Thursday, January 5, 2012

Free Movie Friday! The St. Francisville Experiment (2000)

This week's free movie is The St. Francisville Experiment.

After the breakout success of the low budget The Blair Witch Project, the concept of found footage was hot on every one's minds. "The St. Francisville Experiment" was just one of many that attempted to cash in on the new style of low budget horror films that followed the heels of "The Blair Witch Project." While it received very little attention when it first came out, (if I remember correctly, it went straight to video) I think this gem of a found footage film deserves to be shared.

The movie takes place in St. Francisville, Louisiana. According to the stories told in the movie, Madame Delphine LaLaurie was a slave owner who conducted cruel medical experiments upon her slaves. The tale is based on a fictional story about Madame Delphine LaLaurie who lived in New Orleans (which is quite south of St. Francisville on the map). The stories about her performing grotesque medical experiments were published in "Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans" by Jeanne Delavigne. While Madam LaLaurie was a slave owner who treated her slaves like animals, she didn't go all evil doctor Dr. Mengele and perform inhumane experiments upon them. Miami Paranormal Research Society wrote an excellent piece about the rumors and who she truly was that you can read here. Like many rumors, stories of her ghastly human experimentation snow-balled and grew with each iteration of the tale, until she became the boogey man that she is today.

Here's a short video that showcases the embellishments that people have created over the years. They don't even get the name of her first husband right. *sigh*

But, that aside, the backdrop of Louisiana is perfect ambiance for a spooky ghost story, and I can forgive the embellishments of the film maker, as they were used to great effect and helped build the tension and suspense during the set up of the plot that takes place in the first 12 minutes of the movie.

Unfortunately for real life paranormal investigator Troy Taylor that is seen during the set up, he was under the impression that he was coaching people that were serious about documenting a ghost hunting experiment at a mansion in Lousiana. You can read his comments about the experience here.

Like all found footage films, "The St. Francisville Experiment" is a little slow to start. You meet the crew that is going to be spending the night in the creepy old mansion, and learn a little about what occurred there, before they enter the foreboding home. The beginning is slightly disjointed in parts, especially where the producer and Troy Taylor are speaking to the four victims, er... I mean ghost hunters prior to their venture into the mansion. The mansion itself is a great set piece, complete with an old spiral staircase that leads up to the attic.

I was a little skeptical when I sat down to watch this but by the end of the film, I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails as the action grew to a terrifying pace and the ghosts of the mansion started to attack the four researchers. The tension and suspense is slowly built up and perfectly paced. The actors really sound and look scared as the paranormal activity increases and things go all to hell around them.

There are some funny lines in this one, and some annoying repetitions. My only complaint is that Ryan (a terrible name for a girl by the way) starts off as the "cool" girl, but ends up being a whiny scared little kid by the end. But, other than that, her actions are justified, as they are all terrified. So I'll forgive her for that.

I recommend turning off the lights and watching this with headphones on. There are some really good creepy house ambiance sounds in the background, and some moments of whispers that you just might miss otherwise. And when the sounds do occur, they truly enhance the spookiness and add to the mood of the movie.

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