Monday, July 29, 2013

Haunting Melissa: Ghost-Story-in-an-App

I’m not generally a horror movie fan, since I spook so easily. The Wicked Witch scared me so much as a kid that I never watched The Wizard of Oz again. After seeing The Exorcist as a teenager, I checked under my bed every night to make sure a possessed Linda Blair wasn’t hiding there. So it was with great trepidation that I pursued my morbid curiosity about a unique new horror flick making its premiere not in a theater or online, but on your iPad: Haunting Melissa.

“I wanted to tell a ghost story in a different way because of the way technology was moving,” said movie producer Neal Edelstein, whose past work includes The Ring and Mulholland Drive. “I come from making movies, I love movies, I love the cinema and storytelling in general,” he told Fox 411. “But I wanted to reinvent the way stories are told and consumed.” He wanted to bring a ghost story to tablets and mobile devices, but “it wasn't really until I saw [the iPad] that I went, ‘OK this is it ... now I can do it.’”

Toward that end, Edelstein created Hooked Digital Media and invited his writer friend Andrew Klavan to collaborate on Haunting Melissa, a movie for an Apple-only app – the first of its kind – that delivers the story to your device in fragments at unpredictable times. Edelstein added another twist as well: “I invented this thing called ‘dynamic story elements’ which means if you go back and watch something it may change. I wanted to have this story evolve and change, almost as if your device is haunted.”

Klavan’s screenplay for Haunting Melissa is about a young woman alone in an isolated farmhouse after her mother has died, and her salesman father is away traveling. Melissa begins to hear voices and see visions that she believes are messages from her dead mother. She soon begins to wonder whether she is going insane – as her mother did before her.

Stephen King, who knows a thing or two about scary books, has called Andrew Klaven “the most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich” (a crime writer who has been ranked behind only Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler).

A five-time nominee and two-time winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s prestigious Edgar Award, Klavan is the author of bestselling crime novels like True Crime (made into a film by Clint Eastwood) and Don’t Say A Word (also a film, starring Michael Douglas). In addition to thrillers for adults like Empire of Lies and The Identity Man, he writes them for the Young Adult audience as well, including the bestselling Homelanders series, which follows a patriotic teenager’s battle against jihadists. That series too is being developed for film.

As a screenwriter, Klavan wrote a great little 1990 movie A Shock to the System, which starred Michael Caine, and 2008’s One Missed Call, starring Ed Burns. Now comes Haunting Melissa, an interesting exploration into what could be a whole new entertainment platform of the future.

Klavan is a friend of mine, so I asked him to take me beyond the chilling storyline of Haunting Melissa and tell me a bit about its deeper dimension, its themes and values, which he was eager to do. “The story,” he told me, “asks what I think is the central question facing all of us right now”:

Can we trust our own conscience to show us the way to what's right and wrong? A lot of folks argue that, because there are moral gray areas, there can be no morality – that morality changes with each culture, maybe with each person. Haunting Melissa doesn't take place in that world at all. It takes place in the real world, where faith and evil do battle, and even though we have to question our own perception, we also have to have faith in our conscience. Plus it's really, really spooky!

Indeed it is. I had to steel myself to view the trailer. But the depth Klavan has given to this interesting experiment tempts even a horror-movie lightweight like me to keep watching.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 7/25/13)