I watched the Gallows while hiding behind a lazy boy recliner in my living room. By the time I stood up at the end, my joints were crusty, and I was relieved to be alive.
I’m not a big horror movie fan. Well, I am, but I’m not. I love horror movies. I love watching the trailers in a public, well-lit location and then reading the plot summaries on wikipedia. I love the thrill of reading about a great horror scene and then pondering how truly horrific that would be were it to happen to me or someone for whom I’m in the process of declaring my love. I just love reading about horror movies.
But man, I’m not good at watching them. Most horror movies, let’s say 90% of them, are exactly the same, with the same cheap jump scares and underdeveloped characters, but I’m terrified of all of them. I get scared easily. It’s like my fear of heights. At least you can look up at the Empire State Building from the safety of the ground. That’s what reading about horror films on wikipedia is to me. It’s safety.
Well one night my roommate wanted to watch a horror movie, and maybe it was because I was dissatisfied with my lot in life that I said, “yeah, that sounds like a great idea.” So we popped in The Gallows, another low budget horror film. I had heard of this movie before, but I didn’t know anything about it, apparently.
The movie begins with a home video from 1993. A high school class puts on a performance of The Gallows. One kid, hereto referred to as Charlie because his name is Charlie, stands with a noose around his neck. Already this is incredibly unsafe. Well something breaks and the wooden boards beneath him give out and he is hung to death.
This was a terrific, frightening opening. I don’t think that’s just because I was scared, but the home video felt real. See, there have been a lot of found footage films in the past decade or so. It’s a worn-out movie trope by now. I think the main problem with a lot of these films is that the cameras are operated by annoying, bratty teenagers. The rest of this film is exactly that way, but the opening sequence is operated by the parent of a teenager. I don’t want to presume to know too much about this character’s life, but the way he holds the camera is so steady. No shakiness or loss of focus, at least not until the kid gets hung. He must be a good father and an even better camera operator. He’s probably a mechanic or something.
Upon further reading after viewing the film, apparently the directors (there are two of them) had the board break earlier than anticipated to get a more real reaction from the cast. It’s one of those things that separates good artists from great artists and is also probably completely unnecessary.
Well Charlie gets hung. Then we flash forward 20 something years to the present, and from that point on we have a douchy kid named Ryan filming… something. I’m not sure why he’s filming so much. It’s a peculiar twist: Usually the kid behind the camera is an outcast, because popular kids don’t walk around filming things. Maybe Ryan’s not popular, now that I think about it. He might just be a dick.
Ryan’s girlfriend is a girl named Cassidy. There’s not much more to say about her. The main characters are Reese, who is a current/former jock acting in the upcoming high school play, and the girl playing opposite him, Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer is a drama geek, but she’s likable. Because of this, Ryan the dick makes fun of her nonstop.
The play they are about to perform is The Gallows, the same one that killed Charlie. It’s a bold decision, to bring a play back from the dead and, thus, to bring about all the memories of that one time a kid died.
The basic story from here on is that Ryan doesn’t want Reese to be in the play, and he can sense that Reese doesn’t want to be in the play either. Reese is just doing it for a class credit and because he has a crush on Pfeiffer. So Ryan, Cassidy and Reese sneak into the school late one night after Ryan discovers that there is a door near the stage that does not lock. Again, this is one of those things that never happens, or maybe I just didn’t try hard enough to sneak into school on Friday nights when I was 18.
Their plan is to destroy the stage and to make it impossible for the show to take place the following night. Well the door locks, things start to make noise, and Pfeiffer follows them inside for some reason. Now the four characters are locked in, and we as the viewers are locked in as well.
The rest of the film is dark, often lit only by the light on the camera. One by one our “heroes” are picked off by a mysterious villain who attacks them with a noose. We learn that Reese’s father was supposed to be in the original production of The Gallows but was sick on the night of the performance. In his place, Charlie died. Charlie, on the other hand, was supposed to be the hangman, not the hangee.
So now Charlie haunts the place (not MacBeth as I previously believed), dressed in his outfit as a hangman. His outfit is truly terrifying, but it’s also meant to be the outfit of a hangman in a high school play. This is where I must take time out to praise the costume design of a high school play from 1993.
I forget who dies first, but they all die. Reese is the last to go. He actually escapes and gets outside, but he returns to save Pfeiffer who is still stuck inside. That’s when we learn that Pfeiffer is Charlie’s daughter? She’s not old enough, but she is the daughter of Charlie’s high school girlfriend.
Reese realizes he needs to hang himself to appease the spirit of Charlie. So Reese dies. Then Pfeiffer bows to an invisible audience, and the ending is a little hurried, but that’s part of this genre, so I guess it really stuck the landing.
I love the set ups to these films. When they’re running around with the camera, acting douchey in the daylight, it’s just the best. Throughout this film I was just rooting for the sun to rise so I could feel safe again. I will reiterate that the opening scene, I felt, was engaging and appropriately tragic.
This film had an estimated $100,000 budget and made $22.8 million at the box office. So that’s why these films keep getting made, they’re cheap and profitable. I look forward to reading more about these kinds of films on wikipedia.