Haunting in Connecticut, The (DVD / Blu-ray)
Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Elias Koteas, Amanda Crew
Directed by Peter Cornwell
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Any buff of the paranormal should be well acquainted with the Snedeker case that was the basis for this film. In truth it's nothing short of a harrowing story whether you believe it or not. For those not in the know, let us run down the details for you.
Virginia Madesen plays Sara Campbell, the matriarch of a family that's being torn apart at the very seams. Her eldest son, Matt (Gallner), is suffering from cancer and is very close to knocking on death's door. Each day Sara and Matt travel from New York to Connecticut so that the boy can get the proper treatment, and depending on Matt's condition this process could take hours. Finally, to circumvent these pressing issues and avoid the drive, they decide to move closer. Sara comes across a house that's too good to be true. It's big, close to the hospital, but most of all -- it's affordable. Little does she know that it used to be a funeral parlor, and its former residents have far from moved on.
There ends the lion's share of the actual facts from the case depicted on film. Don't get me wrong; there are some things that supposedly happened in the house that made it into the film, but overall the majority of what's found here is sensationalized for the movie-watching audience to enjoy for some surprisingly effective scares.
Though I would have preferred to see more of the actual events brought to the screen, director Peter Cornwell does an admirable job of telling a really spooky tale concerning a family dealing with some monstrous goings-on. Beyond the horror, of which there is plenty, what really sells this flick is the performances of the actors. For this movie or any movie like it to work, you have to be able to care about the characters. The family struggle has to be the focal point. The heart of the tale. We get that in spades. From Madsen all the way down to the bit players, everyone turns in some really good stuff.
In terms of the scares I was fairly impressed. The Haunting in Connecticut doles out some interesting imagery that, dare I say it, even has a little of that good old fashioned Fulci flavor we grew up loving. There's lots of eye damage, and even the look of the spectres will conjure fond memories of his masterpiece The Beyond. This unrated cut is also a bit gooier than its theatrical cousin, and despite a few shortcomings such as pacing issues and story hitches here and there, The Haunting in Connecticut is a rock solid, completely competent ghost story that's perfect for those of you seeking a disturbing evening at home.
If you own a Blu-ray player, there's no doubt which package to buy. In high-definition this flick and its plentiful bonus features are nothing short of stunning to look at. Blacks are solid and deep, and the colors have an amazing amount of pop to them. The Blu-ray's 7.1 DTS Master Audio track is a thumpy, creaky slice of haunted house goodness that will give your home theatre system one hell of a workout. The DVD looks and sounds good as well, but honestly there's no comparison here.
Both packages do, however, feature identical special features, and that should make you guys really happy because they are fucking amazing. Things kick off with two audio commentaries -- one with director Peter Cornwell, co-writer Adam Simon, producer Andrew Trapani, and editor Tom Elkins and the other with Cornwell and actors Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner. While they both offer something different, the nod here must go to the one featuring the actors. It's just a bit more warm and engaging.
The first featurette Two Dead Boys: The Making-of The Haunting in Connecticut is a nearly fifteen-minute long behind-the-scenes look at the film that's pretty much exactly what you think it is. No surprises there, but next up? Strap in for a heaping helping of the spooky! The two-part documentary The Fear is Real: Re-Investigating the Haunting is probably one of the best examinations of the paranormal I've seen. In it the Snedeker family, including Carmen the mother and her two sons Bradley and Alan, reflect back on the events in that house. Yet, we don't just get their side of the story. We also get to hear from neighbors and family friends who are as skeptical as anyone could be of their claims.
This allows us, the viewers, to make up our own minds about what happened there, and most importantly the experience never comes off feeling kitschy like so many other similar programs do. The interviews are thoughtful and thought-provoking with lots of eye candy in terms of Argento-esque lighting and even a few eerie re-enactments. There's also a completely surreal moment during Carmen's interview in which something odd and unexpected happens. I'm not going to give it away, but I expect people will be talking about it once they see it. Really, really good and unnerving stuff.
Moving on we find the near eleven-minute featurette Memento Mori: The History of Post Mortem Photography, which focuses on a really strange period in our history in which people thought it to be absolutely okay to dress up the dead, in some cases paint eyes on their eyelids, and prop them up to take pictures with them. Seriously ... what ... the ... fuck? The word macabre doesn't even cut it. Finally we come to the last featurette, the thirteen-minute Anatomy of a Haunting, which features Barry Taff, PhD, and psychic Jack Rourke offering their views on what may cause a haunting to occur. Discussed are this case and even the famed haunting that inspired The Entity.
The supplemental material winds down with several deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Cornwell that offer a bit more ghostly goodness, the theatrical trailer, and a digital copy so that you can take this puppy with you on the go. All in all this is some of the best extras work I've seen in a long time. Dan Farrands (who also served as producer on the film) and company have put together quite the package. Bravo.
The Haunting in Connecticut, while far from perfect, still manages to deliver everything you could want from a ghost story, and unless DreamWorks finally gets off its ass and releases Paranormal Activity, it's a strong candidate to be the best one we'll be seeing all year. Recommended.
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