are obviously assured and capable directors, with a decent eye for camerawork and a top notch ability to get what they need from their youthful cast.
Of the four youngsters it was Brown who most impressed, a believable and interesting character brought to life through a flawless performance. A scaled back, real-world version of Glee's Rachel Berry, she manages to give what could have been a very irritating character a level of cute charm. It's very nice work indeed.
The striking young Gifford (daughter of the famous Kathie Lee) also does a great job, giving her character a mischievous toughness that soon turns to terrified vulnerability. Should she choose to stick with the genre, I could see her become a fine Scream Queen.
Elsewhere Mishler does a fine job with a character that is probably the least exciting of the group. He may not have the spiciest lines, but he gets to play lovelorn puppy, easily-influenced jock and a mid-movie reveal gives him a weighty issue to wrestle with before stepping up to become the braver hero we want him to be. It's quite the arc and the boyishly handsome Mishler handles it admirably. 
Finally the character that looms largest over the film is definitely that of Shoos's Ryan. Of course as the main 'cameraman' his voice is most likely to be heard, but it's also a voice that does not stop. He's cocky, loud, obnoxious, oh, and did I mention that he's loud? He's the character that you just KNOW is going to end up with some of that arrogance knocked out of him come the end of the film and Shoos is superb in the role.
Now, the next part is quite difficult to discuss without spoilers, so if you are averse to that sort of thing, you may wish to skip ahead.
Sure you want to read on?
I really liked the film's boogeyman, the hooded and vengeful spectre of Charlie Grimille. A silent and spooky slasher style antagonist, he's a menacing figure and his weapon of choice, the noose, makes for a nice change. The scenes in which Charlie's unwitting victims find themselves suddenly choked by an invisible noose or abruptly snatched up into the air to be hanged from a phantasmagorical gallows are unnerving and at the centre of some of the best jump scares in the film. Oddly (or not) I've not been able to find out the name of the actor beneath the hood, but whoever this mystery man is he does a superb job of appearing legitimately threatening during his short screen appearances.
Also his plan, while not entirely transparent, leads to a couple of very cool reveals during the film.
**********SPOILERS END**********

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Right, let's address the elephant in the room — The Gallows is Blumhouse Found Footage movie. As I said before, I don't mind a good FF-flick, but I know some people out there will read those two words and their stomach will turn. Sadly, I do think the film could have worked just as well without the Found Footage gimmick. On the other hand, I understand that it was done as a cost-cutting measure for a micro-budget genre flick by a pair of first-time feature directors. With this in mind I think it was a pretty good idea in the end and certainly didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film. However, those of you who've had your fair share of shaky cam chillers may find this entry in the rapidly growing genre a bit too much to take.
Unfortunately, what I found too much to take was Shoos' overbearing Ryan. It's not the actor's fault — sadly the character is just too much of a dickhead to tolerate. I get that the character is meant to be annoying, but in this case I found myself hoping that he'd end up at the wrong end of a noose long before the killing started. Perhaps scaling him back a bit would have helped — as things were I found him irritating and extremely unsympathetic.
One area in which I have seen some negative feedback towards the film is in its comparative bloodlessness. Inexplicably given the dreaded R rating in the States, I absolutely cannot understand what it was that the film board saw that was so upsetting? Perhaps a film in which high school-age teens end up hanged was seen to be too much, because it certainly wasn't down to any violence or gore on display. By its very nature a noose is a weapon that does away with any serious splatter, so gorehounds should be aware that if you're looking for bloodshed, The Gallows is not the film for you.
Finally, I need to get a little spoilery again, so you may wish to skip this next section until after you've viewed the film.
The plot is sadly missing a few key details that would really help the audience and flesh out the story. Perhaps Cluff and Lothing were hoping for a sequel to expand upon their tale?
First, what exactly was Grimille's motivation? We see that he targets Reese because his father was meant to be on stage in his place on the fateful night in 1983. So why did Reese's father miss the play? Was there something more suspicious about the 'accident'? Or is Grimille merely so vengeful that he plans to exact his revenge for something that was purely down to poor luck? Is he just striking down anybody involved in the now cursed play, in which case, why does it matter that Reese's dad should have been onstage in the first place?
And finally, the ending very much suggests that Pfeifer is actually the daughter of Grimille. Well, if that's the case and the play was last performed 20 years ago, that makes her a 19-year-old high school student. Hmmmm...
**********SPOILERS END**********

THE VERDICT: The Gallows may be a shiny, teen-oriented Blumhouse Found Footager, but I still enjoyed it. Sure, it has its flaws (what horror movie doesn't?) but it's extremely well executed and provides excellent atmospheric visuals, some top-drawer frights and a very cool, enigmatic cinematic boogeyman. This is a film that I certainly advise you all to make up your own mind about.

To me, Cluff and Lothing are clearly filmmakers to look out for and should their next effort be a return to Beatrice to flesh out the story they've already started, I'll definitely be there to check it out — whatever the reviews might say.

The Gallows will be released on DVD and Blu-ray this Monday 16th November. Buy it at Amazon here.
In the meantime, check out The Gallows' official Facebook page. Why not give it a Like while you're too, I'm sure the filmmakers would appreciate it.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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