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HAUNTINGINCTDVDREVTHUMBOne of the prevalent (and, frankly, valid) criticisms of THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT upon its theatrical release earlier this year was one that has been leveled at many films of its ilk: to wit, why don’t the characters just leave the house when the scary things start happening? One of the commentary tracks on HAUNTING’s recently released DVD, the filmmakers offer an explanation that the movie itself does not: Because they can’t afford to.

That would seem to make HAUNTING rather timely given the current housing crisis, except that it’s “Based on True Events” that occurred a couple of decades ago. The initially uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking that those “true events” were the ones that took place in Amityville, as HAUNTING’s story follows the template of AMITYVILLE HORROR and countless similar features, with strange sounds, apparitions and incidents plaguing the Campbell family in their new dwelling, a period of doubt, a priest (played by Elias Koteas) attempting to help get to the bottom of the supernatural mystery, etc. The chief novelty, in both the real and reel cases, is that teenaged son Matt (played by Kyle Gallner) is suffering from cancer; his family has moved to the new digs to be closer to the hospital where he has been receiving treatment. There’s an attempt in Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe’s script to suggest that the weird things Matt witnesses in the basement room he has chosen as his bedroom are the products of his disease-addled mind, but the manifestations are too literal and too early for the audience to see them as anything but the genuine occult article.

hauntdvdThe direction of feature first-timer Peter Cornwell is, in fact, too on-the-nose in general, with plenty of sudden flash frames with accompanying loud noises and other tricks that are too familiar to build a sense of menace or tension. And while it’s plausible to suggest that the Campbells simply don’t have the money to flee and find another place to live, the issue is never actually addressed in the film, and the family comes to seem foolish for hanging around. This undercuts the sympathy built for Matt and his health crisis, which is more persuasive than the genre trappings and benefits from sympathetic performances by Gallner and Virginia Madsen as Matt’s determined mom.

Lionsgate’s special edition (which comes with a downloadable digital copy on a second disc) showcases a very fine-looking and –sounding transfer of the unrated director’s cut, in which the differences amount to brief bursts of bloodshed here and there, including a squirmy eyelid-slicing gag. The first of two audio commentaries, by Cornwell, Simon, producer Andrew Trapani and editor Tom Elkins, emphasizes their attempts to mix drama with the horror and maintain a realistic veneer, even as they justify the copious jump-scares as a way to “alter the physiology of the body” of the viewer. There’s plenty of technical detail and factoids (certain shadows-on-the-wall were actually cast by actors and crew at the beginning and end of takes, and spliced into scenes) and raves for the cast, including Koteas in a role which, we learn, was originally written for a much older man.

Two of those leads, Madsen and Gallner, join Cornwell for a second commentary that’s as breezy as the first is analytical, and a really fun listen. The director cedes most of the discussion to his stars, who have a lot of fun riffing on the movie while nostalgically looking back on the shoot. There are plenty of fun anecdotes and admissions (Madsen cops to being a scaredy-cat who flinches while watching a couple of the more startling bits), and a couple of amusing contradictions of the filmmakers’ track; they insist HAUNTING takes its time to get to the frightening stuff, while Madsen recalls how her teen son and his friends appreciated the fact that “the movie was scary right away.”

“Two Dead Boys: The Making of THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT” offers a few interesting looks behind the scenes, as production designer Alicia Keywan leads a video tour of the basement set and details of corpse creation are covered. The makeup FX team and others recount creepy real-life experiences they had during HAUNTING’s production, but the most eye-opening moment is Madsen’s statement that she and Koteas once “made a particularly bad film” in the genre, which can only refer to Gregory Widen’s superior THE PROPHECY.

A collection of deleted scenes shed a bit more light on the characters (and one, which you can see here,  has Gallner’s Matt setting a bit of light of his own), while the rest of the supplements tie into the “True Events” side of the movie’s appeal. “Anatomy of a Haunting” covers these kinds of events in general while “Memento Mori: The History of Postmortem Photography” puts an intriguing focus on the titular practice, but the most germane and intriguing of these extras is “The Fear Is Real: Reinvestigating the Haunting,” a two-part documentary by Daniel Farrands (also one of HAUNTING’s producers) about the case that inspired the feature. Examining the paranormal goings-on from the point of view of those who allegedly experienced them, those who investigated them and those who doubt them, it suggests a number of dramatic avenues that might have beneficially been explored in the movie itself.




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