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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Hangman's Curse (2003)

"Abel has our backs. All's we do is show Abel which one. We're flipping the script. Now that's power."
- Ian (Jake Richardson)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 29, 2004

Stars: David Keith, Mel Harris, Leighton Meester, Douglas Smith
Other Stars: Jake Richardson, Bobby Brewer, Daniel Farber, Andrea Morris, Frank Peretti, William R. Moses
Director: Rafal Zielinksi

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for elements of violence/terror and for brief drug use
Run Time: 01h:45m:46s
Release Date: March 30, 2004
UPC: 024543103622
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C+B-B C+

DVD Review

Successful genre writer Frank Peretti has earned the moniker "America’s hottest Christian novelist", and having his name figure prominently above the title of this one should be a clue as to the moral bent of this direct-to-DVD film. Even with the creepy green and black coloring, the ominous noose, this is a straight retelling of one of Peretti's popular young adult novels (part of his Veritas Project series), in which subtle Christian messages are interspersed during this routine solving of a rash of ghostly hallucinations and attacks at a high school.

The heroes here are the clean-cut Springfields, featuring parents Nate and Sarah (David Keith and Mel Harris), teenage twins Elisha and Elijah (Leighton Meester and Douglas Smith), and family pooch Max. Apparently they are a sort of cross between Mulder, Scully, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and they travel the country in a high-tech motor home investigating and solving mysterious phenomenon, such as in Hangman's Curse, where the spirit of a teenager who committed suicide ten years earlier appears to be wreaking havoc on school bullies from beyond the grave. With Elisha and Elijah going undercover as students, and Pop taking on the role of janitor, the Springfields have to race against some self-imposed clock before more mild tragedy ensues. It's mild because no one actually dies here, except for the poor sap who hung himself, that is.

Hangman's Curse has a simplified After School Special meets Scooby-Doo mystery feel to it, and though director Rafal Zielinski stages a couple of safely spooky sequences, such as the opening flashback, all of the characters he has to work with are typical one-note caricatures, buttressed by more than the occasional moment of bad acting. There is an unintentionally hilarious drug bust early on that is littered with stilted dialogue, but Zielinski makes some of the ridiculous scenes (such as Elisha crawling through the school's air ducts in a Hot Zone-style haz-mat suit) look tolerable, and I'll even admit that the first half of Hangman's Curse held a fragment of my interest largely on the look of the film. Woe to the sanity of the viewer once Peretti himself shows up, hamming it up mercilessly, to the point of complete and utter annoyance, as eccentric Professor Algernon Wheeling.

The story itself, however, has bigger problems. The entire high school is populated either by obnoxious jocks or gloomy goths (the rest of the student population is so nondescript as to be invisible), and Peretti's message that goth is bad—exemplified by two black-clad characters who make the transition back to "normal"—seems to oddly reinforce the teen angst misnomer that being different is wrong. I've got a problem with some parts of Peretti's moral compass, but I will acknowledge that he introduces an interracial romance that is refreshingly treated simply as a romance, and I was actually pleasantly surprised that this wasn't labeled as being wrong. Now if we could just get him to lighten up on the goth kids.

I'll admit to being moderately entertained by some elements of the sugary wholesomeness of the X-Files-lite content of Hangman's Curse. I wasn't as put off by the lack of violence, language, or overt sexuality (things that normally make a film feel more "real") as I expected, and that kind of surprised me. The setup is structured conveniently enough that I could easily see this as a weekly series on PAX, and parents looking for safe, clean entertainment with a perceived edge might find Hangman's Curse workable entertainment.

But then again, they've probably already read the books.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Fox has issued Hangman's Curse as a two-sided disc, with one side containing a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, and the other a 1.33:1 full-frame print. So, kudos to them for at least giving us a choice. In general, the transfer is decent and on the soft side, with solid color rendering and even, natural fleshtones (except for those pale goth kids, of course). Black levels are not as clean, turning some of the night scenes rather murky. Some minor pixelation and compression artifacts were evident, but not overwhelming.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 surround. No surprise, but the 5.1 track has more punch than does its 2.0 cousin, and simple things like someone being tackled during a football game resonates with deeper bass. Rears come to life periodically, especially during the hallucination sequences, but for the most part this is a pleasant front-centric mix accented by directional pans that add a spatial feel to things.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Fans of the author will no doubt enjoy Frank Peretti: From Page to Screen (10m:40s), the first of two featurettes on this disc, where he discusses "God's timing" in the development of the Hangman's Curse film. Peretti sheds a little insight on his life and his creative process, but the content (for someone unfamiliar with him, as was I) was remarkably lightweight. The second short, The Spider Wrangler (09m:00s), gives brief center stage to Brian Gibbs, the man responsible for all of the spiders used in the film's final act.

The disc is cut into 22 chapters, and includes optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Frank Peretti is a popular Christian novelist, and this film version of his book Hangman's Curse offers a convenient mystery, moral dilemmas, and one-dimensional characters.

 


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