A teenage girl alone in a remote farmhouse, an absent father, a boyfriend off at college... and a locked door that conceals a tragic secret. These are the creepy, chilling tropes on display in Haunting Melissa, a serialized video horror story delivered in the form of an iOS app available today on the App Store. Watching the first episode is free, and then you'll wait -- and pay -- to keep going with the narrative.
Haunting Melissa, and the underlying Hooked Digital Media content management platform that drives the serialized episode releases, is the brainchild of Hollywood producer Neal Edelstein. Edelstein has some serious scares on his resume: he produced the US versions of the scare-your-socks-off thrillers The Ring and The Ring 2.
He describes the Haunting Melissa experience as "a ghost story created to be consumed in a dark corner with headphones on and iPhone or iPad in hand." Push notifications alert viewers when the next segment is ready -- and they'll come when you least expect them. Melissa even has a Twitter account (as does the actress who plays her, Kassia Warshawski).
You might think that a spooky, atmospheric serial would suffer in the scale-down from cinematic or TV size onto the iPad or iPhone/iPod screen. In fact, watching Melissa and her friends explore her haunted house (in HD) from a first-person, Blair Witch-esque perspective is quite immersive. Adding headphones to the experience ramps up the creep factor dramatically; Edelstein and his creative team have the sound design chops to scare your ears just as much as the cinematography scares your eyes. If you do want to watch on the bigger screen, the app supports AirPlay output to the Apple TV.
Haunting Melissa is designed to be social, with viewers sharing their impressions and guesses as the mystery deepens, and calling out details and clues that may have been missed on the first viewing. (What really happened to Melissa's dead mother? Why is Brandon being so cagey about coming home from college? Is Holly's little brother just a lovesick kid, or a malicious superhacker? Why doesn't Melissa close her laptop when she goes to bed? And what's the deal with all the crucifixes?) Personally, I'm not a big consumer of thrillers or horror films, but if that is the sort of thing you enjoy, Haunting Melissa raises the bar on quality when it comes to purpose-built iOS experiences.
The basic Haunting Melissa app is free, with in-app US$0.99 purchases for individual episodes and a Season Pass option for the entire experience. Edelstein notes that he is in discussions with other directors and producers to explore bringing their creative ideas to this new storytelling platform. "The technology supports story first and foremost... [we believe] this new app technology will change distribution forever," he says.
You can watch the Haunting Melissa teaser trailer below. Keep the lights on.