“Good Luck is Bad Luck” and the Theatrical Superstitions of ‘THE GALLOWS’

THE GALLOWSThe first time I performed on stage, I was cast as a lead in a baseball musical in the first grade. The rest of the cast was comprised of 3rd graders who were FURIOUS that a first grader was given a lead, but I apparently didn’t suck and I nabbed a starring role. My parents sat in the back of the auditorium next to the door just in case I was awful and they needed to sneak out. Luckily, I took to the stage the way a duck takes to water and I’ve been singing and acting on stage ever since. As I write this, I’ve returned home from an opening night performance of The Pajama Game, a performance I put on only hours after having caught a showing of the newest Blumhouse project, THE GALLOWS.

A paint-by-numbers found footage horror film, THE GALLOWS is sort of the anti-HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. Following Reese (Reese Houser), a star football player dragged into playing the lead in a high school production of ‘The Gallows,’ (I think this was an homage to The Crucible) he’s ridiculed by his best friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos), Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford), and encouraged by the object of his affection, his leading lady Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Crossing cliques is highly frowned upon by his pals, so the first three plan to break into the school and destroy the set, convinced that the show would be cancelled if there wasn’t a set. I guess these kids have never heard of black boxes and pantomime? Regardless, the three show up and are busted by Pfeifer before they realize they’ve angered the supposed ghost of Charlie Grimmelle, a kid who died due to a set malfunction during a production of ‘The Gallows” 20 years previously. These kids are obnoxious and unlikable, but they were pretty accurate representations of the way “teens today” act and respond to things. Shoos’ portrayal was every “small town big shot” kid we went to high school with. He was someone we all hated but someone who never got the memo that everyone thought he was obnoxious. While I think they were all carbon copies from a millennial stereotype handbook, Pfeifer totally nailed the quirky/overly-confident leader of the thespians…a role in which I immediately identified.

THE GALLOWS is a decent enough film in that it doesn’t exactly do anything wrong, it’s just feels like someone copy and pasted a previous Blumhouse found footage film and changed the names and locations. The scares are basic, but they work. Unfortunately, for avid horror fans, each moment of the film can be deciphered and figured out like a first grade math problem. It’s a film that will scare your 17 year old cousin, and one that definitely speaks to the theatre geek kids. While it wasn’t exactly a well-crafted flick, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. The film might be pretty “plug & chug,” but THE GALLOWS does bring something somewhat original to the table (even if it wasn’t expanded upon as much as I would have liked).

Theatre superstitions are a very real and very fascinating. Whether it’s the inability to discuss the cursed name of “The Scottish Play” within theatre grounds or the fact “Good Luck!” is essentially setting up a player for disaster, the folklore of the theatre is vast, fascinating, and sort of scary. While the mythos of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has inspired numerous interpretations within the horror genre, titular phantoms are often real people. Ghosts, however, are an entirely different story. Ghosts are a staple within the beliefs of theatre folks. For instance, when theaters are unoccupied for the night, a lamp light is traditionally placed upstage centre to illuminate the stage. While the beliefs are different, the “Ghost Light” as it’s named, is used to either a) ward off ghosts, b) allow the theater’s ghosts enough light to see so they don’t get mad and screw with the theatre c) Ensure living folks can cross the stage without falling into the orchestra pit, dying, and becoming a ghost. Combining the tradition of ghostly beings in the theatre and the “Scottish Play” name mention of “Charlie Grimmelle” in THE GALLOWS was pretty clever, and something that really spoke to my theatre loving heart.

Had THE GALLOWS not been a found footage film, I think this would have been a far more appreciated look into a twist on age-old superstitions. Unfortunately, the film gets caught up in found-footage conventions so tightly, it loses any of the originality that lurks beneath the surface.


One Response to ““Good Luck is Bad Luck” and the Theatrical Superstitions of ‘THE GALLOWS’”
  1. SMITH says:

    What I loved about THE GALLOWS is that it was a completely independent film. The filmmakers busted their asses to make something, and being from Fresno, CA, it’s hard to get something off the ground (I live there, it’s not fun). It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it’s a win for the little guys to have a studio pick up your indie film and release it worldwide.

    Good article btw!

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