I watched The Haunting in Connecticut last week, and unfortunately the film reminded me how Hollywood ruins a good ghost story.
Set in the mid-eighties, the movie follows the alleged experiences of the Campbells, a family that buys a home in Connecticut in an effort to be nearer the facility treating their son, Matt, for cancer. Tired of hauling the ailing teen long trips to the hospital, mom finds a deal on a local house that seems too good to be true.
And of course it is, and the building has a dark history, and this is fine, because otherwise, there would be no story. It’s also fine — in principle — that the film says it is “based on a true story”.
What isn’t fine is what it does to that story.
Instead of relaying the effects of the brooding, evil presence that the real-life family — the Parkers — claimed haunted them, the film decides to play plug-in-the-gaps. Basically, the story falls prey to Hollywood’s addiction to answering every conceivable question the audience might generate. And this is how so many great ghost stories are screwed up by adaptation.
It’s not enough to leave things unexplained. It’s not enough to have the malevolent forces at work in the home go unnamed. Not only do the film’s creators insist on doing all of this, they drag the audience along through a biographical segment of fake, microfiche-elaborated background.
This cheapens the horror and turns it into an experience akin to hanging out with a haunted house performer. How scared would you be the next time you went through the turnstile?
Of course, this wouldn’t have happened without Hollywood cynicism. And in a way, it’s hard to fault them. They know a large portion of the audience wants everything spelled out. So what we get are these movies where the ambience and unknown of the source material gets butchered in order to provide an explanation for every wonderous, previously-unknown, effective aspect of horror.
The same thing happened in 2005’s An American Haunting. The story of the Bell Witch was completely sacrificed in the name of throwing together a convoluted supernatural mystery. Even Sissy Spacek couldn’t save that train wreck.
Years ago, Discovery Channel, of all things, ran a docuseries called “A Haunting” and played, for their pilot episode, the unfiltered, unaltered tale of what took place in Connecticut all those years ago. What was presented was raw, dark, perplexing, and so powerful it probably left everyone that saw it second-guessing any disbelief in demonic activity.
But here, Hollywood took over. And what was left wasn’t horror. What the viewer gets is a bad haunted house.