(THE CROOKED MAN premieres Saturday, October 1st on the Syfy Channel, kicking off their "31 Days of Halloween.")
There's an old saying: "If you build a website about a song that kills you after you sing it, they will come."
Well, maybe those aren't the exact words, but in the Syfy Channel original movie THE CROOKED MAN (2016), somebody does build it, and, sure enough, some little girls who are having a sleepover stumble upon it while searching for some creepy fun.
What happens after one of the girls sings the song is creepy all right, but it isn't fun when the Crooked Man himself shows up and kills one of them in a rather horrible way, leaving behind a crooked corpse with one of the other girls standing over it holding a bloody knife.
But with her return comes a new series of horrific deaths, the victims consisting of anyone who was in the house along with Olivia six years before. When the truth becomes clear to her, she takes on the task of warning her dubious former friends who are marked for death and, if possible, finding a way to end the curse of the Crooked Man.
As Olivia gains allies such as old sleepover pal Charlotte (Reilly Stith) and a handsome young town cop named Noah (Cameron Jebo, WALKER PAYNE, "Power Rangers Megaforce") who becomes her obligatory romantic interest, people continue to die in scenes that don't exactly terrify us but do deliver a few chills and a fair amount of icky gore effects as the victims are mauled, broken, and even beheaded.
There's a decent jump scare here and there, especially with the Crooked Man skittering in and out of the shadows and looking like a spindly, skeletal apparition not unlike the fabled Slender Man with a hint of Freddy Krueger (minus the wisecracks), but with jerky movements and a hideous rictus for a face.
After the opening sleepover sequence sets the appropriate tone, THE CROOKED MAN settles into an autumnal, somber atmosphere that's the antithesis of the jokey and satirical horror stylings of films such as SCREAM.
The script is terse and serious, which fits this story perfectly and adds to an overall sense of unease that keeps us on edge despite a few slow spots.
Lead performances are adequate, with my favorites being familiar faces such as Marco Rodríguez (THE CROW, INTERNAL AFFAIRS) as Olivia's dad and Dina Meyer (STARSHIP TROOPERS, STAR TREK: NEMESIS) as the obsessively overprotective mother of one of the potential sleepover victims. Michael Jai White (THE DARK KNIGHT, SPAWN) also appears as a mystery man with a secret connection to the case.
Production values are good for a Syfy flick, and thankfully devoid of the usual fake-looking CGI. Director Jesse Holland does a good job of staging scenes of shuddery mayhem and maintaining a decent level of mystery and suspense.
The big finale itself (which, incidentally, contains the film's only cringe-inducing one-liners) is decidedly short on terror, but I found it eventful enough to avoid being a disappointment.
If you're looking for genuine EXORCIST-style terror, you're howling up the wrong tree here. But for a pleasantly spooky experience to put you in the Halloween mood, THE CROOKED MAN might be just the thing to make you feel like a kid shivering through scary sleepover stories again.