The Legend of Bloody Mary
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The Legend of Bloody Mary

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People love to be scared. It is just a fact of life that most human beings find some degree of excitement with a good old fashion fright. This seems to be ingrained in all aspects of our culture. This trend seems to start right in the cradle. Our mothers would sing to us about a baby and a bough that is about to break. This is a real pediatric nightmare when you think about it. In summer time while out camping one of the highlights is always the ghost stories inevitably told around the camp fire. Throughout time there have been stories of ghosts, goblins and other creatures that go bump in the night. As we became more advance as a society this ancient need to be scared has remained with us; it just had to find new outlets for its expression. In 1931 before the start of the movie ‘Frankenstein’ a man would come out on screen to warn the audience about the frightening sights they were about to witness. Of course, by today’s standards this film is just about family friendly. Most modern film makers who go into the horror genre take the easy way out. They produce slash and dash flicks with little if any story line to hold the work together. They are little more than an excuse to pour out a ton of stage blood and prance a few naked young women around. Thankfully some film makers still prefer to go a bit more old school. One example is ‘The Legend of Bloody Mary’ by John Stecenko. While there are elements of the new movement in horror present here it hails back to a more classic approach to the genre. This movie has an actual plot to go with the scares and lately that has been a rare thing. The film is now available through Lion’s Gate so do yourself a favor and go out and get it.

John Stecenko is a relative new comer to writing and direction. That is a phrase that comes up very often lately but in this case it is intended to show that there is great potential ahead for this person. This is his first script and it must have been a page turner. Stecenko had a writing partner here, Dominick R. Domingo. Most of his previous work has been as an animator for such Disney classics as ‘The Lion King’, ‘Pocahontas’, The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Tarzan’. This fits in perfectly with Stecenko prior credits as a cinematographer. This may seem like a strange partnership to create a first screenplay but if you take a moment to think about it the match up is perfect. Both men have backgrounds that are highly visual. This translated to their script helping this film to achieve a style that Stecenko carried forward with his direction. The basic premise of the story is the increasingly popular infatuation with urban legends. These tales of dubious origins and believability have for the large part replaced mythology in our modern society. This helped the pair tap into the inner need to be frightened that lurks within us all. The legend in question here is that of ‘Bloody Mary’. There are numerous incarnations of the tale that has been around for many years. The one employed here is involved with the belief that if you stand in front of a mirror and repeat ‘Bloody Mary’ three times the spectral evil will come. It is so much better for a film of this type if the terror originates in the mind instead of the eyes. Sure there are enough bloody effects to keep the die hard aficionado of the genre happy. The strength of the tale is in the way Stecenko and Domingo use a more psychological approach to keep the audience engaged and pulled into the story.

Stecenko may only be 34 but he has accessed a style that is much older. By that I mean one that was all the rage when I was a kid many decades ago. There used to be a series of comic books put out by EC publishing that dealt with horror and fantasy. While our parents usually disliked any comic book these they out right hated. This just made them more interesting and popular with the boys in the neighborhood. You might remember some of these comics like ‘Tales from the Crypt’ and ‘Vault of Horror’. Usually they had a gruesome picture on the cover and equally spooky stories within their pages. Stecenko has captured this look and feel here for this film. The comics where known for their twists and turns in the stories. They were also known for stereotypical characters such as the bewildered policeman and the beautiful co-ed. The revival of an ancient horror was a popular theme that these comics explored. Here in this movie Stecenko revisits this with his stylistic choices. He has created a moody film that will deliver.

The film starts with a voice over of a young woman. She is telling the person on the other end of the phone that ‘it is true; just check your mirror’. We then see a young man, Ryan (Paul Preiss) walking shirtless through a straw covered field. In the distance someone is calling his name. The voice is that of his sister Amy (Rachel Taylor) who went missing after playing the ‘Bloody Mary’ game. A little ways off Ryan sees a mirror like the one his sister used that faithful night. It turns out to be only a dream but one that Ryan has lived with for a long time, over eight years now. He has never gotten over the disappearance of his sister. His sister innocently stumbled across a web site about a witch named Bloody Mary (Caitlin Wachs) and a game to summons her. It looks like the game was all too real for Ryan to stand. He is now a senior in college but the emotional toil of his sister has pushed him almost to the breaking point. His emotional state has placed a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend Rachel (Irina Costa). She needs to him Ryan but feels unable to do so alone. Rachel calls on a former professor of his Father O’Neil (Robert J. Locke) who is a renowned archaeologist. Together they hope to discover exactly what really happened to Amy and give Ryan some closure and relief.

The film unfolds with a quick pace but it never feels rushed. There is a skill demonstrated in how Stecenko tells the story. He is, as mentioned, a highly visual director who is quite adept at using the images to create and reinforce the mood of the movie. What makes this film so interesting is how he infuses elements of mystery and the psychological thriller to reinforce the underlying horror. It is ultimately a well crafted film that is executed with skill. Apparently the budget was about one million dollars. This may seem like a lot but for most movies it would hardly cover the cost of craft services to feed the cast and crew. Stecenko gets the most out of his modest budget and gives the audience more than they might have expected. I have to admit I though this would be just another scream fest flick but I was thankfully proven wrong. For those out there that are addicted to the current trend in horror flicks don’t worry, there is enough blood shed and even a dollop of nudity to keep you happy.

Lion’s Gate never ceases to amaze me with some of the films they release on DVD. They look around in the Indy film world and bring some of the most interesting right to your home. This is one not to miss.

Posted 08/21/08

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