Ring Around The Rosie

Rating 2½

Directed by Rubi Zack

Written by Jeff McArthur, Alex Barder, Jim Suthers, Michael Tabb and Rubi Zack

Starring Gina Philips, Tom Sizemore, Jenny Mollen, Randall Batinkoff and Frances Bay

Following the death of her grandmother, Karen (Gina Philips), a successful publicist, goes to the remote family home where she spent the first thirteen years of her life to pack up the contents in preparation for selling the estate. Her boyfriend Jeff (Randall Batinkoff) accompanies her for the first weekend, but after that he has to return to the city.

Karen discovers to her surprise that there are still horses on the estate, cared for by Pierce (Tom Sizemore), the helpful and friendly but also rather creepy caretaker who lives down at the bottom of the hill. She also begins to have strange unnerving dreams and is relieved when her younger sister Wendy (Jenny Mollen) arrives to help her to clear the house. However, Karen’s nightmares grew steadily more frightening and Pierce becomes increasingly violent, leading the sisters into a desperate fight for their lives.

This is direct-to-DVD fare and quite one of the silliest films I have seen in a while. To put things into perspective, it is certainly no worse than ‘The Reaping’, a film with a much bigger budget and a major marketing campaign behind it, but it is still intriguing to know how a film could go so badly wrong. The actress Sarah Michelle Gellar once remarked, “I never really understood how great actors made bad movies. I thought, ‘Didn’t they read the script?’ And then you realise it’s not just a script; it’s not just actors. Sometimes, things get lost in the translation and it can destroy a movie.” That seems to be what has happened here.

The first thing to notice, of course, is that there are no fewer than five credited writers. The first instinct might be to ask how it could possibly take five people to write this, but in fact it tells us a great deal. Each time another writer becomes involved, adding new ideas and making changes to the script, it takes away from the original intention until all that is left is an unfocused mess. This is often, although presumably not always, an indication of studio interference.

The fact that the film is structured and edited in such a way as to make no sense much of the time is another possible indication of studio meddling, suggesting the film may have been re-edited after the fact, possibly to make it more zippy for its intended audience – teenagers deemed to have the concentration span of fruit flies. In this particular case I do not necessarily think that is what happened, although I suspect the film ended up going straight to DVD because the studio lost faith in it, rather than it being the original plan.

The jittery camera and lighting trickery used to signify Karen’s nightmares and visions – and alert us to the “scary” moments – are all rather too obvious and overly-familiar, which is not to say they are not effective. Given that ‘Ring Around The Rosie’ is never going to be considered to be a classic of its genre, these little tricks do work after a fashion. The real problem is that the story defies all logic. Horror films generally do require a suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience, but here there are not so much holes in the plot as one gigantic black hole that sucks everything into itself.

Ultimately, it is possible to explain all the various implausible moments as projections of the nightmares and hallucinations, but the story is never told well enough or with sufficient clarity. Equally, the catalyst for what happens does not seem traumatic enough to explain why the nightmares are so vivid and so disturbing. I thought there were some hints suggesting incest and paedophilia (and possibly physically violent parental abuse), but they are so vague as to be entirely worthless and unhelpful in explaining what is going on.

I recently wrote about a Spanish made-for-television horror film called ‘Películas para no dormir: Para entrar a vivir’ and gave it a faintly mediocre review. However, watching a film like this makes me realise how many things that film got right.

The cast, at least, is fine. Whatever his personal demons and failings as a human being, there is no doubt that Tom Sizemore is a skilled actor and he certainly has no trouble making us believe his character is dangerous, violent and psychotic, although this film could hardly be described as a career high. Gina Philips is best known to me for her effective performance in ‘Jeepers Creepers’. She also had recurring roles in the television shows ‘Ally McBeal’ and ‘Boston Public’. I know of Jenny Mollen, the wife of actor Jason Biggs, from a three-episode run in the fifth and final season of the television show ‘Angel’ and from a one-off appearance in a season two episode of ‘Medium’.

‘Ring Around The Rosie’ does not have much to recommend it. However, my general love of horror films set in spooky houses meant I actually rather enjoyed watching it, despite my criticisms. The absence of gore was a bonus.

The alternative UK title for this film is ‘Fear Itself: Dark Memories’ – the original American working title having been ‘Fear Itself’.

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