2000 - Unrated - 100 Mins.
|Director: Ron Bonk
|Written By: Ron Bonk
|Starring: Jason Reed, Chrissy Frick, Lisa Chelenza, Robert Fullenbaum
|Review by: James O'Ehley
“Strawberry Estates” is about an expedition to what appears to be a deserted haunted house that used to be a mental asylum - the titular Strawberry Estates. The expedition is led by a Syracuse University college of something or whatever (the annoying Bob Fullenbaum); Sarah Richmond (Chrissy Frick), one of his no doubt hotter female students; a female psychic (Lisa Chelenza); and a cameraman named Jason Knowles (Jason Reed).
Why the characters in the movie call it an ‘expedition’ though is a bit of a mystery because all they seem to be doing is hanging out in the hallways and the kitchen. Occasionally they’d go down to the basement where they’ll hold a séance and the psychic will channel a demon from hell or two. We know this because her voice will be overdubbed with a whispered male voice and she’ll get black mascara rings under her eyes – like demon-possessed people in movies tend to do.
The entire story is presented as being F.B.I. evidence consisting of the video recordings made by the male cameraman found at the titular Strawberry Estates (I’ll stop using the word titular once you stop giggling each time I do so). If any of this seems familiar it’s because the same gimmick was used with the huge “Blair Witch Project” hit movie a few years ago.
So that makes “Strawberry Estates” a copycat then? Well, not according to the promo material on the DVD cover. According to the ad copy the director of “Strawberry Estates” thought of the idea first. Well, whatever. The point remains that “Blair Witch Project” did it better – and that’s not just because we got to see it first either. “Strawberry Estates” is an inferior film by all counts.
About an hour into the movie the cameraman remarks that all he’s got so far on the haunted house they’re in is a lot of droning about just how haunted it is and not much else happening. He got that right. An hour later – and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAD HAPPENED! All one had to cope with was the blow-hard professor (replete with glasses and cardigan) supplying endless exposition in the form of faux history lecture.
It’s like being stuck in a dull history class – except it’s all pointless since you don’t have to take a test Monday on the material being presented. On and on he goes as you think about other things, like when the class is over and what you’ll be doing afterwards . . .
Luckily it’s only a DVD so you can fast forward whenever the professor starts one of his lectures, or you can go make yourself a peanut butter and syrup sandwich, the sort of thing you couldn’t exactly do in Sociology 101. Still, it drags on and on. Things start improving after about an hour’s running time (a long time to wait, I know) when dead serial killers start pitching up and the otherwise congenial Strawberry Estates starts living up to its reputation as being THE doorway to hell.
By then it’s difficult to really care. At one point the professor character exclaims that the stuff he prepared to be read is all ‘fu**ing bullsh*t’ in any case one suspects that this the post-modern flourish of a writer in the throes of a moment of lucid self-insight. When the movie does finally kick it, there are some effective scary moments to be had. A few more of those and less endless back story presented in the format of a lecture and “Strawberry Estates” might not have been the exercise in tedium and boredom it ultimately is.
Sure, there would have still been some excruciatingly bad acting and an unscary locale.
Did I mention enormous plot holes? Would you keep on filming footage when you’re being chased around by a demon-possessed college-professor-from-hell killer? Why lock up the front door of an old haunted mansion so that you can’t get out again? Why sleep with the anemic cameraman – who also happens to an abusive lying asshole who keeps the camera rolling when having sex? Why insist that science has eroded your belief in God, but on the other hand take demons, spirits, etc. quite seriously?
But the film’s biggest fault is that it is an unnecessary and unwelcome reminder of all those dull school and college classes we had to endure . . .