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Truth, Evil, Goodness Make Horror Flick Compelling

March 26, 2009
By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Movies about haunted houses are as much a tradition in Hollywood as scary stories are to childhood sleepovers.

Tinseltown’s latest spooky flick, though, “The Haunting in Connecticut,” has something different to offer. It’s true, and that ups the terror ante.

Different also is the way the characters relate to each other and how the audience finds something more meaningful than in a typical scream fest. The authenticity of the plotlines makes the film a truly compelling watch.

To gain insight into the background of the movie, I talked to the woman who lived through the frightening ordeal, Carmen Reed. Her description of onscreen details and the role that her faith played in the real life turn of events can be heard by going to the Newsmax entertainment page and clicking on the video

Veteran actress Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”) plays Sara Campbell. The beleaguered mom is dealing with some very tough challenges that life has thrown her way.

Kyle Gallner (“Smallville”) plays Sara’s teenage son, Matt, the central character of the story. Matt has been diagnosed with cancer, and the disease is slowly taking his life.

Martin Donovan plays Sara’s husband, a recovering alcoholic.

As the audience quickly finds out, Sara has picked the wrong piece of real estate to lease for her family. She rents a somewhat run-down home, despite the fact that it’s a creepy place and needs some TLC, because it’s priced right and, more importantly, it’s located near the medical facility where her son is receiving experimental cancer treatment.

The house looks the part of a candidate for all kinds of spooky phenomena — a large, old, rural, East Coast Victorian structure.

Very soon after moving in to the home, Matt begins to see ghostly apparitions. Matt is the only one who sees the specters, so none of the other characters senses the evil.

In the beginning, his family, his doctors, and Matt himself assume he’s suffering from hallucinations because of his worsening condition.

His family encounters the enigmatic Reverend Popescu, a pastor who intensely perceives the evil and warns the family. He, too, suffers from cancer.

As the reverend explains to Matt, “We live in the valley of the shadow of death . . . with a foot in each world.”

Matt begins to believe that his experiences are not hallucinations but rather, that he is able to see and hear those who are in the spirit world because his condition renders him closer to death’s door.

As a clue to the developing back story, the Campbells stumble upon an embalming chamber and assortment of photographs of corpses. It turns out that the origin of the manifestations in the house is linked to ghastly incidents that occurred in the 1920s, when the home was used as a funeral parlor.

Matt ultimately deciphers the mysteries raised in the subplot, with the assistance of Reverend Popescu and the spirit of Jonah, the deceased psychic son of the then-funeral home owner.

As is typical of the genre, “Haunting” has its share of clichés: menacing-sounding soundtrack, abrupt apparitions, obscurely lighted sets, and nasty undead. But even clichés oftentimes are scary.

However, what really pushes “Haunting” high above the average Hollywood horror fare is that the film takes place in a world of incredible evil and overwhelming goodness — a place where hopelessness and hope tread side by side, where the better angel ultimately takes the lead and where the lamp of faith chases away the darkness.

True story.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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