Haunting in Connecticut, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe chokes on a little ectoplasm during his HD séance in Connecticut
Matt Campbell (Kyle Gallner) is receiving trial therapy for serious cancer in 1987. Beyond the physical problems brought about by the treatments, there is the problem of the three-hundred mile commute required to undergo the therapy. In order to save her son the commute Matt’s mother (Virginia Madsen) rents a house in Connecticut. As per the norm for these stories, the rent is surprisingly low, and the family probably should’ve asked a few more questions. Soon Matt starts seeing terrible visions, which may or may not be a result of his treatment. When an embalming table is found in his bedroom the possibility of real haunting is increased. Things get worse from there.
For some reason ‘based on a true story’ often seems to be code for ‘just like every other story’, especially in the cases of ghost stories and sports movies. Ghost stories are all based on old motifs, and it’s very likely that the people that experience ‘hauntings’ and the like are simply reacting to the unknown by sticking it in a ‘traditional’ frame of reference. Or ghosts are real and do these things—whichever. Anyway, it’s generally pretty incredible how predictable true stories can be, and that makes for a dull night in the theatre.
Thematically speaking The Haunting in Connecticut gets points over most haunted house and ‘based on a true story’ movies through the realistic elements of its plot. It’s interesting to juxtapose Matt’s medical issues with the house’s ‘historical’ haunting issues, though William Friedkin did do something similar when he made The Exorcist. It’s not entirely original or overly clever, but it’s a good hook, and enough of a hook to overlook some of the film’s same old status. The drama gets a boost from the general calibre of the actors, but director Peter Cornwell and screenwriter Adam Simon still have some deadly issues with the more heavy ‘oh no our son is dying’ scenes. Overall I’m impressed with their tenacious tendency of throwing scares at the wall until one sticks, and the sheer amount of stuff going on keeps one’s mind off the problems, but the good movie trapped in this mess simply can’t make it out of the all too frequent dullness and predictability.
I give Cornwell some well deserved credit for taking some of his better visual cues from Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento and Mario Bava (my personal trifecta of radness). There’s a dirtiness to some of the film’s atmosphere and ickier effects (which even in the unrated version don’t come anywhere near approaching Fulci nastiness) that is often missing in modern horror. The ectoplasm vomiting scene, which you probably saw in the adds, and the lead ‘zombie’ definitely recall City of the Living Dead. There are some obvious call-backs to Suspiria throughout as well (not the least of which is the word ‘suspiria’ scrolled in skin). Unfortunately I can’t quite say the same for the bits Cornwell snags from more recent features. His digital effects and scare frame inserts reek of cheap music video tricks, and will date the film for future generations. Actually, I had problems with many of the film’s editing choices, many of which actually burn out the scares. The flashback stuff is quite well done, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the telegraphed jumps, and diffused slow burns.
Something relatively unnecessary to this review, which I just find interesting and impressive, is the film’s treatment of period. I think Cornwell and his art and costume designers find a nice balance in letting us know it’s 1987 without drawing a huge amount of attention to the fact. The clothing looks pretty modern, but isn’t outside the realms of possibility for the time. Movie geeks should compare this treatment to the more obvious visual treatment of period in last year’s Let the Right One In. Both ways work, but it’s still interesting to compare.
Haunting in Connecticut isn’t super stylized, but it’s hyper-realistic, so all the important colours are a little saturated, and pop a little more than they likely would in reality. The pallet is cooled at night, and warmed in the day, but the contrast isn’t super high, so the blacks are given a nice run of subtlety, while still deeply filling the prints full black requirements. The reality scenes are pretty even handed concerning details, which are fine, but not super fine, while the dream sequences and their sepia tones are actually quite sharp, without a lot of artefacting. There is some digital noise to be found throughout some of the darkened warm hues, but the gradations are even. The transfer is reasonably grainy, mostly for the sake of atmosphere and texture (I’m assuming).
I’m not quite overwhelmed by this DTS-HD track, but find much more to get excited about than I did on the recent and similar Blu-ray release of The Unborn. The soundscape is constantly teaming here with either mournful music or disembodied wind. The centred and consistent dialogue isn’t a surprise, but is mixed well with these supernatural and stylistic aspects. Nothing unimportant ever overwhelms the stuff we need. The séance/ectoplasm vomiting scene is a spectacular sample of DTS-HD capabilities. It floods the channels with eerie voices, growls, oddball music cues, and some very strange synth sounds. A lot of the score is made up of the usual scary stabs and high note shrieks, but among the painfully average are a few effective melodic cues, which almost come across as heroic. The climatic mournful cue I could do without.
The rather meaty extras begin with duelling commentary tracks. The first track features director Peter Cornwall, producer Andy Trapani, writer Adam Simon and editor Tom Elkins. This commentary does its job in covering the background story and making-of aspects, along with marking the stuff that was either deleted or altered for the PG-13 rating. The tone is a little too serious and self important for my taste, and the filmmakers almost immediately claim they didn’t consciously mimic other haunted house films, which we all know is a lie. Technically it’s a good track, and the facts come with relative consistency, but there’s a tendency to default to boring cast and crew congrats to fill the blank space (big ups for acknowledging that Elias Koteas played Casey Jones). Virginia Madsen is a card, and a constant source of entertainment on the other track, which includes her, director Cornwell, and actor Kyle Gallner. The deep behind the scenes information is slightly less constant, but that’s what the other track is for. It’s too bad they couldn’t get some of this fun in the more informative former track.
‘Two Dead Boys: The Making-Of The Haunting in Connecticut’ (14:30, SD) is pretty press-kittish, and is full of that brand of cast and crew hype, but in the hype is a relatively interesting behind the scenes featurette. If you watched the commentaries you aren’t likely to learn a lot of new facts (besides the interesting fact that the pre-production started with the Amityville Horror remake), but if you don’t have time for two commentaries this is a pretty solid wrap-up. Pre-production, casting, filming, direction, set design, make-up effects, and supposed on-set hauntings are all quickly covered.
‘The Fear is Real: Reinvestigating the Haunting’(41:00, HD) is a two part featurette concerning the actual events that inspired the film. Even when these kinds of things are poorly produced I’m always thankful at their inclusion on ‘based on a true story’ discs. Fortunately, this one is actually very even-handed, made up of tempered interviews with the real people. Only a few scenes from the film and some goofy music hurt the anti-sensationalized tone. I’m pretty shocked at how close the film’s basics plot elements stuck to the real story, at least right up until the third act, which is total horse shit up and down (not to mention the house’s back-story). More surprisingly, though, many of the family’s odder ‘ghostly’ experiences were not used for the film. The cast of kooky characters that were involved in the real story are also more interesting and unusual than the cast of stereotypes that make up the fictional version. The original local news piece is a fantastic addition, as is the presence of differing opinions on the truth of the situation. Too bad they couldn’t get their hands on the original Discovery Channel doc, but it could be worse.
‘Anatomy of a Haunting’ (12:00, HD) is another relatively tempered look at the facts of the supernatural, which is undercut a bit by the silly use of candle light. The expert interview subjects cover the ideas of haunting and ghosts from a pretty intellectual and scientific standpoint, to the degree that even a non-believer like me can appreciate what they have to say. My ears pricked up quite a bit when I realized one of the experts was actually talking about the events that inspired The Entity, one of my personal favourite haunting films.
‘Momento Mori: The History of Postmortem Photography’ (10:30, HD) continues the trend of surprisingly informative and not particularly sensationalized featurettes. I was personally obviously aware of the practice of postmortem photography, but was not aware at the history of the process, or how widespread it was. I suppose I’d never thought about how uncommon having photographs of loved ones was in the early days of photography. Still, pretty bizarre stuff.
Extras are completed with a selection of deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases. The deleted scenes (08:30, HD) feature an optional commentary from Cromwell, and have generally been deleted for pacing reasons. There’s one huge would-be homage to Fulci’s The Beyond in the scenes for Italian horror lovers like myself.
Overall A Haunting in Connecticut scores points for trying really hard, and I recommend a rental to folks that are fond of Amityville Horror style ride movies, but I personal didn’t find the film particularly frightening or original. The healthcare aspects should’ve struck closer to home for me, but they really didn’t. I’m appreciative for the angle, the true story aspects, and the genuinely high calibre acting, but it’s still not enough to push the film beyond slightly better than average. The extras, on the other hand, are pretty great, including interesting featurettes on the real story, and some scientific and intellectual looks at the phenomenon of hauntings.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 14th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director/Producer/Writer/Editor Commentary, Director/Actor Commentary, Two Dead Boys, The Fear is Real, Momento Mori, Anatomy of a Haunting, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Peter Cromwell
Cast: Virginia Madsen, Elias Koteas, Kyle Gallner, Martin Donovan
Genre: Drama and Horror
Length: 102 minutes
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