Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Haunted (1991)

Title: The Haunted
Year: 1991 (Made-for-TV)
Director: Robert Mandel

Those of us that grew up in the 70s and 80s have fond memories of made-for-television movies and there were even some great horror ones like Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Salem's Lot, Don't be Afraid of the Dark, This House Possessed and many more. I missed 1991's The Haunted when it originally aired (apparently it still has no DVD release) but caught it recently on cable. It begins with the Smurl family [father Jack (Jeffrey DeMunn), mother Janet (Sally Kirkland), their daughters (there would eventually be four), and Jack's elderly parents] moving into their new home. Janet and the grandmother are the first to experience the antics of the house's smoky poltergeist but soon enough priests, demonologists, gawkers, and reporters arrive on the scene and turn the household upside down.

The tv-budget level effects in The Haunted are quite well executed and actually wouldn't be much out of place in a theatrical release of the period. The obligatory scenes of objects and bodies flying around are well shot and the physical manifestation of the demon haunting the Smurls, a swirling column of black smoke that can speak, pass through walls, and even leave the house altogether, is much more chill inducing than it probably had any right to be. The eerie effect of the haunting is enhanced by the fact that sound is used with great restraint in the movie. Cold silence, rather than wailing or shrieking or any kind of nonsense like that, creates considerable unease in the viewer. The movie does have a very weird rape scene, weird in that Jack is the victim and the attacker switches in the middle of the act almost comically from young female seductress of sorts to fat bearded man in terrible makeup. You definitely didn't see that every day on 1990s primetime television, horror movie or otherwise!

As one expects in made-for-tv material, there's a large dose of family drama to go with the haunting but it's not at all excessive, the content leaning heavily toward the horror elements. Thankfully, Jack's initial skepticism doesn't drag on at length either. In terms of other characters in the movie, of particular note are the famous paranormal investigators/demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were recently introduced to a new generation of genre enthusiasts in the runaway hit film The Conjuring. In The Haunted, the Warrens are brought in to help the family but they disappear from the story pretty quickly and don't return on camera.  The ending is abrupt, cutting to black and closing with an expository intertitle explaining what finally happened to the family and their unwelcome friend.

If left wanting for anything, the movie really skimps on the backgrounds of the haunting entities (according to the Warrens, one demon and three ghosts).  Much of the fun surrounding any haunted house or poltergeist movie is the backstory reveal and there just isn't much of one in The Haunted. Janet makes a trip to the library for research but only discovers a brief snippet about a long ago mine collapse below the house lot.  That's a fairly minor complaint, though.  If you can catch it on cable, it's definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 5/10

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