If you're a horror fan, you might know the name of William Castle, a producer-huckster whose promotional stunts were often better than his movies. He's the guy who rigged skeletons to jump out of screens, jolted audiences with seat buzzers and parked hearses outside theaters. In a trailer for 1961's "Homicidal," Castle personally threatened to kill anyone who revealed the movie's ending.
Castle died in 1977 having produced one towering horror classic, 1968's "Rosemary's Baby." That one didn't need gimmicks. A shivery chiller about a young wife (Mia Farrow) who is drugged and impregnated by Satan, "Rosemary's Baby" was the rare horror flick to walk the Oscars carpet, earning a nomination for writer-director Roman Polanski and a win for supporting actress Ruth Gordon. It's been so widely imitated -- "Demon Seed," "It's Alive," "The Omen" -- that it's now a genre unto itself.
More than 45 years later, "Devil's Due" attempts to update the same story. Allison Miller and Zach Gilford (NBC's "Friday Night Lights") play Samantha and Zach McCall, whose honeymoon in the Dominican Republic ends with a bleary night of partying and, it transpires, a pregnancy. As in "Rosemary's Baby," the new mother suffers wracking abdominal pains and craves blood-red meat; her OB-GYN seems a little fishy. Occult symbols keep popping up, and woe betide any expert who tries to explain them.
So far, so identical. Where's the "update" part? That would be Zach's maddening habit of toting around a video camera, making "Devil's Due" the umpteenth horror film to go for the found-footage gimmick. Zach repeatedly explains his videotaping -- "It's for the baby" -- but the filmmakers (directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, plus screenwriter Lindsay Devlin) still can't manage to maintain the conceit. Eventually, they give up and resort to parking-lot cams, security cams, totally random cams. The result is a disjointed and unconvincing movie that is also embarrassingly derivative of "Paranormal Activity."
The one thing about "Devil's Due" that feels truly inspired isn't in the movie. It's a promotional video, viewable on YouTube, in which New York pedestrians who peek into a passing baby carriage are greeted by a ghastly, spring-loaded infant mannequin. William Castle would have approved.
PLOT A newlywed couple's pregnancy is unexpected and, it turns out, unwelcome.
RATING (R) violence, language
CAST Zach Gilford, Allison Miller
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE "Rosemary's Baby" plus "Paranormal Activity" equals yet another found-footage horror flick. It's even less entertaining than it sounds.