Get creeped out by 'Haunting Melissa'

Haunting Melissa app. (Supplied)

Haunting Melissa app. (Supplied)

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:58 PM ET

The spookiest show on TV right now isn't actually on TV. It's in your pocket.

Haunting Melissa has become one of the most buzzed-about iPhone entertainment apps of the year, because it's doing something with technology that plain ol' passive TV shows simply can't: finding ways to interactively mess with viewers' minds.

Available for Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, Haunting Melissa is the brainchild of director Neal Edelstein, producer of the very creepy The Ring and the very baffling Mulholland Drive. It's an episodic found-footage series following the titular Melissa Strogue (Calgary actress Kassia Warshawski), who's experiencing some paranormal activity in the old farmhouse where she lives with her often-absent father and the memory of her dead mother.

The series is currently on its fourth of 11 episodes, but its distribution method is non-traditional: the first episode is free, with additional episodes selling for $1 each as in-app purchases, or $7 for the whole season. And after Episode 2, Haunting Melissa lets viewers know through notifications sent to their devices when it's ready to let them watch the next instalment. So while friends might be buzzing on Facebook about Episode 4, you might still be waiting for Episode 3 to pop up on your device.

It's an odd and perhaps risky approach for audiences accustomed to binge-viewing series on Netflix. But by stretching out the time between episodes, it gives the creators a chance to do novel things such as send mysterious, creepy notifications to your device, nibbling away at the fourth wall between viewer and participant.

Shot in High River, Alta., by Edelstein's California-based production company, Haunting Melissa is by no means the first all-digital, found-footage episodic horror series - there are several on YouTube, with Marble Hornets still a pants-crapping favourite.

But aside from using the iPhone and iPad push notifications to freak viewers out, the series does some other unique things to increase the spook factor.

In the opening episode, for example, Melissa and her friend creep through the farmhouse trying to discover the source of a horrible mewling sound coming from one of the rooms.

As the camera pans around the dark room, a face can be briefly glimpsed in a shadow in the corner. But when watching the episode a second time, the face isn't there. It's surprisingly unsettling, and can make viewers question their own perception.

And while watching entertainment programming on a mobile device is often less than ideal, it does create a literal in-your-face connection to the content. You don't have a protective gulf of a couple of meters between you and a TV screen; instead, your eyes are often just a dozen or two centimetres from the whatever might jolt into your field of view.

Whether Haunting Melissa can keep viewers engaged over the course of its run remains to be seen. But for the time being, Angry Birds and Candy Crush might have to make room for some ghosts in the machine.

 


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