New iOS app ‘Haunting Melissa’ brings horror to smartphones

App from ‘The Ring’ producer Neal Edelstein is a new step for horror

Hooked Digital Media/Courtesy

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Neal Edelstein loves to tell stories. As the producer of “The Ring,” he improved upon the original Japanese horror film and brought it to English-speaking audiences; now, as the director and producer of new iOS horror app “Haunting Melissa,” Edelstein is bringing horror to the small screen — and with it, he’s introducing to storytellers everywhere a new medium for their art.

“Haunting Melissa” follows the titular character, who suspects that her recently deceased mother is haunting her. The story is told in pieces, with each episode arriving at an unspecified time — in other words, viewers cannot anticipate when the next bit of chilling content will show up on their screens, which creates ever-present anticipation of what’s to come. It’s the perfect environment for a horror story, and there’s nothing else like it.

Edelstein emphasized that, while “Haunting Melissa” is an episodic horror story, it’s not just an app with a TV show in it; it’s a film-quality production specifically created to fit the technology that supports it, and that’s key. Edelstein was inspired by the iPad, and “Haunting Melissa” has the potential to take full advantage of the iPad’s (and iPhone’s) hardware and operating-system capabilities.

“If you go back and watch a chapter (again), things will change,” Edelstein said. “Things may not be there anymore, and things may be there.The app technology is so powerful that it’s able to make constant, real-time (updates).”

On top of the technological capabilities of the app, everything creative about it seems to work. Edelstein paid strict attention to detail when working on “Haunting Melissa,” down to the screenwriting process — which is “entirely different” from writing a normal script, he said – and the special effects of the app itself. Ambient noises, including a spine-tingling scream, play randomly in the background of the app when no episode is playing. The list of episodes, which are represented by icons, is subtly animated — one features a woman who blinks intermittently, almost as if one has imagined it. The entire environment of the app is designed to scare, which sets it apart from traditional media like television and film.

“I’ve made some bad movies, and it’s really hard to get behind it (when it’s bad),” Edelstein said. “I’ll admit they suck. But I really believe in (‘Haunting Melissa’).” Indeed, Edelstein has a certain electric energy when talking about his latest project, and this passion shows in the presentation of “Haunting Melissa.”

One perk of putting “Haunting Melissa” on iPads and iPhones is that the user experience with those devices is much more intimate. The horror genre requires that viewers care at least a little bit about the characters; otherwise, they would have no reason to be afraid for them. The closeness of iOS mobile devices makes the entire “Haunting Melissa” experience closer to the viewer and, therefore, puts Melissa herself within arm’s reach.

“I love the idea of a window into somebody’s life,” Edelstein said. “In a movie theater, you’re sitting at a distance. The bigger the TV, the further you are (from it) and the comfier you are on the couch. This is so much closer; this is so uniquely different.”

In fact, the entire production process is different from that of a movie or TV show. Because Apple’s devices feature backlit screens, scenes for “Haunting Melissa” could be shot in darker environments. Some scenes change after the viewer has watched them once, which changes the way the script is written and the scenes shot. But everything seems to come together because “Haunting Melissa” looks incredible.

Edelstein and his production company, Hooked Digital Media, are already planning a sequel of sorts for “Haunting Melissa,” except there’s no telling how they will release it. Edelstein made sure that there are plenty of story arcs in the “Haunting Melissa” universe, so the potential for future content is limitless — especially if the app continues to evolve with Apple’s technology.

“It’s like a great book that you read — you can’t always read a book in one sitting,” Edelstein said. “But you think about that book. You’re excited to get back to it, because you want to know what’s coming next. If the book’s good, it leaves you hanging. It creates drama. (‘Haunting Melissa’) was never meant to be (something that) you can watch in one sitting. It’s meant to make you wait.”

Fortunately, iPhone and iPad owners don’t have to wait to try “Haunting Melissa;” the app and the first chapter are available on the App Store for free. Episodes can be downloaded onto a device and viewed anywhere — preferably a pitch-black room.

Watch the trailer:

Kallie Plagge is the assistant arts editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Check her out on twitter at @kirbyoshi.