The Weekly Creepy: You can always depend on New England for a good ‘Haunting’

6 Jul

weekly creepy

 Welcome to the Weekly Creepy. The goal is to help expose you the audience to newer horror/thriller films that might have slipped under your radar. Dedicated to obscure, foreign and indie fare (as well as the glorious world of DTV), The Weekly Creepy will tackle a different pic each week, with reasons why it is or isn’t worth your precious time or money.

Haunting

The Haunting in Connecticut(PG-13)

cinemagrade cThere may be no more liberally used phrase in Hollywood these days than based on a true story. Back in the spring, Haunting in Connecticut was released into theaters with that very qualifier attached to all the publicity and marketing ads. As it turns out, even if you do happen to go out for believing in ghosts, ghouls and roaming spirits, this film has so little connection to any actual truth that it might as well be Poltergeist or The Sixth Sense. Unfortunately, Peter Cornwell’s new chiller isn’t anywhere near up to the snuff of those movies. Competently made, with a nice turn from Elias Koteas as a Catholic priest and Virginia Madsen as a worried mother, Haunting delivers a reasonable spook show for fans of supernatural thrillers. There just isn’t much more to go on, and its link to presumable real-life scenarios is negligent at best.  I’d label this as the quintessential ‘renter’; it will give you an evening of entertainment, but don’t spend more than a couple of bucks for it.  

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The financially strapped Campbell family end up renting a quaint little two-story house in Connecticut so they can be closer to the hospital where their teenage son, Matt, is recieving his cancer treatment. Virginia Madsen(who has done her fair share of battle with the supernatural) plays Matt’s mom, Sara, who is fiercely protective of her sick son and growing weary as she strains to hold the family together while her husband Pete tries to drown his anxiety in a spirit world of his own. This new house seems like an answer to prayer, until the usual occurrences begin. Mostly centered around Matt, strange visions manifest themselves and shuffling, shadowy figures wander the halls and creep through the basement. Unlike most classic hauntings, the house in Connecticut doesn’t look very sinister; it doesn’t even seem big enough to house 5 humans (the Campbell parents, their two sons, and a visiting female cousin) and unknown additional ghosts. When a discovery is made that the house used to be a funeral parlor and Matt uncovers a box full of human eyelids, things start taking a definite turn for the worse.

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There is a very slight, and under-cooked mystery at the heart of Haunting and it ends up utilizing elements of other ghost stories and folklore to flesh out the ‘true’ story, which amounted to a few flaky interviews on daytime talk shows and a largely fabricated book back in the late 80s. Dark, flapping shapes fly between bedrooms, stalking figures with decaying faces and white, staring eyes huddle together in the dark next to Matt’s bed, and at one point the cousin gets nearly strangled to death by a naughty shower curtain. Eventually, Matt makes a connection with a fellow Chemotherapy patient, Reverend Popescu, who, in between dying, finds time to show up at the house, explore the basement, and deliver an exorcism of sorts that may help rid the domicile of its demonic inhabitants. Not everything goes as planned, Matt’s condition worsens, he starts hallucinating, and we learn that a young boy named Jonah once conducted forced seances in the house, all overseen by a vile man named Ramsey Aickman.  With each new twist and fold, the truth behind this story became more and more unlikely to me.

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And as well it should. The details, such as they are, to the actual ‘haunting’ in Connecticut aren’t nearly as visually spectacular, or PG-13 for that matter. The real family, the Snedekers, did move into a house that was once a funeral parlor, and their son was indeed sick with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and is now alive and well. They reported numerous paranormal phenomena, including  mop water turning to blood, various demons (some wearing pin-striped suits), not one but two supernatural rapes(both parents) and the sick son apparently sexually attacking his cousin, presumably under the influence of dark forces. Wow, and through all of this, the rent must have been pretty darn sweet for them to stay.

After one too many assaults by randy spirits, I guess the Snedekers finally said enough is enough. But instead of moving, or giving Bill Murray a ring, they brought in a pair of ghost hunters in the form of Ed and Lorriane Warren, the same ‘specialists’ who investigated the proved hoax that was the ‘Amityville Horror’. The Warren’s simply bolstered and gave credence to the Snedeker’s experience and hired a horror novelist named Ray Garton to write the story in 1992’s In A Dark Place. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Garton later recalled this bit of conversation from Ed Warren when Ray called him complaining that the Snedeker accounts were contradicting one another; Warren responded “‘Oh, they’re crazy,’  ‘You’ve got some of the story — just use what works and make the rest up… Just make it up and make it scary.'”

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Thats exactly what Garton did, and the makers of this film version have gone even further, dramatizing it in typical Hollywood fashion. In doing so, they rescue the film from being a lumpy, irritating jaunt down ‘questionable sources’ lane. Instead of playing like one more overblown fictitious account of a ‘haunting’ it adheres by the genre rulebook of similar thrillers that demand a spiritual confrontation, a leering villain, a valiant priest and some half-hearted sign from the Good Lord that he still loves us all and will  deliver us from ghoulies, ghosties and six-legged beasties.

In truth, going this route worked better for me. I’m a sucker for a good haunted house flick, and while I enjoy the folklore and storytelling aspect of ghost stories and paranormal encounters, I don’t put any stock in them. Particularly, when accounts like the Snedekers show up, I tend to cast an extremely skeptical eye. Nothing in Hauntingchanged my mind, nor will it yours. Its all just an elaborate series of carnival scares and creepy mumbo jumbo, but its well-shot, occassionally startling and effective mumbo jumbo and most of it works on the level of a matinee scare piece. If you aren’t going in to have your faith in the supernatural confirmed, or expecting a realistic film about an actual haunted house(and you shouldn’t, on either count) then there is a good chance you will at least enjoy your visit to Connecticut.

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One Response to “The Weekly Creepy: You can always depend on New England for a good ‘Haunting’”

  1. Xiphos July 6, 2009 at 5:58 pm #

    Man did this movie ever look bad and once I started learning about the goofy hoax behind the story* I wanted to see the movie even less. Based on a “true” story, holy hell, is that a false statement.

    *Full disclosure I don’t believe in ghosts at all and I know all ghost stories are fake, I just wanted a good movie! or at least an entertaining one.

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