For as long as mankind has existed there has always been some form of mythology. People would sit and tell stories meant to explain, inform, entertain or even provide a good cautionary scare. Since we now live in an age of science and technology many myths have given way to more a more realistic understanding of the world. Myths are so ingrained in us that they will never completely go away. As long as people gather and tell stories to each other they will be there. Now, one of the favorite forms these stories have taken is the urban legend. They often begin with phrases like ‘I heard from someone’, or the ever popular ‘people around here say’. We have also moved on from telling stories around the camp fire to a more modern method, movies. It should come as little surprise that urban legends have become fodder for many screen writers, especially those that specialize in the horror genre. There was even a film that spelt it right out for the audience by being called ‘Urban Legend’. The latest flick from the upcoming independent horror director, Harry Basil, ‘Fingerprints’, is based on an urban legend. Like many such legends the one in play here is targeted to teens. This is ideal since this is also the primary demographic for this type of horror movie.
This is Basil’s second foray into horror. Prior to taking one this type of films he concentrated on comedies that featured actors like ‘Burt Reynolds’ and ‘Rodney Dangerfield’. His previous film, the first in the horror variety was ‘Soul’s Midnight’, a flawed but reasonable work. Basil has learned from this flick and has instilled in ‘Fingerprints’ a much improved sense of pacing and suspense. The film was written by Jason and Brian Cleveland, whose first screenplay was ‘Soul’s Midnight’. As with Basil they have learned from their prior work and improved the storylines and character development. These three men are becoming a team to watch for anyone that enjoys Indy horror flicks. The urban legend they take out is apparently popular with the high school set in San Antonio, Texas. People down in those parts say there was a school bus filled with children that got stuck on a railroad crossing. They were unable to get out in time a train crashed into them killing them all. According to the legend if you park your car on those tracks and leave it neutral the ghostly children will push it out of the way. According to some accounts fingerprints could be seen on the back of the car. Some teenagers have tried to help define the fingerprints by coating the back of the car with baby powder to better show the prints. Apparently both of the Cleveland brothers grew up in Dallas and have heard this legend first hand. This is actually perfect for this kind of story. The account comes from two people who heard it. Now one actually seems to have experienced it.
The film opens on a dark and rainy night in Texas, the year is 1957. A school bus full of children is moving along the wet road; the children inside are singing happily. One child, Julie (Sydnee Harlan) is not singing with the others, she appears worried and distracted. A little ways off the parents are waiting in the downpour for their children. As they approach the train crossing even little Julie begins to sing. The warning bell sounds, the train is coming. The gate lowers in front of the parents and then goes back up. One father notes that the guard gate and signal is not working. The bus driver cannot hear the approaching train over the singing children and the rain. The bus reaches the track at the same time as the train, they crash. The scene shifts to two girls in a car. Crystal (Kristin Cavallari) is driving, telling her younger sister Melanie (Leah Pipes) about the disaster. Crystal then goes on with the story; ‘they say if you park your car on those tracks the ghosts of the children will move it’. Melanie is certain this is just an urban legend and dismisses the story. Melanie is just back from rehab. They live is a small town and Melanie will have to face the fact that everyone knows about her recent stint in rehab. On the way home they pass the tracks and Crystal puts the car in neutral and they wait. Melanie looks out the window and sees a little girl, Julie, run off. Nothing happens with the car and the girls continue on home. Their father Edward (Darryl Cox) comes out to greet them. It seems that the family moved out of the city while Melanie was away so this is the first time she has seen the new family home. Their mother, Bethany (Ginger Gilmartin) comes out and is more reserved about welcoming Melanie than her dad. Melanie is shown her new room and unpacks.
She goes through the scrapbook from rehab showing a lot of rock climbing, she even has the rock hammer in her bag. In a flashback Melanie is making out with her boyfriend, Shawn (Dylan Cox) on blanket in a wooded area. He takes out some drugs and sorts them handing them over to Melanie. She wanted to get high but becomes upset when the boy tells her it is heroin but takes a sort. She looks over and Shawn is bleeding from the nose. Later that night the girls sneak out and go to a party, just the right thing after a time in rehab. There she meets Crystal’s boyfriend, Penn (Josh Henderson) who seems nice enough. A drunken girl at the party, Carolyn (Ashley Wyatt), provides a vital piece of information for the audience. She asks Melanin if it was true she overdosed, died and was resuscitated. Later Melanie, Crystal, Penn and another boy stop on the tracks. Penn sees th train coming closer but wants to wait for the ghostly push. Just before the train hits them Melanie sees Julie again and the car roles out of the way. After a lot more background like this things start to happen. Perhaps because of her near death experience Melanie can see Julie, one of the killed children,. This leads her into a mystery of exactly what happened that fateful night and why are people trying to cover it up.
This time out the Cleveland brothers take their time building the expectation of the audience. There is the initial look at the horrible fate of the children and a little tease when the girls try the train track trick. By the time the kids are saved by ghostly help the audience is fully vested in the characters and the story. All too often writers of films like this try to rush things. This is more in the thriller vein than straight horror and that is an excellent choice made by the creators. To be successful you need to let things simmer, giving just enough to the audience to build towards the ending. A typical horror flick is like a roller coaster ride taking the audience up and down with shocks. The approach used here is far more satisfying. The audience is coaxed and teased along the way. This script worked hand in glove with the direction by Basil. He takes his time pacing the movie. We get to know Melanie over the course of the first act of the film so that an emotional connection was forged.
There is an element of stunt casting with Kristin Cavallari. She was popular with the teen set because of her staring role in the MTV ‘reality’ show ‘Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County’. Taking this role shows better judgment than most of her peers. Rather than trying for a staring roll in some slasher flick she is breaking into acting with a character that lets her develop her talent. Leah Pipes has a bit of work on television but you would never know that she is relatively new to the business. She has a command of her role here that sells Melanie as a real person instead of just a cardboard cutout usually in a teen oriented thriller.
Image Entertainment has one of the most varied selections of DVD releases out there. This film is mastered with an anamorphic 1.78:1 video that is exceptionally clear with great colors. The audio is Dolby 5.1 which gives a better than usual channel separation and rear speak use. The extras were not available in the preview copy of the film but they are listed as including a making of featurette, ‘Scariest Moments’ interviews and a director’s commentary. This is a solid film and deserves the time of any serious film lover into thrillers.