The St. Francisville Experiment (2000)


USA. 2000.


Producers – Paul I. Salamoff & Dana Scanlan, Videography – Todd Richard. Production Company – The Kushner-Locke Co


Madison Charap (Herself), Paul Cason (Himself), Ryan Larson (Herself), Tim Thompson (Himself)


A group of people, including two video-makers and a psychic, are gathered to spend a night in an infamous supposedly haunted house in St. Francisville and film whatever occurs there. As the group enters the house, they find it is indeed haunted.

Let’s be perfectly plain about it – The St. Francisville Experiment is a blatant attempt to copy The Blair Witch Project (1999). Where Blair Witch has a group of investigators with cameras trekking into the backwoods, The St. Francisville Experiment has a group of investigators with cameras investigating a purportedly haunted house and the result likewise being passed off as a documentary. Like Blair Witch, The St. Francisville Experiment names its characters after the actors that play them, although St. Francisville goes so far in its search for pseudo-authenticity as to not even list any director or screenwriter. (Some sources have since listed this as genre hack David DeCoteau, others as Ted Nicolaou). One also must remember that this was several years before the emergence of the Found Footage film as a distincive sub-genre.

That said, The St. Francisville Experiment‘s premise seems tighter than Blair Witch‘s set-up did. Particularly promising is the attempt to detail the background of the house with some wonderfully gruesome stories of slaves being found chained up in the kitchen, a boy with half his face an infected sore, a woman kept in a cage so much so that her bones were distorted. When it comes to images of chairs flying across rooms and chains falling down chimneys, there is an authenticity to the reactions of the cast where you are not sure whether what is happening is faked and what is real.

However, the more you think about it, the cleanness of the lighting and camerawork seems too faked. As do some of the camera set-ups where the camera just happens to be conveniently placed to see a bug crawling out of someone’s sandwich before they eat it or where a cat jumps out. For those who poured scorn on Heather Donahue’s acting in Blair Witch, Ryan Larson’s shrieking here is ten times worse. However, the film entirely shatters any suspension of disbelief when it tips its obviousness and debt of inspiration by having one of the cast turn to the camera and say “Did you see Blair Witch?”

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