The Collingswood Story – Review

Found Footage, Supernatural, Horror | 82 Min
The Collingswood Story (2002) Review
  • Release Date: 29 Oct, 2002
  • Director: Michael Costanza
  • Actors: Stephanie Dees, Johnny Burton, Diane Behrens, Grant Edmonds
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • Parental Guidance: Language, sexual references, peril, injury detail, drug references
  • Writers: Michael Costanza
  • Found Footage, Supernatural, Horror | 82 Min

A separated couple attempts to keep their friendship alive by video chatting. But a chance encounter with an online psychic initiates a disturbing reign of terror.

Welcome to Knockout Horror and to another Horror Movie Review. It’s time for another entry into our Fall Themed Horror Series. Today we are going for something a little different. We are looking at the 2002 surprise, ultra low budget, hit The Collingswood Story. Directed and written by Michael Costanza. The Collingswood Story is the progenitor of the computer screen horror genre. Movies like Host and Unfriended have a lot to thank The Collingswood Story for. It pretty much set the benchmark for this type of movie. Showing the world how to successfully use the Screenlife style of presentation for effective horror.

The Collingswood Story follows a short period in the life of young couple Rebecca and Johnny. The pair are attempting to navigate a long distance relationship. It’s not long before some seriously strange revelations come to light. Can a found footage movie filmed inside of two houses really qualify as a fall themed horror? Well, I am desperate so you better believe it can.

On a more serious note, there are plenty of fall themes here. We have Halloween, pumpkin carving and outdoor scenes with tons of fallen leaves. It’s not the most obvious autumn themed horror but, for me, it definitely counts. More to the point, it completely fits the bill when wanting to include something a bit different. What, you thought I was going to put something like The Lady in White on this list? Bah, too easy! As always, I will include a quick breakdown of the movie which you can skip if you like.

November is Fall themed Horror month. We will be reviewing a few movies every week that feature an autumn setting. The criteria is pretty broad here as the fall setting is rarely pivotal to the plot of a movie. It’s more of a coincidence than anything. Fallen leaves and orange hues are a must, however. When Fall Themed Horror month is over, we move onto December and Awful Advent. 25 days of Christmas themed horror reviews leading up to the big day. Definitely keep an eye out for that.

The Collingswood Story – Synopsis

Rebecca, played by Stephanie Dees, has moved to the town of Collingswood, New Jersey. She has relocated to attend Rutgers University. Currently renting a place that appears to have some historical significance. Rebecca’s boyfriend Johnny, played by Johnny Burton, did not move with her. It is Rebecca’s 21st birthday and Johnny has sent her a surprise. It turns out to be a webcam so the two can carry on their long distance relationship in a more connected fashion.

This being 2002, the app the two use to communicate is slightly archaic. It requires the pair to dial a phone number on their landline before selecting the video option on the app. Users can only have one conversation at a time and must end the call before starting a chat with someone new. The pair chat for a little while before hanging up so Johnny can chat with his friend Billy. Billy suggests that Johnny should set Rebecca up with an online psychic. Billy has recently spoke to said psychic. During the call she helped him communicate with his deceased father.

Johnny takes Billy’s advice and sends the number to Rebecca along with a few joke lines to call. Rebecca contacts the psychic and begins to chat with her. Despite giving the lady a false name, she refers to her as Rebecca. Believing the psychic must have caller ID, Rebecca brushes this off. She suggests to Johnny that he should call her too, which he shortly does. Upon contacting her, the psychic shares some frightening revelations. She tells Johnny that Collingswood has a dark history. She says Rebecca is sensitive and that she has information for her. Rebecca may be in danger and the psychic needs to speak with her. Curiosity piqued, the pair begin an investigation into the history of the town.

Computer Screen Supernatural Horror

The Collingswood Story is classed as a Computer Screen Horror. It would be a decade before we saw another high profile computer screen horror movie. Megan is Missing attained similar levels of success in 2011. The Collingswood Story provides us an intimate look into the life of two lovers. The pair are attempting to maintain their relationship over long distance. In an age where this was far more difficult than it is today, the couple have to innovate. They come up with a web cam app that lets them video chat as if they were together in person.

The Collingswood Story (2002) Review

The pair talk, laugh and celebrate Rebecca’s birthday. They contact comedic chat lines and then relate their experiences with each other. The warnings from a bizarre psychic seem ridiculous. Further research actually uncovers some truth to the story. We then see the pair attempt to dig deeper into the history of Collingswood. Rebecca’s trips into town reveal streets littered with fallen leaves and Halloween decorations. She spots landmarks connected to the to the events the pair are researching. Unfortunately, they reveal little. Deeper revelations from the psychic only increase the couple’s sense of dread.

The tension builds palpably as we uncover the mystery of Collingswood. Rebecca is presented as a somewhat vulnerable girl. She is alone in a large house but dismisses many of Johnny’s concerns. Over time, a few twists begin to prove there may be truth to what the psychic is saying. The feeling of isolation grows throughout. Johnny’s inability to be with his girlfriend only adds to the sense of vulnerability. It’s a fun, somewhat old fashioned, tense mystery horror with a twist.

Unique and Innovative for the Time

The Collingswood Story should be lauded for doing something completely different. Back in 2002 there was nothing like this. It’s hard to describe this movie as a risk for the director, however. It was astonishingly low budget and nothing was expected to come of it. To say that it wasn’t daring, for the time, would be completely wrong. There was nothing like this in the horror scene back then. Sure, The Blair Witch Project had laid the tracks for found footage horror to be a viable money maker. The Collingswood Story, however, felt completely different from even that.

This was horror on a more minute scale and with an even tighter budget. There are virtually no cast members. There are no trips to interesting locations. Special effects are limited and there are no extravagant set ups. It is fantastically raw and about as DIY as you can get. Nothing else from the time feels anything like this. That is, in large part, down to its unique presentation. Sure, movies have used this formula again over the years but, back then, it was pretty much unheard of.

Webcam Horror

It would be false to suggest that video chats were non-existent back in the early 2000s. In fact, the first video conferencing call took place all the way back in 1931 between two AT&T offices in New York. Old 80’s commercials will occasionally show off video calling methods used for businesses. Sure, these weren’t particularly common and the technology was extremely rudimentary. It was clear, however, that the concept was there. Video phones for the deaf pushed this technology even further. Fast forward to 1991 and the invention of the first webcam by some Cambridge students. Suddenly, the possibilities of a cheap web based video communication system became feasible.

The Collingswood Story (2002) Review

Yahoo was one of the first companies to bring webcam chats to the masses. This was back in the late 90s and early 2000s. Access was fairly limited. Internet connections were painfully slow and webcams were quite expensive. The infrastructure was there, however, and the potential uses were obvious. The Collingswood Story was right at the forefront of this technology. Costanza was ready and waiting to turn video calls into a horror movie. Needless to say, I am impressed and you should be too. Nowadays, everyone is walking around video chatting. The reality of the 2020s is that you can end up in someone’s call when you are buying toilet paper. How annoying! Back in the early 2000s, this didn’t happen. A fact that makes this film all the more impressive for its inventiveness.

Dekko Video Phone

Rebecca and Johnny use a piece of software called Dekko Video Phone. The software requires them to dial with their landline first. When the call connects they click a button to activate the video using their webcam. Bizarre, yes but also very inventive. It is clear that this technology is widespread. A whole bunch of comical chat lines exist and people are monetizing the service. The movie was actually filmed using a Sony HI8 Camcorder which is something of a blessing. How awful would this have looked using an old webcam? Try sitting through a movie filmed using 320 x 320 resolution at 1 frame a second. Utter sadness! Even worse, transmitted over 56k modem lines (hmm.. “sadness transmitted over 56k modem lines” sounds like the title of a Midwest emo track).

While showing its age, The Collingswood Story is not as bad looking as you might expect. This is definitely not 2002 webcam quality. I imagine some viewers will likely get a kick out of the Windows 98 style applications. The antique looking websites are rather amusing as well. Things have come on a lot in the past 20 years. This movie acts as a bit of a time capsule for the internet many of us grew up with.

The Collingswood Story (2002) Review

The video call horror is refine and, pretty much, perfected recently. Movies like Unfriended and Host have it down to an art. The Collingswood Story, in comparison, can feel old and a bit cheesy. The need for the characters to hang up to make other calls can disrupt the flow a little. The obvious edits stand out, as well, for how jarring they are. The actors here were not actually talking to each other. This becomes very obvious when characters change positions in between sentences. At times they basically teleport across rooms in a matter of milliseconds. It is easy to forgive, however. This was raw innovation working on a shoestring budget with limited technology. Comparing it to more recent, better polished movies is unfair. In fact, for something so low budget, it would be doing it a disservice.

Tense and Very Compelling

The thing that stands out about The Collingswood Story is how engaging the plot is. Other than the unique presentation, that is. Despite the limited filming locations and cast, it’s hard not to be impressed. It is genuinely captivating for much of its run time. The twists and turns come in frequently and the story develops at a fantastic pace. It keeps you interested throughout. The believable performances also help you buy into the events occurring.

It’s not a particularly scary film, if I am being honest. It aims to get into the viewer’s head by building an atmosphere of tension and apprehension. The film utilises the suggestion of something ominous in the town. Combine this with Rebecca’s sense of vulnerability and you have something unsettling. Johnny’s growing frustration with the distance between the pair is clear. His fear for Rebecca’s safety helps you to buy into the potential threat. The surprising ending comes out of nowhere and is genuinely very unexpected. It’s all done very well. The fact that Costanza did it on such a small budget is a testament to his ability to tell a decent story.

Decent Acting

Acting in The Collingswood Story is actually pretty decent. Johnny, played by Johnny Burton, is your sort of everyman normal dude. Concerned with his girlfriend’s safety, he appears thoughtful but somewhat insecure. Burton does a fine job portraying the character. He manages to get across the frustration of the separate living situations well. His friend Billy, played by Grant Edmons, is something of a comedy character. Edmons plays Billy for laughs and the friends have a somewhat comedic chemistry.

Stephanie Dees, as Rebecca, is fine. She does well portraying the sceptical girlfriend focussed on her school work. Prioritising personal progression over her relationship. Obviously moving away from friends and family for school means you are likely to put that first. Dees does a nice job of expressing Rebecca’s frustrations. She is struggling, after all, to split her time between work and relationships. I particularly liked her performance in the last 15 minutes. Her character experiences some interesting growth and develops a little.

The Collingswood Story (2002) Review

The most experienced actor here is Diane Behrens who plays psychic Vera Madeline. She is suitably creepy. She manages to switch her personality quite well between scenes. It’s a convincingly kooky performance. I imagine some people might find it a little too cheesy and out of place, despite this. Behrens went on to have a great career and acts in big productions to this day.

A Few Negatives

It’s hard not to notice how low budget this movie feels. For the majority of viewers, it will likely pose no problem at all. After the first 15 minutes or so you are accustomed to the presentation and it’s not so apparent anymore. I imagine some people will not be able to get past this, however, and it will impact their enjoyment. Luckily the camera quality is pretty good so that is never a big negative.

Some of the editing and cuts, as mentioned above, can seem a little awkward. The camera will switch between characters. A split second later they will have moved to drastically different positions. It can look a little comical here and there but, most of the time, it is just a bit jarring.

I imagine the ending will seem a little unsatisfying to some and a bit confusing to others. Naturally, I will be covering this in a future Ending Explained article. I actually really like the ending. I am sure many will find it to be something of a let down after the tense and atmospheric build.

It’s worth pointing out that movies like this are a little hard to rate. Giving high scores to movies such as The Collingswood Story has to be done with a view to the context. This is an ultra low budget horror that basically innovated and created a whole new genre. It deserves praise for the sheer fact that we are talking about it today in 2022. With this in mind, I am rating it as exactly that, an ultra low budget horror movie. With that in mind, it is one of the better ones and well deserving of praise.

Is it a Knockout?

The Collingswood Story is an ultra low budget supernatural horror that, back in 2002, basically created an entire new type of horror. Though it didn't take off for another decade, the computer screen horror genre has spawned some excellent movies and the majority have a lot to thank this bare bones, DIY, horror movie for. The story follows a couple in a long distance relationship attempting to unravel a mystery that threatens one of them, The Collingswood Story is engaging, tense, and genuinely compelling.

Featuring decent acting from the two main characters, their lack of acting experience doesn't get in the way of their convincing performances. Light on scares, the low budget nature may put a few people off. Though the webcam video isn't low quality, the archaic presentation can look a little bizarre and some sloppy editing choices make for some awkward moments. A sudden ending may be unsatisfying to some and confusing to others but it doesn't detract from what is an amazing accomplishment in low budget thrills.

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