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IN SHORT: A scream. For all the reasons. [Rated [PG-13]. 117 minutes.]
For those of you too young to remember The Exorcist first hand, here's a real life recollection. First time out, the very young pre-Cranky settled in with a bunch of friends and a couple of huge tubs of popcorn -- and this was back when you still got real butter, which means I'm probably due for a heart attack any minute now -- and was scared silly. Second time out, same setting, same friends, someone in the theater started laughing at Linda Blair's antics on the screen. Once that happened, the theater rocked with laughter for the rest of the show.
Which brings us to Jan De Bont's The Haunting, which invokes so many horror film clichés that you can't help yourself from laughing out loud.
Three guinea pigs are brought to Hill House to participate in what they think is a test of sleeping disorders, conducted by Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson), who really just wants to watch what happens when they're all scared silly by scary stories in a big spooky house. They are 1) Eleanor (Lili Taylor), a quiet sensitive girl who has lived in servitude to her dying mother for the previous eleven years. Now that mom is dead, her sister is selling off the apartment and putting her out on the street. 2) Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a bisexual artist whose taste in clothing had the audience in stitches <insert rimshot here>. 3) Luke (Owen Wilson), a wise cracking blonde guy who you just know isn't going to make it to the end of the flick.
This merry band is locked in tight, chains and padlocks on the gates, every night by caretaker (Bruce Dern) and his wife (Marian Seldes) who live nine miles away, in town, where no one will come to help you, where no one can hear you scream and no one will come to help you. At night. You get the idea 'cuz you've heard all the clichés before. Cranky thought, having tremendously enjoyed De Bont's Speed and Twister, that the director was setting us up for a slam it down your throat scare in the last act. He might've been able to pull it off had the script made any sense, which it doesn't.
The scary story goes like this: 19th century textile magnate Hugh Crane and his wife Renee never had children. Mrs. Crane committed suicide after a number of still births drove her batty. Hugh kept building additions to his mansion, to house the children he would never have. In the present, Nell finds a book listing Hugh's workers and hundreds of crossed out entries of children who died. She follows bloody baby footprints in the halls and finds skulls buried beneath the fireplace. She starts raving about a woman named Caroline, Hugh's second wife.
How she knows there was a second wife, since we're told there wasn't one, is not based in anything factual, but she says it enough times that becomes real. This little revelation means that Caroline was her great-grandmother (though twenty minutes Hugh is just plain grandpa, so you figure that out. To me, it's patently ridiculous).
Finally, in the last half hour, De Bont unleashes the effects. They are very cool looking, but carry little weight 'cuz the story has not built up to a terror of epic proportions. I could make you a list of stupendously funny dialog lines in this last section, and still wouldn't be able to tell you if the joke was supposed to be there, or if it was a coincidence of dumb line and worse acting.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Haunting, he would have paid...
Blair Witch Project bored the snot out of me but it got $1 for effort. This buck is for the effects and the inadvertent jollies. Both should be passed by.
28 Weeks Later
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