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The St. Francisville Experiment

Director: Tim Baldini
Cast: Tim Baldini, Madison Charap, Ryan Larson, Paul Palmer

(Trimark Pictures; 2000)

Um... Like... Um...

Let’s cut to the chase: The St. Francisville Experiment is bad. In fact, the most difficult part of this “experiment” may be trying to sit through its entirety without hoping a monster will pop up from behind your couch and pluck out your eyes to end your torment. It’s no wonder the distributors thought better about sending St. Francisville into theaters last year, where it surely would have flopped on a scale as yet unimagined.


Plainly put, this film, “inspired” by 1999’s groundbreaking The Blair Witch Project, is the worst scrap of celluloid to come out the back end of a movie camera since Ed Wood’s nauseating and exploitative Plan 9 from Outer Space. The premise is simple and almost promising: four attractive twenty-somethings, armed with cameras and various ghost-detecting equipment, are chosen by paranormal researchers to spend one night in St. Francisville, Louisiana’s notorious LaLaurie mansion. Here, in the mid-1800s, Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a true, notorious figure from New Orleans’s past, supposedly practiced heinous act of torture upon her slaves, such as performing on them rudimentary sex-change operations and other such pleasantries. It’s a pretty horrific backstory—and pretty much the only horrific aspect of the film. The main differences between The Blair Witch Project and The St. Francisville Experiment (aside from setting and the latter’s claim to be really real) are the two things which made Blair Witch so very good: the filmmakers’ vision and the actors’ abilities. While Blair Witch comments upon gender roles, mythology, and fallible knowledge, and its actors improvise their lines to a uniquely believable degree, St. Francisville offers nothing more than a lesson to all aspiring directors and actors, on what not to do when making a movie.


It begins with a series of boring interviews with the experiment’s participants. There’s true believer and film director Tim (Tim Baldini, who also happens to have directed this film), obnoxious New Age psychic Madison (Madison Charap), schmuckish wise-ass Paul (Paul Palmer), and hysterical screamer and history student Ryan (Ryan Larson). If the first half-hour of interviews don’t drive you to despise these morons, then their subsequent interactions and inadequate attempts at ghost-hunting should drive the civilized viewer to spasms of utter revulsion. Their frightful night includes a series of idiotic scare tactics, such as the classic cat-jumping-out-the-closet-door bit or rats-under-the-bed shot, as well as annoying interpersonal conflicts (Madison constantly wants to “cleanse” the house, although she can’t even remember her lines, while the others want to eat their sandwiches and make fart jokes). Cliches abound: dozens of cold spots (I guess we’ll just have to take their word on those) and the obligatory seance, performed using a Parker Brothers ouija board (how professional). The plot is all so shoddily constructed that you sometimes forget this is a “real” movie and not something your little brother and his buddies concocted one night while rumbling around the attic with a camcorder. Though the “film” clearly depends on its actors’ improvisational skills, they seem capable neither of catching ghosts, nor coming up with something interesting to say on the spot. Too much of St. Francisville‘s 77 minutes is filled with “uh"s, “um"s, and “like"s.


The St. Francisville Experiment is Blair Witch meets The Haunting (the terrible 1999 remake) meets Survivor meets bad porno. I’ve tried long and hard to dredge up something nice to say about this movie, but alas, there’s not a one. Zero, zilch, nada. The acting’s awful, the camera shots are pitifully indistinct, and the basic logic is nonexistent (how can a person supposedly alone in a room be filming himself? Aaaah!). Any windows of possibility that Blair Witch may have opened to a new way of making movies may very well have been set back decades on account of this pile of trash.


This is a warning: Stay away. Do not, I repeat, do not see this movie. Please, save your money and your sanity and do not ever, ever see this film. And if someone you know pops it into the VCR, do as the ghost in The Amityville Horror says: Get out!

Sabadino Parker has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. A lifelong writer from Connecticut, Sabadino's weekly syndicated DVD review column, "Getting Reel," has appeared in local newspapers for almost a decade, and his fiction and poetry have been published in both print and online media. Having recently earned his Masters in English from Trinity College, Sabadino is hoping to amass a collection of degrees to match that of his comic books. He is currently the editorial manager for The Scene Magazine and owns Sparker Media, a freelance writing, editing, and online marketing company. He is currently at work on his second novel, which should see the light of day sometime in 2012. Feel free to e-mail Seb at sebparker@yahoo.com.


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