Hollywood's Scariest Haunted Houses

Yes, the housing bubble has burst; home sales are down. The news sounds bad, but there is a silver lining: namely, it’s a buyer’s market! With the world’s latest haunted house movie,  THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, opening today, what better time for interested shoppers to investigate the possibility of purchasing their very own haunted house? With that in mind, Cinefantastique Online offers this catalogue of the finest spooky manses, decaying domiciles, awful apartments, murderous mansions, and cob-webbed castles ever imagined by demented writers and constructed by the Hollywood art department for your haunting pleasure. You want the Top Ten Haunted Houses? We have more than twice that many listings. These properties may not have always appeared in the best movies, but each has its own particular selling points.
A word of explanation: Ghosts and haunted houses are considered to be synonymous, and they do often go hand in hand; however, there is a distinction to be made. Most viewers understand that RING, although a ghost story, is about a cursed videotape, not a haunted house; however, a number of reference sources list THE SIXTH SENSE among haunted house movies – even though the ghosts are not limited to a particular location. All of the houses in our listings feature localized phenomena; the ghosts, ghoulies, and long-leggedly beasties that go bump in the night may make an occasional excursion to the outside world, but they are permanent residents whose ethereal existence seems somehow tied to their haunted homesteads.


CASTLES

Looking for something suitably grand and top-of-the-line? Castles tend to be more the province of vampires and/or evil aristocracy in the Gothic tradition, but there are a few that feature genuine ghosts.
Blackwood Castle in DANSE MACABRE (a.k.a. CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964).
Lord Blackwood has listed his English family estate with us (a fine old Gothic ruin that perfectly embodies the archetype of a haunted house); however, it is not for sale or even, precisely speaking, for rent. Interested parties, however, are invited to spend the night, alone, free of charge – free, that is, except for a wager that you will not live to see the sunrise. Unlike the Allardyce House and the Belasco House (see below), Blackwood Castleis not haunted because of anything intrinsic to its nature; rather, it is merely been the scene of much murder and mayhem that results in the death of the body but not of the spirit, resulting in an impressive haunting. The castle features numerous amenities and selling points:

  • Crypt (conveniently located in the cellar)
  • Hypnotic painting (subject appears to be alive, eventually manifests in person)
  • At least seven ghosts (as of last count). These are vampiric in nature, requiring the blood of the living in order to sustain themselves. They vary in appearance from perfectly normal to hideously corpse-like; in some cases, they are so beautiful and alluring that you might not mind never leaving.
  • Pets: at least one black cat on premises
  • Selling points: Visited (or at least glimpsed) by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Known fatalities: 8

Buyer beware: Survival rate of previous guests who have accepted Lord Blackwood’s wager is zero.
Asking price: not for sale. Market value difficult to determine due to Lord Blackwood understandable reluctance to have the property appraised (the last attempt ended in disaster). Since the value derives from the ghosts, who could easily be dispatched bywithholding the annual victim, we would estimate its value to haunt-seekers at $4-million.

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Noble Johnson as one of the undead inhabitants of Windward Castle
Noble Johnson as one of the undead (or is he?)inhabitants of Windward Castle

Castillo Maldito in THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940).
This crumbling Cuban Castle, located on a small island off the coast, is reportedly haunted by several phantoms – and a zombie! Some of these selling points may be a bit exaggerated; we have not been able to authenticate all phenomena as genuine, but then, that was typical of the many spooky mansions constructed during this era. Seen in films like THE BAT WHISPERS (1930), THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), and THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939, these dilapidated dwellings feature creaking floor boards, whistling winds, secret panels, and hidden chambers – not to mention oddball residents as scary as any ghost. We avoid listing these properties in our catalogue, because most of them turn out not to be haunted. Yet Castle Maldito is an exception.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Hidden treasure
  • One authenticated (or at least not debunked) ghost. Although superficially similar to the decaying family mansion in CAT AND THE CANARY (which also starred Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard), Castle Maldito leaves at least one ghost unexplained at the end. This gives the castle claim to being Hollywood’s first truly haunted house. This historical importance does not come cheap.

Asking price: $1.5-million.


COUNTRY HOMES AND MANSIONS

Perhaps the most likely place to find a ghost is an an old mansion or country house. Haunting is especially prevalant in England, where the houses are older and have had more opportunity to aquire ghosts, but there are a few good ones in America, too.

The Allardyce House in BURNT OFFERINGS (1976).
This large Victorian mansion in the California countryside looks like a bit of a dump at first – run down, with paint chipped and boards peeling – but if you give it a chance, it’s  a real fixer-upper that requires amazingly little effort on the part of its (human) renters. This is one of those rare haunted houses that seems to be malevolent in its own right: there are no signs of surviving personalities; the house itself is the haunt.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • The house comes equipped with a pool, but swimmers are advised to beware of unexpected waves.
  • Self-reparing home. Just move in, and in no time at all the house will almost literally grow on you, shedding its old shingles like a snake shedding its skin, to reveal the glossy appearance hiding beneath the old facade.
  • Known fatalies: 3

Buyer Beware:

  • The upper chimney may not be stable, so keep your eyes open for falling bricks.
  • The upper window (to Mrs. Allardyces’ room) probably needs to be replaced.
  • The rent is reasonable, but there are strings attached, such as having to leave food outside an upper room for old Mrs. Allardyce, an apparent (and unseen) agoraphobic who insists on remaining at home, even when strangers have rented the place.

Asking price: not for sale. Market value varies, most recently appraised at $750,000.

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The Belasco House in THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1974).
This is one of the premiere properties in our catalogue, the so called “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.” Lovingly designed by original owner Emeric Belasco in 1919, this extensive mansion features ornate quarters, spacious living areas, and its own chapel.
Amenities and Selling Points:

  • Unlike most of the houses in our catalogue, this English mansion was deliberately constructed to be a “haunted house”: it features an innner sanctum sheathed in lead to create a sort of battery containing psychic energy.
  • This power source fuels a wide range of psychic phenomena, both mental and physical: ectoplasm, shaking tables, self-igniting fireplaces.
  • Guests may also enjoy the amorous attention of an unseen visitor at no extra cost.
  • Number of ghosts: one (but appears to be more)
  • Confirmed fatalies: 40
  • Pets: There is a sort of house mascot in the form of a black cat, who gives new meaning to the phrase “bad kitty!”

Buyer Beware:

  • Those with repressed sexual desires and/or a naive faith in their own ability to exorcise the house are advised to say away.
  • Watch out for spinal and/or leg injuries.

Asking price: $9-million

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Bly House in THE INNOCENTS (1960).
This excellent English country mansion is one of the jewels in our crown, a beautiful property with high turrets, large rooms, a lake, and expansive grounds (although the surrounding terrain is a bit treacherous, especially if you have tipped one too many at the local pub). As with Blackwood Castle, there is nothing inherent in the structure of Bly that makes it haunted; it simply happens to be inhabited by ghosts.
Amenities and Selling Points:

  • Number of ghosts: 2, Quint and Miss Jessel. These are a rather quiet, incommunicative, and diffident pair, given to appearing at unexpected moments, more for the sake of causing mental unease than for actually doing anything overtly malevolent. However, presence can be quite disconcerting when they make the effort, with shadows and voices combining for a nightmarish effect in the wee hours of the morning.

Buyer Beware:

  • Several residents have claimed not to see any ghosts at all in Bly.
  • Please be advised that we do not recommend this property for families with children, who seem to be peculiarly susceptible to the influence of Quint and Jessel.
  • If you require servants, try to hire a governess who is (1) can swim and (2) is not a neurotic spinster given to doing more harm than good while trying to defend her charges against a supernatural conspiracy.

Asking price: $3-million

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The Dutch Colonial House in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979 & 2005).
This lovely home on Ocean Avenue on the South Shore of Long Beach, New York is one of the most famous properties in our catalogue, but it no longer attracts the attention of most serious shoppers. It was quite popular back in 1979, but since then the value has dropped precipitously, thanks to scurilous rumors that it may not actually be haunted; in fact, there are some who say that the whole thing was made up. Nevertheless, the property’s lovely facade, with upper front windows that suggest menacing eyes, is quite an attractive selling point for buyers who require only that their house look haunted.
Asking price: $500,000.

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Fort Marmorus in THE BLACK CAT(1934).
Or more precisely, the house built by Satanic architect Hjalmar Poelzig upon the remains of the fort. Unlike most of the houses listed in our catalogue, this one has a distinctly modern look – bright, with clean lines and wide open spaces; fortunately, there are some dark corridors, for tradition’s sake. Whether or not the house is, strictly speaking, haunted, is another matter. Rather like our other Poe-inspired property, the House of Usher (see below), Poelzig’s manor seems embued with psychic influences, in this case the result of the many hundreds of souls who perished on the battlefield during the first world war; the skeptical may consider this to be “supernatural baloney,” but some visitors have succumbed to the uneasy atmosphere, turning temporarily “mediumistic” under its palpable influence.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Located conveniently close to a cemetery (see picture)
  • Numerous glass cases displaying the preserved bodies of former wives.
  • Dynamite in basement for easy self-destruct
  • Confirmed fatalies: 100s – or even thousands – if one counts those who died on the surrounding battliefields.

Buyer Beware:

  • Even the phone is dead.
  • While this house may not be for everyone, it is an unusual find for just the right purchaser, one who doesn’t require howling banshees and clanking chains, but prefers a more subtle shade of psychic influence.

Asking price: $1-million.

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Gull Cottage in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947).
Other realtors may hesitate to show this house, for fear of its haunted reputation, but we are more than eager to go the extra mile on your behalf, assuming that you will not be intimidate by the ghost of a brusque British sea captain. The cottage is a quaint, comfy abode witha nautical theme to its decor, and the view of the ocean is beautiful. Quiet, serene, and beautiful, it is a perfect seaside home for a widow raising a child. If not for an unfortunate accident with a gas lamp, it would not be haunted at all; fortunately, Captain Gregg is one of the most interesting and accommodating of ghosts – if you can get on his good side. If you are concerned about the propriety of living under the same room with a man to whom you are not married, just remember: he’s a ghost, so he doesn’t have a body.
Amenities:

  • Number of ghosts: 1 (or 2)
  • Captain Gregg is very effective at removing unwanted guests

Asking price: $1-million

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The Haunted Mansion in THE HAUNTED MANSION (2003).
This is another property we are eager to unload. The house itself looks great, and its name is certainly promising, but the ghosts inside just don’t cut it. They try their best, but they’ve got no real spirit. They’re less like phantoms from the beyond than like…recycled gags from a theme park attraction.
Asking price: $300,000

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Hill House in THE HAUNTING (1963). Built by Hugh Crain for his young wife (who died on the way to seeing it) this certainly the jewel in our crown, our most prized and coveted listing. Why? Because of all the haunted houss in this catalogue, this is the one that appears to be self-haunting. Many have died there, and indeed some may have remained in spirit form, but Hill House appears to have been born bad – a malign place before the first resident ever set foot in it – and those who perished within are more victim than ghosts. In short, there is little chance that whatever walks there will be exorcised as long as the house itself remains standing, which it has done for 80 years and might do for 80 more. It is an expert if eccentric piece of architecture, with no right angles; although the tiny variations are individually imperceptible to the eye, they add up to a virtual maze, wherein one can never be sure what lurks beyond each new door. The construction is superb: walls are upright; bricks meet neatly; floors are firm. Current owner has considered reconverting the building into a nightclub, but no plans are in the works.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • The avid psychic investigator will be pleased to find that the house offers a distinctive “cold spot” (the heart of the haunting).
  • Musical instruments do not quite play themselves but they do resonate with ambient tones.
  • Doors close by themselves when not watched; when they are watched, these closed doors bend inward as if pressed by some sinister unseen force from outside.
  • Loud pouding noises at night
  • Confirmed fatalities: 5
  • Number of ghosts: the haunt does not manifest surviving, invididual personalities

Buyer Beware:

  • Staircase in need of repair.
  • Treacherous driveway
  • Look out for the writing on the walls
  • If you feel a hand holding yours in the night, for god’s sake, turn on a light to confirm whether it is indeed your fellow investigator, frightened into silence, or…something else.

Asking price: $10-million

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The House of Usher in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960).
This ancient family mansion might not appeal to the average avid haunt fan, but it would be the perfect purchase for a buyer with the proper aesthetic appreciation. The problem is that it is not, technically, a haunted house; rather, it seems to be imbued witha miasma of intangible atmosphere. Even Hill House, by the end, appears to contain at least one genuine ghost, but the House of Usher really is its own monster – a vessel for the accumulated decadence of the family that has inhabited it for so long. This manifests in the occasional balustrade giving way (was the wood rotted, or was the housetrying to dispose of an unwanted guest?) and in the general decline of the two surviving family members, one of whom suffers from catalepsy.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Family crypt conveniently located in basement
  • Confirmed fatalies: the entire Usher family
  • Number of ghosts: none (unless you count their appearance in a dream)
  • The house is the monster

Buyer Beware:

  • The house is in need of some repair; in particular, that big crack running through the outside wall needs to be fixed before the entire structure splits in two and sinks into the tarn.
  • If you bury someone in the crypt, make sure the door is locked – so they can’t get out!

Asking price: $1-million.

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The Old Country House in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970).
We have just about given up on this one. The previous retailer assured us that this house was some kind of karmic balance adjuster, dishing out just deserts to its inhabitants according to what they deserved. But on further investigation, we discovered that the house – despite its notorious name – had little or no blood on its…er, hand? (No – well how about no blood on its window panes?) The victims either died in other locations (like a wax museum), were felled by problems that pre-dated their residency, or brought into the house outside objects that were the real culprit (like a mysterious vampire’s cloak). It’s not a bad piece of property, but haunted?
Confirmed fatalities: 5 (not counting those who died outside the house)
Asking price: We’d like to unload it for $250,000.

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The Remote Country House in THE OTHERS (2001).
This graceful estate on the isle of Jersey is somewhat in the style of Bly House. In the manner of haunted houses, it is big and dark and beautiful. It features the traditional fog-bound atmosphere, but with an interesting distinction: the fog seems to be literally impenetrable, as if the house were shrouded from the outside world, cut off in some kind of limbo land all its own.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A piano plays itself in an empty room.
  • A figure that initially presents as an innocent child turns out to be a hideous hag
  • Confirmed fatalities: 3 (not counting a husband who died overseas in the war)
  • Number of ghosts: 3, 6, or 7 (depending on the occasion)

Buyer Beware: Residents may expect to experience different phenomena, depending on their point of view.
Asking price: $1.5-million.

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The Winward House in THE UNINVITED (1944). Like Gull Cottage, this is a lovely seaside residence located conveniently close to the ocean. It does not provide the outward appearance of being haunted; consequently, it has no trouble aquiring residents unprepared for the phenomena within. Up until 1944, most old dark houses turned out not to be haunted after all; following the comedic THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), this is probably the first Hollywood movie to present a genuine haunted house seriously. This lends the property, with its muted thrills and subtle suggestions of horror, an almost inestimable historical value.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Cold spots
  • Flowers that wilt in the blink of an eye
  • The melancholy sobbing of an unseen woman
  • Confirmed fatalities: 3
  • Number of ghosts: 2

Buyer Beware: that seaside cliff is treacherous!
Asking price: $5-million.


HOTELS

Perhaps you are not looking for a permanent residence but only a place for a pleasantly haunted stay? Or maybe you are looking to get into the haunt business yourself – purchase a property and rent it out to others? Here are some prime properties that should interest you.
The Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING (1980).
This is another one of the great haunted properties, one that dwarfs most of the competition. Built on the remains of an old Indian burial ground, the Overlook features high ceilings and brighlty lit rooms that are virtually the opposite of traditional haunted house decor, and yet the atmosphere is all the more effective because of it. The isolated location adds to the allure, and residents may rest assured that it is inhabited by enough ghosts to fill a dozen other haunted houses. Of particular note are the mysterious woman in Room 237 and the mysterious set of playful twins in the corridor. There is also a lovely band playing old-fashioned dance music, a helpful butler, and – best of all – a bartender named Lloyd who likes to offer drinks on the house. It is hard to say whether the Overlook was born bad or became bad as the result of the people who died there; it’s a sort of chicken-or-the-egg question. However, it got that way, it is safe to say that this Hotel is one of the most haunted places on the planet.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A hedge maze. If you have some time on your hands, you might try your skills and finding your way in and out, but try to pick a day without snow.
  • A convenient elevator service for those not frightened by the sight of enough blood to fill a dozen Dario Argento movies
  • Long corridors great for riding your big wheel
  • Confirmed fatalies: 6 (but obviously many more, judging from the number of ghosts)
  • Number of ghosts: too numerous to count
  • Your money’s no good here – which means more than enough free phantom booze to intoxicate a recovering alcoholic

Buyer Beware: The location is extremely isolated in the snowy winter season, so take care that nothing happens to the battery in the snow mobile.
Asking price: $8-million.

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Seven Doors Hotel in THE BEYOND (1981).
Outwardly, this Louisiana hotel is no match for the Overlook, but it does have one unbeatable thing going for it: it’s built on one of the Seven Gateways to Hell! This puts the hotel in that special category of properties that will always be haunted, regardless of who died there. Yes, the ghosts of the dead are restless within its walls, but that gateway is responsible for a far more apocalyptic form of supernatural mayhem.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Confirmed fatalities: 3(not counting those who died elsewhere)
  • Number of ghosts: Only a few are identifiable, but there appear to be many more – perhaps infinite
  • The gateway to hell not only revives dead souls and reanimates bodies into zombies; it also bends the very fabric of reality, teleporting unsuspecting victims literally to Hell and Gone – also known as the Sea of Eternal Darkness. You don’t get amenities like that in the Overlook!

Asking price: $5-million.


SUBURBS AND APARTMENT LIVING

City ghosts were once an anomaly; spirits used to keep to isolated locations: mansions and castles or at least houses set well apart from the neighbors. In the modern era, however (perhaps due to the population explosion), phantoms have been forced to seek residence in more highly populated areas. This is a great advantage to haunt enthusiasts who would like to purchase a ghost-invested property without givng up the benefits of city life.
The Freeling House in POLTERGEIST (1982).
This is definitely one for bargain hunters – we are slashing prices way, way, way down! It turns out that it wasn’t really the house that was haunted; it was the damn television that acted as a portal to the afterlife, allowing all manner of spirits to enter the land of the living. Now the TV’s gone, and so are the ghost.
Asking price: $250,000

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The House in HOUSE (1986).
This is a model that was quite popular in its day, but the market value has fallen more than average for this kind of property. Buyers want something new, or they want the classics. These mid-level haunted houses are all right for brief visits, but no one much wants to live there, especially when the haunting seemed so specific to the previous owner, rather than a part of the house’s nature.
Asking price: $250,000

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The Rundown Apartment House in DARK WATER (2001 & 2005).
One of the small, dingy rooms in this building would be a terrible place for a divorced mother to raise her child – even if the place were not haunted. Unfortunately, a little girl died there a while back, and though not outright malevolent, she is downright scary in her supernatural quest to secure a surrogate mommy.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Confirmed fatalities: 2
  • Number of ghosts: 2

Buyer Beware:

  • Watch out for leaky faucets, bathtubs, etc.
  • Don’t let your kids play on the roof, and especially don’t let them climb up on the water tank!

Asking price: not for sale, but rent is cheap – even if not haunted, this place should be condemned.

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The Saeki Residence in THE GRUDGE (2004).
Externally inauspicious, this is in fact one of the most intensely haunted properties in our catalogue, thanks to three malevolent  yūrei residing there: Kayako, Takeo, and Toshio. The death of the three familiy members (a murder-suicide perpetrated by father Takeo) left a curse on the property, resulting in an extremely high fatalities among subseqeunt residents, besting many of the more elaborate models; just about everyone who passes into its portal succumbs. Despite its conventional appearance, this haunted house engenders intense feelings of dread and apprehension at the mere thought of crossing its thresshold. The house has been seen in four Japanse JU-ON movies and two American GRUDGE films. Of these, THE GRUDGE implicity suggests that the curse falls only on people who have entered the Saeki House, raising the property’s importance to the haunting – and thus its value – over the Japanese predecessors.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A lovely staircase, perfect for making a memorable entrance (especially if you like crawling on your hands and knees)
  • Pets: one black ghost cat
  • Confirmed fatlities: 8 (not counting those who died elsewhere)
  • Number of ghosts: 3
  • Like the Seven Doors Hotel, the Saeki House can bend reality – in this case time, creating weird anomalies in which characters from the present can view the past and perhaps be viewed (or at least sensed) in return

Asking Price: $7-million

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The Changeling (1980)The Victorian Mansion in THE CHANGELING (1981).
This lovely old structure perfectly conforms to everyone’s idea of what a haunted house should be: it’s big, imposing, old, and spooky, with more than enough room for plenty of ghosts. In point of fact it is not a particularly evil place, and the haunting is limited to the ghost of a single murdered child – a troubled but not particularly malevolent spirit of the type that cannot rest peacefully until justice has been rendered. Whatever the ghost’s intentions, the effect is suitably unnerving, creating an effective haunting that should please those who enjoy their ghosts that raise the hair on the back of their necks rather than jumping out and screeching “Boo!”
Asking price: $2-million.

The Haunting in Connecticut – Film Review

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)I believe in not showing too much. I believe in keeping you on your toes, wondering what you’re going to see next. That is what the power of the screen is all about. It is not what you see, but what you think you see. Suggest, suggest, suggest! Don’t just show, show, show. There is nothing subtle about an ax falling into someone’s face! As Lon Chaney Sr. said to Boris Karloff and Boris said to me: “Leave it to the audience, Christopher. They will think of something that is far, far worse than anything we could possibly show them.”

–Christopher Lee

THE HAUTNING IN CONNECTICUT is a film I had assumed would be another ridiculously overdone Hollywood production, along the lines of Jan de Bont’s terrible remake of The Haunting (1999). Instead, to my surprise and delight, it is exactly the opposite: a beautifully crafted little gem of a movie that harks back to the more subtle and poetic ghost stories that have always defined the very best in the genre – Movies like Jack Clayton’s The Innocents and Robert Wise’s The Haunting. As in both of those films, first time director Peter Cornwell seems to realize that in this area, as Christopher Lee points out, less is more. As a result, we have one of the scariest haunted house movies to grace the screen since Poltergeist.
Supposedly based on a true story of a 1987 incident that took place in Southington, Connecticut, screenwriters Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe apparently used this incident as the perfect opportunity to put their own fascination with the supernatural to good use. Metcalfe explains, “Our mutual interest in the occult as represented in literature, film and history really helped us shape the story.” Indeed, their script follows the classic format of haunted house stories, but improves on them by introducing several intriguing new elements, such as the focus of the haunting being on a 16-year old boy who is dying from cancer. His proximity to death and the world beyond seems to give him a much greater receptivity towards seeing spirits than the other members of the household. The house itself is a former funeral home, where horrific séances were held during the 1920’s, making for a suitably creepy atmosphere and providing quite an intriguing reason for the house to be haunted in the first place.
To reveal any more would spoil the story, but suffice it to say this is New England Gothic of the kind H. P. Lovecraft might easily have dreamed up. The screenwriters also give the story a backbone of solid relationships for the actors to work with, including a touching love between Virginia Madsen playing a strong and willful mother, who must deal with the probable death of her teenage son, and the young boy himself, whose ordeal in facing death and undergoing his cancer treatments, is nearly as horrific as the ghosts he eventually encounters. Actor Kyle Gallner, playing the part of the youngster, gives it the kind of credibility that is usually the weakest link in these movies, while Virginia Madsen is equally good in her role as his mother. Elias Koteas plays a Reverend (who is also dying) with the kind of quiet understatement that is exceptionally rare in this kind of part, making his theories on why the haunting is taking place all the more believable.
What is also especially remarkable about the film is the solid technical craft it displays, on what must have been a fairly limited budget by today’s movie-making standards. I’ve certainly never heard of any of the behind-the-camera talent before, but they all contribute work that seems as if it were turned in by veteran Hollywood experts. For example, I could have easily mistaken the beautifully precise editing of Tom Elkins to be the work of Dede Allen. The moody and dark cinematography provided by Adam Swica, compares quite favorably to Freddie Francis’s shadow play in The Innocents. The set designs of Alicia Keywan make the house as memorable a character to the story as the much larger Gothic mansion designed by Elliot Scott for The Haunting. Perhaps best of all, the score by Robert J. Kral wraps the entire production up in exactly the kind of lyrical quality needed, before abruptly switching gears to a sudden dissonance that will jolt viewers out of their seats. Since Kral studied under Jerry Goldsmith, it appears he has picked up some key ideas from the Maestro.
Unfortunately, it appears that Lionsgate is going for a very quick playoff with this movie, and it most likely will be exorcised from theaters within a few weeks, before any positive word of mouth can spread. Which is rather a shame, because seeing this wide screen film on DVD in your living room will certainly not be half as scary as seeing it at a theater. So my advice for anyone who wants to see a wonderfully atmospheric supernatural ghost story, without the usual overdone gore and guts, is to see the film at your local cinema as soon as possible!

THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009). Directed by Peter Cornwell. Written by Adam Simon & Tim Metcalfe. Cast: Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Elias Koteas, Amanda Crew, Martin Donovan, Sophi Knight, Ty Wood, Erik J. Berg, John Bluethner, D. W. Brown.

If you like haunted houses, check out Cinefantastique Online’s catalogue listing of the hottest haunted properties on the market.

Cybersurfing: Madsen on Haunting in Connecticut

In Mad about Madsen, the Philadelphia Daily offers up a brief interview with actress Virginia Madness, whose upcoming film THE HAUTNING IN CONNECTICUT, opens on March 27. Although reporter Howard Bessler focuses too much time on how a middle-aged woman can look young enough to maintain a career in Hollywood, he does manage to include a few interesting snippets about the film.

It’s been 17 years since Madsen was covered in blood in “Candyman,” and she said last week by phone from California that although she loves horror films – “The Werewolf,” “The Mummy” and “Frankenstein” were the first films she remembers seeing as a little girl – she was willing to wait for a script that she thought mixed character and terror.
“A Haunting in Connecticut,” based on a true story, is that film.
“It’s very, very scary,” she said gleefully. “It’s truly a horror film. Don’t take your kids.”
When I explained that this was Philadelphia and parents would probably be bringing their toddlers, Madsen urged against it.
“They might drop them,” she said.
Madsen said that when she saw the film recently with a friend and her agent, “I became airborne,” at one of the scary parts, “and I made the film.”

The Legend of Hell House – Retrospective Review

When Richard Matheson’s novel Hell House came out in 1971, its fusion of traditional haunted house elements with explicit sex and violence was quite shocking, as most horror novels prior to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist avoided graphic material in favor of suggesting the shudders. While not up to the high standard of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House yet clearly inspired by it, Matheson’s book attempted to become the ultimate “haunted house” tale, incorporating a number of psychic phenomena that had not been previously combined into one ghostly story.
When James Nicholson, co-head of American International Pictures, split from Samuel Z. Arkoff to create his own company, Academy Pictures, he selected Matheson’s novel to be the basis for their first feature, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, and he hired Matheson (who had scripted many of AIP’s Poe-inspired films starring Vincent Price) to adapt his novel into a screenplay. Unfortunately, executive producer Nicholson passed away while the film was in production, and it was sold to 20th Century Fox.
The early ‘70s had seen the development of more explicit horror films such as THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, which introduced nudity and lesbian to the mass market horror film; however, horror films were still sold mostly to teens, so Matheson scaled back much of the sexual element in his novel to allow the film version to garner a PG-rating. (He also expressed concern in a Cinefantastique interview that in the then-new era of openness, equating sex with evil acts would be laughable, though a key element of his story condemns not sexual per se, but sexual repression).
Amusingly, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE opens with quotation on the reality of the psychic phenomena depicted attributed to Tom Corbett, a known “space cadet” (one of Matheson’s sly jokes). As in his classic novel I Am Legend, Matheson takes the trouble to look up scientific terms but not to understand them. Hence, the energy is described as electro-magnetic radiation, or in other words radio waves, microwaves, terahertz radiation, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays, which are all types of EMR and have nothing to do with souls, ghosts, or spirits.

Who ya gonna call: Ga;yle Hunnicut, Roddy McDowell, Clive Revill, Pamela Franklyn
Who ya' gonna call: Ga;yle Hunnicut, Roddy McDowell, Clive Revill, Pamela Franklyn

The story’s premise is fairly simple: An elderly man worried about his imminent demise hires a parapsychologist physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) and two mediums, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall) and Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin of THE INNOCENTS), to investigate the Belasco residence (known as “Hell House”) and report back proof, if any, on the existence of life after death. An expedition some 20 years before to this “Mount Everest of haunted houses” had resulted in the destruction of all participants by madness or death, except for Fischer.
Hell House represents a self-contained world, one in which, as Fischer points out, the windows have been blocked up to keep anyone from peering in on the socially unacceptable goings-on inside. Years ago, it was inhabited by a wealthy eccentric named Emeric Belasco (Michael Gough, appearing uncredited), a character Matheson based on Aleister Crowley. Belasco is described as a man who encouraged others to experiment with debasement and debauchery, leading to a long list of crimes against humanity (“Drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, bestiality, mutilation, murder, vampirism, necrophilia, cannibalism… not to mention a gamut of sexual goodies”) which are mentioned but never actually depicted in the film version.
To ramp up a sense of verisimilitude, in both the novel and the film, Matheson divides sections by identifying a specific date and time when each incident takes place. This is a device that was later borrowed by Stanley Kubrick for THE SHINING. Unfortunately, at least in one instance, a stock daylight shot of the Belasco exterior is shown while the caption indicates night time event.*
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is the first ghost film, I believe, that depicts the phenomenon of ectoplasm, which we see emanating from the fingertips of Tanner, who is supposed to be a mental medium, unlike Fisher, who is a physical medium. In other words, spirits speak through her, whereas Fisher manifests observable phenomena. However, this distinction breaks down, as there is more than enough telekinetic and poltergeist activity on display for each medium. Despite the budgetary limitations, this is a very active haunting, and the sense of anything can happen at any moment aids in greatly enlivening the film.
On the other hand, in adapting his work to film, Matheson has shortchanged his major characters. While Roddy McDowall is very enjoyable playing the closed-off “only in it for the money” Fischer, Benjamin is more heroic in the book. There, he rescues all of the other characters at one time or another — saving Tanner during an attack, pulling heavy equipment off of Barrett, and keeping Barrett’s wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) from drowning in a nearby tarn during a sleepwalk. Most of the scenes of Fischer aiding the others have been omitted from the film version.
Another crucial change is that the novel’s Barrett is somewhat crippled. He is a skeptic eager to prove that a machine he designed can dissipate the negative energy in the house and stop all the haunting; Hell House represents his opportunities to put his machine in action.  It is clear in the novel that Barrett has developed a life of the mind, but has neglected the physical side of life, including his sex life with his wife. The very fit Revill seems miscast for the part as originally conceived, though he ably limns the character’s arrogance and cocksuredness as well as his dismissive way with his colleagues.
In the book, Ann clearly loves her husband, but longs for the intimacy that has been denied her. This makes her susceptible to Belasco’s libidinous influences, and so she throws herself sexually at a shocked Ben Fischer, and when he rejects her advances, seeks sexual solace from an unequally uninterested Tanner as well, a lesbian come-on scene the film omits entirely.
Florence’s part is diminished as well. She comes to believe that the ghost attacking her is that of Daniel Belasco, Emeric’s son, who reminds her of her late brother, who was forced to do the bidding of others. Believing she has found Daniel’s body, she buries it, hoping to put his spirit at rest, but such is not to be. She generates the theory that Belasco is like a general who can force other spirits in the house to do his bidding while he keeps himself behind the lines. Unfortunately, without having sketched in the background as to why she is so vulnerable to “Daniel’s” influence, she instead comes off as incredibly credulous and reckless, rather than as a participant who picks up a piece of the overall puzzle.
One of the most horrific scenes in the book comes off quite muted as well. Florence makes the mistake of allowing the spirit of Daniel to make love to her. (In the book, the spirit even sodomizes her in the shower). Instead of transitioning Daniel to love and peace hereafter, she gets abused and discovers herself making love to a corpse, leading to a particularly horrific entendre when she tells the others that Daniel is “in her.”
Physical medium Ben Fisher (Roddy McDowell) confronts the angry spirit of Emerich Belasco.
Physical medium Ben Fisher (Roddy McDowell) confronts the angry spirit of Emerich Belasco.

There is a mystery to be solved here, and Belasco’s duplicity must ultimately be uncovered. Matheson does leave visual clues as to the source of Belasco’s anger and frustration in each of the attacks he makes on the “guests” in hell house. While not as flashy as modern-day ghost stories, LEGEND takes the time to build up character and unease before unleashing its horrors, so that we care about the people these phenomena are happening to and have an emotional investment in hopes for their survival.
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a well-crafted low-budget effort, but it lacks the superior story, characterization, scares, and performances of the Robert Wise classic THE HAUNTING. Nevertheless, director John Hough crafted a decent ‘70s horror that has proved influential on such subsequent projects as POLTERGEIST (which combined the idea of depicting all the various kinds of ghostly phenomena with Matheson’s story “Little Girl Lost”), William Malone’s remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, and Stephen King’s ROSE RED, as well as numerous televsision series showing scientific teams investigating haunted houses and other ghostly locations. In fact, Matheson is in many ways the link from the Gothic horror of the past (including his famous work on Corman’s Poe pictures) to the modern-day scares of Stephen King (who has acknowledged his debt to Matheson’s I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, and Hell House, all set in modern times).
Fox’s DVD release is anamorphically enhanced and at last presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85. The colors have a muted look and there is a touch of grain, both of which are common to many ‘70s movies. The dual-layer disc also has a very high average bit rate. An additional perk is that Fox Video has given it a very reasonable sell-through price.
Both the film and the book have their limitations, but each made its own notable contributions to the development of the horror genre, and I found re-experiencing them to be quite enjoyable. They are both definite milestones in opening new territory for horror to explore in terms of adult content and taking a scientific approach to psychic phenomena.

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973). Directed by John Hough. Screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on his novel Hell House, published 1971. Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, Letterboxed, Widescreen, NTSC. Cast: Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Roland Culver.
EDITOR’S NOTE:

  • To be fair, the fog-bound sky is just dark enough to almost pass for night.

Room 205 – DVD Review

Click to Purchase
Click to Purchase

The Denmark-lensed Room 205is one of the more interesting entries in the initial wave of low budget, independent horror films from Ghost House Underground, a direct-to-video arm of Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures. While the parent company has been enjoying a string of solid office hits thanks to J-horror remakes (The Grudge) and the clever positioning of poached Asian talent like the Pang Brothers in familiar, if somewhat dull product (The Messengers), Room 205 is a quiet, atmospheric ghost story that – mostly – eschews the trendier genre trappings of modern horror in favor of a measured, quiet tone that rewards an audience’s patience with some genuinely unsettling moments.
Student Katrine (Neel Ronholt) is having a rocky start to her term at an un-named Copenhagen university. While still grieving the death of her mother, she finds herself fighting for acceptance from the bitchy Sanne (Julie Olgaard) and pining for hunky Lukas (Jon Lange). But just as things begin to look up, Katrine’s sanity is threatened by macabre visions in her dorm – could the ghost of a girl who died in Sanne’s room be haunting her? It’s only when bodies start piling up that Katrine enlists the help of the quiet, sensitive Rolf (Mikkel Arendt) to help her find a way to send the rampaging poltergeist back where it came from.
The DVD box does Room 205 (or Kollegiet, in its native tongue) no favors by splashing “A fast-paced supernatural teen slasher” across the cover. While it may encourage a second video-store glance from the easily amused, it advertises a gory thrill-ride that is, thankfully, not delivered. Katrine is already haunted by the death of her mother, and her sensitive nature and wounded heart makes her a prime target for the animosity of Sanne, who turns the entire dorm against Katrine when she fails to react “properly” to a particularly cruel joke at a party. Moments like these allow Director Martin Barnewitz to focus on the more mundane horrors of dorm life early on while sprinkling in several ominous visual and aural hints to let us know that something more supernatural is coming.
The ghost manifests in a mirror.
The ghost manifests in a mirror.

Most people haven’t lived in a haunted Copenhagen dorm room, but it’s a safe bet that most of the audience for low-budget horror remembers what it’s like to be unpopular, and Barnewitz and star Ronholt make you feel every inch of Katerine’s isolation. Without giving away a rather grim development late in the film, the evil spirit in question is “trapped” within the mirrors of the dormitory, and the accidental shattering of one releases her into our world. Barnewitz has fun photographing the hazy reflection of Katerine in various objects (from a hallway security mirror to the hood of a car) and generates a nice sense of foreboding.
Fittingly, Room 205’s visual style owes much to the European tradition; from Polanski’s nerve-tingling distortions in Repulsionto the grainy, avant-garde “realism” of Barnewitz’s fellow countrymen in the Dogme 95 movement. The visual style combined with the measured pace gives the film an austerity that runs against the grain of most modern horror films, the vast majority of Ghost House Underground’s cannon in particular – judging at least from the trailers included on the disc.
Blood flows in the films second half - a concession to gorehounds.
Blood flows in the film's second half - a concession to gorehounds.

While the second half contains a few genuinely unnerving moments – particularly Katerine’s return to a mysteriously deserted party and a well played bit involving a set of closing elevator doors – it also acquiesces to the gore hound crowd with a few decidedly out-of-place bursts of violence that run against the grain of the restraint in the show’s first half. We sense that it was the likely the realities of the global film market rather than artistic expression that necessitated their inclusion. And in an inferior film it wouldn’t seem so out of place to have college students behave more like petulant tweenies – a bad fit for a supporting cast that looks a good 10 years too old to be living in a dorm. It’s also worth noting that many may feel the pacing to be slack, particularly in the first half (I don’t know if European pacing is a term in common usage, but as it’s a European film, it would seem to be appropriate); however, director Barnewitz uses the time wisely, allowing his characters to breathe and develop a screen-life of their own.
Neel Ronholt as Katrine
Neel Ronholt as Katrine

But it’s Neel Ronholt’s performance that really boosts this film far above its peer group. Miss Ronholt, an instantly endearing screen presence resembling a combination of Misty Mundae and Lynn Lowry, appears in nearly every scene and effectively carries the film on her shoulders. She possesses an amazingly demure sexuality while also expressing genuine intelligence and is definitely a name to watch for.
Room 205 appears on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate, along with the rest of the Ghost House Underground collection. It appears to be an accurate reproduction of the original photography, in an enhanced 2:35×1 transfer. You’ll also have the choice to watch the film with its original Danish language (with English subtitles) soundtrack or an English dub. We sampled the dub track but found it too distracting, particularly during the more dialog-driven first half (Rolf’s voice in particular sounds very Troy McClure-ish, while the women have that shrill quality present in many giallo dubs of the 70s). Ghost House has included a commentary track featuring director Martin Barnewitz and Cinefantastique’s own Steve Biodrowski. It makes for a pleasant, relaxed chat; Barnewitz’s English is fluent, and seems genuinely humbled by Biodrowski’s allusions to major horror pictures past. Also present are trailers for a good sized chunk of Ghost House Underground’s slate, showcasing several (the title of Last House in the Woods alone seems to violate about a dozen copyrights) that made us appreciate how special Room 205 is.
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Sense of Wonder: Commenting on Room 205's Commentary

A while back I mentioned that I was providing an audio commentary for the U.S. DVD release of ROOM 2O5, the Danish horror film I enjoyed at Screamfest 2007. Well, the disc is out, but of course I haven’t reviewed it because my objectivity is seriously compromised. While contemplating other writers to whom the job could be offered (ideally, someone independent of CFQ, who would not be afraid to say an unkind word), I came upon Brian Collins’ mixed but largely negative review at Horror Movie a Day. Collins is entitled to his opinion of the film, but I must object to his misleading characterization of the audio commentary:

The DVD has a commentary (in which director Martin Barnewitz also claims it’s a slasher movie) and a making of, neither are essential but props to devoting a lengthy section of the making of to the sound design, which is one of the movie’s strong points. The commentary also has a film critic along for the ride, and it’s kind of ironic that they spend so much time dissecting (and dismissing) slasher movies that are far superior to this one, and talking about what makes an effective horror movie, when Barnewitz failed to do so. Oh well, at least one of them points out that the back story is the same as (the superior) Shutter, so I don’t have to.

This gives the impression that Barnewitz and I spent the entire commentary talking about how bad slasher movies are and how good ROOM 205 is. In truth, I was the one doing the dissecting and dismissing, not Martin Barnewitz, and my focus was not on slahser films but on distinguishing between the Barnewitz’s European approach and that of low-budget American horror movies, which tend to get the body count started as soon as possible.
Barnewitz’s film, on the other hand, is working in a tradition with roots in films like ROSEMARY’S BABY (an American production but scripted and directed by Polish auteur Roman Polanski), which unfold their story gradually, building suspense before the horror emerges. In the commentary, I note that this is a gambit that can pay off in the long run, if the audience has the patience to wait out the slow, early passages; Barnewitz counters by saying that he probably should have inserted a few more scares up front.
In other words, far from being ignorantly oblivious to the slow pace (one of Collins chief objections to the film), we were actively discussing it, and the filmmaker himself considered it a problem that he regreted. Collins should give us credit for this instead of painting us as totally clueless.
One other point: Collins derides us for spending too much time “talking about what makes an effective horror movie, when Barnewitz failed to do so.” Yet here is Collins own assessment of the film:

[…] it’s not awful; it’s competently made and the actors are good. And once it finally gets going, it’s kind of exciting, and the deaths are surprisingly cool when they actually occur. To be fair, the slow pace would actually be a benefit if the story was a bit more original or interesting, so it’s nice to see that they are at least TRYING to develop character rather than just present you with wall to wall kills like a latter day F13 movie. Also, I’m pretty sure that this is the first teen horror movie in which our Final Girl snorts cocaine, so at least they aren’t slaves to the “rules”.

Despite his overall disappointment, Collins finds some words of praise for ROOM 205. Why, then, does he find it “ironic” that the audio commentary addresses those merits? I suspect the problem here is that Collins (based on a misleading quote on the box cover) was expecting a fast-paced slasher movie. When he saw, instead, a deliberately paced ghost story, his thwarted expectations perhaps bled over into his assesment of the film and the audio commentary.
I hope I’m not being overly sensitive. I just don’t want someone reading the review to get an inaccurate impression of the audio commentary, so I am trying to set the record straight.
UPDATE: Links have been added, and text has been edited and expanded for clarity.
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Amityville Horror, The (2005)

This is a slightly better-than-expected remake of the 1979 film of the same name, which in turn was based on the best selling book by Jan Anson. Inspired by an allegedly true incident (which has actually been widely debunked), the film portrays what happens when the Lutz family moves into a house where the previous occupants were murdered by one family member driven by demonic voices in his head.
Although the filmmakers are guilty of a certain dishonesty in continuing to pretend that the events of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR actually happened, there is no doubt that the pretense of telling a “true” story had some benefits: The film presents a sort of everyday reality gradually turning nightmarish. Because no one died in the house (outside of the prologue showing the murders of the previous), the story cannot descend into mechanical body count and must instead rely implied menace and uncanny manifestations. And rather slyly, much of the action (which mostly consists of step-father George Lutz falling gradually under the house’s evil spell) seems designed to suggest that the supernatural manifestations are actually a metaphor for a more realistic kind of evil, such as child abuse. (When George hacks up the family dog, the audience is invited to think, “Sure, he says the Devil made him do it, but maybe he’s just a sick bastard.”)
Visually, the film makes use of techniques we’ve come to expect in the horror genre, such as blurry, stroboscopic images flashing across the screen. Although effective, these techniques (which first gained prominence in 1999’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL) are starting to look dated, especially after the flowering of a new style seen in Japanese films like RINGU and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE.
Despite its modest virtues, the film eventually collapses under the weight of its genre obligations. The source material is a thinly disguised pastiche of familiar material (notably THE EXORCIST), and the attempt to update the remake for a new audience adds another layer of familiarity, with scenes reminiscent of HELLRAISER, POLTERGEIST II, and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, among others.
Finally, trapped with an anti-climactic ending (the family simply leaves the house), the script resorts to invention: the stepfather shifts into full monster mode, going after his family with an ax in a protracted scene that plays out like a combination of THE STEPFATHER and THE SHINING. Unfortunately, Ryan Reynolds, who gives a good performance in the early stages, believably portraying a man trying hard to fit in with his new wife’s kids, is simply not a very effective bogeyman.
With no actual victims, the film resorts to some fake-out dream imagery in order to register a little bit of gore. After that, there’s even a CARRIE-inspired hands-reach-out-of-the-ground last-shot shocker involving the little girl ghost named Jodi (Jodi was apparently a Satanic pig in the book—so much for accuracy!).

TRIVIA

The real-life George Lutz was unhappy with the previous film version of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and he was even more upset with the way he was portrayed in the remake. Lutz claims that neither version is an accurate account of the events described in the book; among other things, he points out that he had never killed the family dog.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005). Directed by Andrew Douglas. Screenplay by Scott Korsar, based on the previous screenplay Sandor Stern, adapted from the book by Jay Anson. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett, Chloe Moretz, Phillip Baker Hall

Abandoned, The (2006)

This horror flick is atmospheric and often frightening, but the lack of a solid narrative creates a lethargic pace. With little story to tell, the film quickly hits a plateau early and remains in cruise control until revelation of what’s really going on near the very end. Till then, it relies on the creepy presentation of its ghosts (actually doppelgangers) to maintain audience interest. The formula would have been wonderful as a half-hour short but feels needlessly protracted at feature length.
Anastasia Hille plays Marie, a middle-aged, divorced mother who returns to Russia after being contacted by a notary about inheriting her parents’ farmhouse. Marie, we learn, was adopted as a baby, after the deaths of her father and mother, about whom she knows nothing, despite attempts to track down information in the past. After a truck drive to the middle of nowhere, she ends up in the rundown property, which is surrounded by a river on all sides. There she meets Nicolai (Karel Roden), her twin brother, who claims to be in the same situation as she: trying to learn the truth of what happened to their parents. Marie and Nicolai find themselves haunted by white-eyed ghosts that look exactly like themselves – which Nicolai interprets as an omen that their deaths are soon to follow. Through flashbacks and ghostly apparitions, they learn that their father stabbed their mother, who survived long enough to shot the father and rescue the children, driving them to safety. After much wandering around in dark basements and deserted forests, including an abortive escape attempt, Marie and Nicolai find themselves back in the farm house as it looked on the night of the murder, apparently doomed to die as their father had intended all those years ago…
Hille and Roden turn in good performances as the bedeviled brother and sister, but the screenplay offers little for them in terms of distinctive characterization. With no ghost-buster or psychic expert on hand, the explanatory dialogue is given mostly to Nicolai, although how he has figured out the truth is never clear. The script deliberately leaves details vague, offering little evidence to clarify what is happening – or even whether Nicolai is telling the truth – keeping audiences in a state of perpetual uncertainty that is supposed to pass for intriguing mystery. Final revelation and resolution of the story is trite and predictably gloomy, offering little catharsis.
Highlight of the film is the scare sequences, particularly when Marie and Nicolai haunt themselves. Ghosts are visualized with actors in make-up, rather than computer-generated effects, creating a realistic, almost tactile feel to the apparitions, whose hunched shoulders and slow, shuffling gate almost suggest zombies. Blank-eyed expressionless faces generate a real thrill, better than the more obvious snarling evil so often on view. Other atmospheric bits also register nicely, such as the beam of a flashlight that briefly illuminates objects from the past that are no longer actually in a room Marie is investigating.
In the end, THE ABANDONED feels less like a complete movie than a collection of good ideas for horror scenes. Attempt to wrap them up in a scenario about bringing events “full circle” is at best partially successful, and the film’s conclusion abandons atmosphere and mood, resorting to silly gore (taking a cue from HANNIBAL, one character is eaten by pigs). On the plus side, the isolated location and limited characters create an effective sense of suspense. With a better screenplay, these elements could have added up to something wonderful.

TRIVIA

THE ABANDONED was first released as one of the “8 Films to Die For” in the After Dark Horror Fest of November 2006. THE ABANDONED was selected as the “audience favorite” and granted a separate theatrical release before the package of 8 movies reached home video. Other After Dark titles include PENNY DREADFUL, UNREST, REINCARNATION, THE GRAVEDANCERS, and THE HAMILTONS.
THE ABANDONED (2006). Directed by Nacho Cerda. Written by Nacho Cerda, Karim Hussain. Cast: Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden, Valentin Ganev, Carlos Reig

Beyond, The (1981) – Horror Film Review

aldila_gr.jpgEDITOR’S NOTE: With Halloween around the corner, we thought it might be time to post some reviews of films that will be screening at festivals during the season, such as the Silent Movie Theatres “Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!” series we mentioned in this post.

There is a wall, an outer envelope like the sound barrier, against which horror films often hopelessly slam on their way to an inevitable crash-and-burn. This barrier separates what can be shown on screen from what can be sensed in the mind. True horror should have a metaphysical component that reaches down into the soul, but most horror films settle for simple suspense, based on the jump-and-scare tactics of who will survive and who will perish. Even HELLRAISER, which had its cenobites promise to “Tear your soul apart,” actually did nothing of the kind, instead opting for the sight of rending flesh.
Lucio Fulci’s undead epics, with their over-the-top depictions of graphic violence, fall squarely into this splatter category — or so it seems, at first. Actually, there is a little something more going on: a kind of demented, despairing metaphysical speculation. Working with meager resources in an exploitation genre that demanded strong appeal to a core audience, Fulci never developed his notions into something that could be called an unqualified masterpiece, but he did leave us with at least one film that struggles mightily to go Beyond the wall that stops so many other horror films. THE BEYOND is the third of three zombie films that Fulci made after DAWN OF THE DEAD, but it is equally inspired by Argento’s INFERNO: both films posit a series of buildings connected with a supernatural phenomenon (in INFERNO they house the three Mothers of Darkness; in THE BEYOND, they surmount the Seven Gateways to Hell); both portray the supernatural elements in ways that defy rational understanding; and both abandon traditional plot structures in order to disorient and confuse the audience into a state of unreasoning dread.
Despite the similarities, THE BEYOND manages to stand on its own — if not as a completely original work, then as an inspired entry distinguished by memorable touches of its own. In fact, the borrowings actually help Fulci overcome his limitations and emphasize his strengths. Anyone who has seen ZOMBIE or THE GATES OF HELL knows that the director could be lackadaisical in his handling of characters and exposition, but when the horror emerged, there was no one who could turn the screws so tightly on an audience. For instance, the infamous eyeball scene in ZOMBIE may be gratuitously graphic, but it is also one of the single most horrifying moments ever recorded on film, guaranteed to make even the most jaded genre fanatic squirm in his seat.
Truthfully, THE BEYOND has no single moment to match that scene; fortunately, it doesn’t need one. The gore effects by Gianetto DeRossi (which include slivered glass, burning acid, biting spiders, and – yes — more gouged eyes) come across with less impact — like an obligatory attempt to top previous efforts. On the other hand, the very arbitrary excess of the carnage serves a kind of larger purpose. It’s as if Fulci were destroying the flesh, burning it away in some alchemical process, in order to leave nothing behind but the spiritual essence of horror.
As far-fetched as this sounds, it works in concert with the intentionally fragmentary story line, which is almost devoid of plot development. Basically, once one of the dreaded Seven Doorways has been opened, Hell gradually encroaches on Earth, in ways the characters cannot begin to fathom. The lack of clear plot connections only increases the feeling of a Lovecraftian Crawling Chaos overwhelming life as we know it, until there is nowhere left for the characters to run, except into the bowels of Hell itself.
This finale, though obviously achieved on a low-budget, is nicely realized. With but a single set and a hazy effect above the skyline to imply an endless horizon, Fulci conveys an apparently infinite monotony of deserted nothingness; plus, the imagery comes full circle, dissolving back to a painting seen in the prologue, at last clarifying what the artist Schweik (Antoine Saint-John) was attempting to portray. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the characters who suffer this fate have done nothing to deserve it. (It’s not quite clear whether this Hell is personal experience only for the two leads or whether the entire world will soon follow.)

aldila.jpg
Emily, the blind prophet of doom

This is a film in which no power of Good presents itself, and there seems to be no way to stop the advent of Hell once the Gate has been opened. In an intriguing, climactic image, MacColl and Warbeck sport contact lenses similar to those worn by Antonella Interlenghi as the blind Emily. The apparent conclusion is that they have been struck blind; however, they are not acting as if blinded, but are continuing to stare at the Hellish landscape surrounding them. What is really happening? Earlier, Emily had made the cryptic statement that the blind “see things more clearly.” Perhaps her pupil-less eyes do not really signify blindness; perhaps this is what happens when one’s sight is blasted by a glimpse into The Beyond.
One small note of praise for the cast: In a film like this, not much is required of the actors in terms of characterization, so it helps to have some kind of inherent appeal or likability. Both Warbeck and MacColl fill the bill. Though hardly allowed to deliver tour-de-force performances, they nevertheless face the proceedings as seriously as possible, never descending into camp or winking at the audience (except for a memorable, briefly glimpsed joke, in which Warbeck pretends to reload his gun by dropping the bullets down the muzzle – a moment you’re likely to miss unless you’re looking for it, because an elevator door is closing in front of him).
Wretchedly mangled in its original U.S. release, THE BEYOND has long deserved a resurrection in restored form. I do not wish to extol the virtues of this film too loudly, because it is not perfect; in some ways, in fact, it holds up better on recollection than upon viewing, allowing the mind to free-associate between its disjointed elements. From this perspective, the film achieves an almost unique sense of metaphysical horror through its portrayal of disconnected, disastrous events beyond human control or understanding. THE BEYOND remains a graphic gore film that will put off squeamish viewers, but also it contains dark notions that are genuinely disconcerting.

TRIVIA

When first released in the United States, THE BEYOND was recut, rescored, and retitled as SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH. Most of the gore was removed, and the credits of the film were Americanized (e.g., the American distributor gave himself a producer credit, and director Lucio Fulci became “Luis Fuller”).
In 1998, Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder (a division of Dimension/Miramax) teamed with Grindhouse Releasing to distribute an uncut version of the film for midnight screenings in the U.S. This led to a subsequent laserdisc and DVD release of the restored version.

DVD DETAILS

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Click to purchase the Collector's Tin Box DVD.

Anchor Bay’s limited edition DVD, released in 2000, came in a metal, lunchbox-type tin that included six 5X7″ international poster replicas, plus a 48-page color booklet featuring photos and liner notes.
The film is presented in uncut widescreen, enhanced for 16X9 television screens. As a bonus chapter, there is a color version of the pre-credits sequence, as seen in Germany (the sequence is in sepia tones in other territories).
There are soundtrack options for English and Italian dialogue, plus an audio commentary by actors Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck that was recorded (for a planned laserdisc release) just weeks before Warbeck’s death from cancer in 1997. It’s a fairly lively and informative track.
Other bonus features on DVD includes an on-set interview with director Lucio Fulci; German, International, and U.S. trailers; a bad music video by Necrophagia that uses (and re-uses) footage from THE BEYOND; six galleries of stills, and more.
A separate, virtually identical DVD was released without the tin box packaging, booklet, and poster reproductions. After these two releases went out of print, a new edition was released in 2008, which added a section of bonus features entitled “Voices of the Beyond,” consisting of video interviews with cast and crew who had worked with director Lucio Fulci.

THE BEYOND (a.k.a. L’Aldila, 1981). Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Fulci, from a story by Sacchetti. Cast: Catriona MacColl (a.k.a. Katherine MacColl), David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar.

Copyright 1998 by Steve Biodrowski. This review (in altered form) originally appeared in Cinefantastique Magazine.

Sense of Wonder: Room 205 commentary by yours truly

Room 205 (a.k.a. KOLLEGIET [The College], 2007) 

A sense of decorum had engulfed me in a metaphorical Cone of Silence, preventing any unseemly self-promotion, but now it looks like the cat is out of the proverbial bag. A news item at Fangoria.com lists the details of eight upcoming DVDs that Lionsgate will be releasing on October 14 under their Ghost House Underground banner, including:

ROOM 205:

  • Audio commentary by director Martin Barnewitz and film critic Steve Biodrowski
  • Behind-the-scenes featurette

That’s right: after years of raging against “Access Journalism” (in which journalists lose objectivity by getting too cosy with their subjects), I am participating in an endeavor which will taint anything I write about the Danish horror film ROOM 205. Feel free to call me a hypocrite when you read my positive reaction to the film  (which I saw at Screamfest last year) and my interview with Barnewitz.
All joking aside, both the review and the interview were completed months before the subject of the audio commentary came up; the fact that I responded favorably led to my being asked to do the commentary, not the other way around. Consider this revelation as simply a “Full Disclosure,” to be taken into consideration when evaluating my coverage of the film.
Read details on the other DVDs below the fold. Read More