Adventureland isn’t the only movie set in 1987 in our theaters right now. The second one is The Haunting in Connecticut, and even though its terrors are weak and in many cases laughable, the film pulled in unexpectedly large box-office numbers last weekend.
The film stars Virginia Madsen as Sarah Campbell, a mother of two whose teenage son, Matt (Kyle Gallner), is undergoing painful chemo treatments for his cancer at a hospital in Connecticut. The lengthy drive from the hospital to their home is draining both of them, so even though the family’s finances are stretched thin, Sarah decides to rent a Victorian house near the hospital until Matt recovers. Unfortunately, the spacious home is being rented out cheap because it used to be a funeral home where nefarious post-mortem activities went on. Soon all of the Campbells, but especially Matt, are experiencing visions and hallucinations.
The movie claims to be based on a true story, though it’s actually based on allegations by a family named Snedeker from Southington, Conn., whose tales of supernatural experiences were popularized in a 1992 novel by Ray Garton. The whole thing was full of crap. The Snedekers’ stories — which included family members’ being sodomized by Satan’s minions – were wildly inconsistent with one another, and Garton himself later disavowed the book, citing the family’s substance abuse problems.
So much for the real story. What about the movie itself? The filmmakers (novice director Peter Cornwell and old-hand writers Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe) make an honest attempt to portray a family under strain. Tension like this can be gold for a horror movie, and the actors – Madsen, Gallner, and Martin Donovan as Matt’s recovering-alcoholic dad – give performances worthy of much better material. However, the movie squanders them by not tying the scares to the domestic strife. When the father falls off the wagon and arrives at the house in a drunken rage, it should be as terrifying as any of the apparitions. Instead it just feels exploitative and cheap, and the insulting resolution of Matt’s illness (in a title card at the end, no less) feels even cheaper.
As for the supernatural stuff, some of the images here do strike a nerve, like the corpses with no eyelids and arcane symbols etched onto their bodies with a scalpel. Many more of them miss. At one point Matt is terrorized in a hospital waiting room when he hallucinates crabs crawling around him. Yes, crabs. Not even giant 20-foot monster crabs, which might be frightening, but little 6-inch crabs like the ones you might find on the beach. The movie’s climax has Matt witnessing a possessed boy (Erik J. Berg) vomiting ectoplasm during a séance that kills a bunch of people. Granted, scariness is a highly subjective thing for moviegoers, but the sight of a kid who’s puking, even if the puke is glowing and floating in mid-air, doesn’t scare me. Though The Haunting in Connecticut makes some token efforts to distinguish itself from the pack of ghost stories, they aren’t nearly enough.