The Blackwell Ghost: Documentary or Horror Movie with a Great Hook?
It’s been over a month ago since I first discovered The Blackwell Ghost streaming on Amazon Prime. Honestly, I had passed it over in the suggestions menu several times, but it was one of those late nights where I wanted one last movie and this one was only an hour or so long.
The first interesting thing about this film is that it is described as a documentary. In fact, there was no mention of this being a horror film or even found footage in any description I could find.
Now, I’m a paranormal enthusiast and have been an investigator for years, so I was further excited as the film began and the filmmaker in voiceover talked about his experiences making zombie movies in Los Angeles and how he’d decided to try something new.
In short, he wanted to make a documentary about the paranormal, and his interest had grown from a viral video that had made the rounds on YouTube of supposed actual paranormal phenomena caught on CCTV.
Over the next hour, I watched as the amateur documentarian went on his own adventure investigating a home in Pennsylvania. Supposedly, in the 1940s, the home was owned by James and Ruth Blackwell.
Ruth had a reputation for being a bit strange, so it was no surprise to her neighbors when she was accused of murdering seven children and disposing of their bodies down the well in the basement.
Throughout the film, he never once wavers in his assertion that what he and his wife, Terri, are experiencing is actually real. Furthermore, he backs up those claims with alleged researched proof of the history of the home. I have to admit, by the end of the film I wasn’t entirely sure what to believe. What I knew for sure was that it was a hell of a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Over the next few days, I watched the film five or six more times. I showed it to local friends and recommended it to others. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it, but their reactions were the same across the board–they just weren’t sure they could believe what they were watching.
And really, who could blame them?
We live in a post Paranormal Activity world. In an era filled with technology where the line between reality and illusion seems to blur more and more every day, and while belief in the paranormal is actually growing, there’s a general certainty that we won’t find it on film.
Perhaps it was natural that my reporter’s sense kicked in at this point. I chatted with our editor-in-chief here at iHorror and decided I needed to dig into the story of The Blackwell Ghost.
I began my search by attempting to discover who the filmmaker was. He is not listed in the credits; however, he did include pictures of a couple of scenes from one of his zombie films.
I was able to match those scenes to a film called Disaster L.A., a low-budget zombie flick from 2014. The name of the filmmaker there was Turner Clay, but Clay is a total ghost online. I found no actual pictures of him and so I could not verify that the man in the film was the man who made the movie.
After hitting a virtual dead end while tracking down information on Turner Clay, I turned my search to James and Ruth Blackwell in Pennsylvania in the 1940s and immediately got a hit on the names. However, census records show that the only James and Ruth Blackwell in Pennsylvania in the 1940s were a young African American couple. James and Ruth in the film were not only white, but they were also a much older couple as evidenced by the picture of Ruth that the filmmaker displays in the film.
It was another dead end but I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
I contacted Dr. Marie Hardin at Penn State University who put me in contact with Jeff Knapp at the Larry and Ellen Foster Communications Library.
Knapp spent a weekend digging into the library’s considerable resources and at the end of his research could find no mention of the murder I described in 1941 or the years surrounding it.
Furthermore, he could not find a James or Ruth Blackwell connected to a murder investigation at all in the time period. Finally, nowhere in the archives were details of Detective Jim Hooper, a name I had pulled from a newspaper article the filmmaker displays in the movie.
With this information in hand, I sent a series of emails to the filmmaker via a third party in hope that he would make some time to talk to me. As of this writing, none of those emails have been answered.
So, here I am, several weeks on with no definitive answers to my questions. I have, however, whittled the possibilities down in my mind.
A. The filmmaker came up with as clever a plan for marketing a horror film as I’ve seen since The Blair Witch Project way back in the 1990s. He filled his film with just the right kind of information to draw the viewer in and foster belief in his audience. In which case, I say “Bravo, a job well done!”
B. The filmmaker actually made a documentary and in the rarest of cases caught actual evidence on camera. For whatever reasons, to protect his own identity or the descendants of those mentioned in the film, he decided to change the names and locations of the home and its sordid history.
At this time I personally lean toward my first explanation. As I said in the beginning, I am a paranormal investigator and have spent a large part of my life pursuing those mysteries. In other words, to embrace the cliche, I WANT TO BELIEVE!
If you’re out there reading this, Mr. Clay, please reach out. I’d love to discuss your movie.
In the meantime, fans of the paranormal or horror movies in general, I encourage you to check out the trailer for The Blackwell Ghost below and stream it on Amazon Prime.
‘Scream VII’ Greenlit, But Should the Franchise Take a Decade-Long Rest Instead?
Bam! Bam! Bam! No that’s not a shotgun inside the bodega in Scream VI, it’s the sound of producer’s fists rapidly hitting the green light button to further franchise favorites (i.e. Scream VII).
With Scream VI barely out of the gate, and a sequel reportedly filming this year, it seems horror fans are the ultimate target audience to get ticket sales back at the box office and away from “press play” streaming culture. But maybe it’s too much too soon.
If we haven’t learned our lesson already, banging out cheap horror movies in quick succession isn’t exactly a fool-proof strategy to get butts in theater seats. Let’s pause in a moment of silence to remember the recent Halloween reboot/retcon. Although the news of David Gordon Green blowing off the gossamer and resurrecting the franchise in three installments was great news in 2018, his final chapter did nothing but put the tarnish back on the horror classic.
Possibly drunk on the moderate success of his first two films, Green advanced to a third one very quickly but failed to provide fan service. Criticisms of Halloween Ends mainly hinged on the lack of screen time given to both Michael Myers and Laurie Strode and instead on a new character that didn’t have anything to do with the first two films.
“Honestly, we never once considered making a Laurie and Michael movie,” the director told Moviemaker. “The concept that it should be a final showdown-type brawl never even crossed our minds.”
How’s that again?
Although this critic enjoyed the last film, many found it off-course and perhaps a stand-alone that should have never been connected to the redeveloped canon. Remember Halloween came out in 2018 with Kills releasing in 2021 (thanks to COVID) and finally Ends in 2022. As we know, the Blumhouse engine is fueled by brevity from script to screen, and although it can’t be proven, hammering out the last two films so quickly might have been integral to its critical undoing.
Which brings us to the Scream franchise. Will Scream VII get underbaked purely because Paramount wants to reduce its cooking time? Also, too much of a good thing can make you sick. Remember, everything in moderation. The first movie was released in 1996 with the next almost exactly a year later, then the third three years after that. The latter is considered the weaker of the franchise, but still solid.
Then we enter the decade release timeline. Scream 4 released in 2011, Scream (2022) 10 years after that. Some may say, “well hey, the difference in release times between the first two Scream movies was exactly that of the reboot.” And that is correct, but consider that Scream (’96) was a film that changed horror movies forever. It was an original recipe and ripe for back-to-back chapters, but we are now five sequels deep. Thankfully Wes Craven kept things sharp and entertaining even through all the parodies.
Conversely, that same recipe also survived because it took a decade-long hiatus, giving new trends time to develop before Craven attacked the newer tropes in another installment. Remember in Scream 3, they still used fax machines and flip phones. Fan theory, social media and online celebrity were developing fetuses at that time. Those trends would be incorporated into Craven’s fourth movie.
Fast-forward another eleven years and we get Radio Silence’s reboot (?) which made fun of the new terms “requel” and “legacy characters.” Scream was back and fresher than ever. Which leads us to Scream VI and a change of venue. No spoilers here, but this episode seemed oddly reminiscent of re-hashed past storylines, which may have been a satire in and of itself.
Now, it’s been announced that Scream VII is a go, but it leaves us to wonder how such a short hiatus is going to fare with nothing in the horror zeitgeist to channel. In all of this race to get the big bucks, some are saying Scream VII could only top its predecessor by bringing back Stu? Really? That, in my opinion, would be a cheap effort. Some also say, that sequels often bring in a supernatural element, but that would be out of place for Scream.
Could this franchise do with a 5-7 year hiatus before it ruins itself on principle? That break would allow time and new tropes to develop — the franchise’s life’s blood — and mostly the power behind its success. Or is Scream heading into the “thriller” category, where the characters are just going to face another killer(s) in a mask without the irony?
Perhaps that is what the new generation of horror fans want. It could work of course, but the spirit of the canon would be lost. True fans of the series will spot a bad apple if Radio Silence does anything uninspired with Scream VII. That’s a lot of pressure. Green took a chance in Halloween Ends and that didn’t pay off.
All that being said, Scream, if anything, is a masterclass at building hype. But hopefully, these movies don’t turn into the campy iterations they make fun of in Stab. There is still some life left in these films even if Ghostface doesn’t have time to catnap. But as they say, New York never sleeps.
Horror Director Can’t Save ‘Shazam! 2,’ Latest Superhero to Tank at the Box Office
What used to be a sure-fire ticket grab is becoming just another unpopular station stop at the box office. We are talking of course about the MCU and DCEU. In particular, the latest perceived super-flop Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
Some of you may consider Shazam’s opening weekend of $30.5 million nothing to sneeze at, but consider Scream VI’s opening weekend totals of $44.5 million. A Scream movie out box-officing a comic book film? What world do we live in?! A horror one.
Given the dismal returns of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and its recent predecessors, the golden age of capes and superpowers seems to have died with Spiderman: No Way Home (no way home indeed).
There are many factors that could have contributed to its low ticket take. Critics weren’t really impressed with Shazam! and his friend’s latest adventure and its CinemaScore rests at a B+. Also, star Zachary Levi has been given some unpopular opinions on social media which may have led to him being soft-canceled.
Further, the whole DCEU is in the middle of a very public and tumultuous overhaul and a lot of these franchise characters are edging toward the chopping block. So viewers might be watching trailers, and muttering, “What’s the point?”
Still, Shazam’s weak opening may not be indicative of what it will do digitally. Home screens seem to be the catchall of failing franchises with subscribers squeezing out every penny of their hefty monthly membership prices instead of having to pay more for a “premium” theater seat.
But let’s talk about Shazam’s horror ties. Both the first movie and now its sequel was directed by someone who normally gets his money from jump scares. David F. Sandberg (Light’s Out, Annabell Creation). He gives the Shazam movies a slight horror feel with an emphasis on the supernatural, there is definitely some crossover.
But that doesn’t mean fans are likely to follow (remember The New Mutants?). In fact, legendary horror director Sam Raimi has some box office skin in the game this week with the diminishing sci-fi adventure 65, which he produced, starring Adam Driver. Not even an A-list star could pull this film out of the primordial muck as it sits sinking faster than a Tyrannosaurus in the La Brea tar pits. Raimi’s hand is also planted in the MCU with last year’s very successful Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness with a $185 million opening weekend.
Another horror director, James Wan, is hoping to raise the sinking DCEU ship with his sequel to Aquaman called Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom set to be released by this Christmas (we’ll see).
The bottom line is that Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn’t really a bad movie. In fact, it might outshine the original as far as VFX and story. But seats are sitting empty in the cineplex nowadays for men and women in super suits which may or may not be because of behind-the-scenes drama. It may also be because avid fans aren’t finding anything fresh to consume and pushing the product to the back of the fridge in lieu of something, like Scream, which respects its base and delivers on its promises while still being aware of its expiry date.
Shudder Gives Us Something to Scream about in April 2023
The first quarter of 2023 is over, but Shudder is just picking up steam with a brand new slate of films coming to their already impressive catalogue! From obscurities to fan favorites, there’s something here for everyone. Check out the full calendar of relase below, and let us know what you’ll be watching when April rolls around.
Shudder Calendar 2023
The Slumber Party Massacre: A female high school student’s slumber party turns into a bloodbath, as a newly escaped psychotic serial killer wielding a power drill prowls her neighborhood.
Magic: A ventriloquist is at the mercy of his vicious dummy while he tries to renew a romance with his high school sweetheart.
Don’t Panic: On his 17th birthday, a boy named Michael has a surprise party thrown by his friends, where a session with a Ouija board accidentally unleashes a demon named Virgil, who possesses one of them to go on a killing spree. Michael, now plagued by violent nightmares and premonitions, sets out to try and stop the killings.
Slasher: Ripper: The new series on Shudder takes the franchise back in time to the late 19th century and follows Basil Garvey (McCormack), a charismatic tycoon whose success is only rivaled by his ruthlessness, as he oversees a city on the cusp of a new century, and a social upheaval that will see its streets run red with blood. There’s a killer stalking the mean streets, but instead of targeting the poor and downtrodden like Jack the Ripper, The Widow is meting out justice against the rich and powerful. The only person standing in the way of this killer is the newly promoted detective, Kenneth Rijkers, whose ironclad belief in justice may wind up being yet another victim of The Widow.
Bog: Dynamite fishing in a rural swamp revives a prehistoric gill monster that must have the blood of human females in order to survive.
Kids vs. Aliens: All Gary wants is to make awesome home movies with his best buds. All his older sister Samantha wants is to hang with the cool kids. When their parents head out of town one Halloween weekend, an alltime rager of a teen house party turns to terror when aliens attack, forcing the siblings to band together to survive the night.
Final Exam: In a small college in North Carolina, only a select few students are left to take mid terms. But, when a killer strikes, it could be everyone’s final exam.
Primal Rage: A baboon escapes from a Florida campus lab and starts spreading something bad with a bite.
Darklands: A reporter investigates ritual profanations and finds himself involved with a Druidic cult.
From Black: A young mother, crushed by guilt after the disappearance of her young son 5 years previously, is presented with a bizarre offer to learn the truth and set things right. But how far is she willing to go, and is she willing to pay the terrifying price for a chance to hold her boy again?