61 Days of Halloween- The Haunting in Connecticut

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

It happens rarely but every once in a while a film will come along that not only has a great trailer, but lives up to the potential that its trailer promises. Such is the case of The Haunting in Connecticut, which is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in quite a long time. It may seem strange to begin the analysis of a film with its trailer; however, films more so than any other art form are inexorably linked to their marketing. Before the work itself can be discussed, a few more pieces of marketing must be quickly touched upon. First, the film’s MPAA rating, PG-13, which is generally the kiss of death in the horror genre. Just knowing a horror movie is rated PG-13 has deterred me from viewing the film. Fear not – blood and gore wouldn’t make this film better, it flat out works brilliantly without need for the violence, vulgarity, gore and gratuitous sexual content we come to expect from lesser works in the genre. Second, the film is “based on a true story.” If you know anything of that true story, as I do, please don’t expect a documentary, or even a faithful re-telling based on fact. I always take the assertion “based on a true story” with a grain of salt. The truths in this film are the circumstances surrounding the family’s life, their rental of a house that formerly served as a funeral home, and some of their supernatural experiences. However, the true story doesn’t allow for a tidy ending or a very linear plot, so liberties have been taken. Many things have been embellished or created, and all brilliantly executed.

Haunting is a film that excels on many levels. Most importantly it never forgets that drama is the foundation of all other genres and thus you must build characters and make the audience care about their problems. Not that these are the most complex or dynamic characters ever created, but they are developed enough such that we can engage and have an interest in their plight.

Another manner in which Haunting excels is its utilization of all the techniques at its disposal to create a chilling tale. Many weaker efforts in the genre only achieve scares with overly-loud effects. The entire soundtrack of Haunting is subtle and beautifully mixed allowing you to hear voices, footsteps, and rustling in parts of the house unseen. The sound levels are great. Sometimes you could barely hear what was going on, making your anxiety greater. The score is solid and highlights the fright. The editing not only allows for great jolts but also tells the story in a fascinating way cutting from the present to the past, seen and unseen, using L-Cuts (dialogue continuing from scene which is no longer being shown) to move the story along and quick cuts to black. There was a wonderful sense of symmetry, as several situations repeat themselves with different results, like the game of hide and seek for example.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is its relentlessness. It hardly if ever seeks to cut the tension but seeks to keep the baseline pretty high, leaving the audience anticipating the next jolt. And the jolts are fantastic. One was done with the clever use of misdirection. There appears to be a bird under the bed that we can’t see and as it is to be revealed the jolt comes from elsewhere, and it is purely visual. The film is very visual and uses its dialogue wisely.

The performances are spot on. Elias Koteas has never been better. It’s also Virginia Madsen’s best turn in the genre. I can’t say that Madsen’s performance in Candyman excels over Haunting because I understood this character better. Kyle Gallner is cast properly and plays his character perfectly.

I personally judge each movie on its own merit and take it for what it is, for example I will never say “Well, this was no Casablanca or Citizen Kane so I can’t give it such and such a grade” – that’s bunk. The Haunting in Connecticut makes no pretensions about what it is, and does its job incredibly well. It was the most transfixing horror movie experience from the beginning to end that I’ve had since The Exorcist re-release in 2000 so having said that I give The Haunting in Connecticut a score of 10/10.

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61 Days of Halloween: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

A Nightmare on Elm Street shares one, and likely only one, distinction with the film The Perfect Game. That distinction is that it excelled, for the most part, in elements that were new and unique to it and botched what it attempted to recreate. In the latter the recreations were from other sports films, in the former the recreations were from the original version of the film.

Perhaps the best thing this film has to offer is that it seemingly breaks new ground in belief in the horror film. One of the most tired clichés in the horror film is the fact that in the face of overwhelming evidence some characters just flat out refuse to believe that there’s something out of the ordinary happening, or as Buffalo Springfield would say “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Very quickly someone does believe the theory that it’s a nightmare come true. The majority do not believe right away but at least someone does, laying the foundation for the rest of the dominoes to fall.

What this film does casting-wise is unusual, it seems to subscribe to the theory of “Put your worst foot forward and kill it,” meaning that the first two characters focused on and killed (Kellen Lutz as Dean and Katie Fowles as Kris) are the worst actors in the film and thankfully those who receive the majority of the focus are progressively better.

Another positive is Kyle Gallner who carries this film in similar fashion to how he carried The Haunting in Connecticut. His sidekick Rooney Mara is also quite capable and a good sidekick in the film.

So, here comes a mandatory talking point: the CG. Most of the time it’s not great, not great at all. One of the things this film tried to recreate digitally was Freddy stretching through the wall. However, who would possibly want to get that in the can on set by using latex like they did in the 80s? Let’s spend money and use CG so Freddy can squirm all serpentine behind the wall and have it look totally bogus. Yes, bogus. I had to revert to 80s slang to communicate the ineffectiveness of the non-practical technique. Even when the CG was good, like when Kris could no longer fight that she was dreaming and the classroom around her exploded into ash, it only aided the film in going more over-the-top than it needed too.

The major knocks against this film will follow, and again, it’s a shame that they are big and many because it wastes a new interpretation of a now classic character. By having a new actor fill the role of Krueger in such a different way it proves that the character does have as much elasticity and room for creativity as the Joker in Batman. Jackie Earle Haley plays Freddy in a much more straightforward manner and less comedically than Robert Englund, making him more effective in this viewer’s opinion. His performance aside there were sadly some character issues with Krueger.

This film, while it does try to make Freddy a more straightforward and scary version than in the past – most noticeably by giving him a more realistically burned appearance than his prior incarnation, managed to both soften and coarsen him simultaneously. The coarsening was in his dialogue and mainly his diction. It’s a more foul-mouthed, blunt and disgusting Freddy. Apparently, his being a child molester isn’t enough anymore and to push the envelope he has to talk about it some. The way in which he was softened, however, is that he is only now, in death, a killer. His victims were all allowed to live. What was wrong with having him be a ghost-like entity who was still seeking to wreak havoc because he’d been killed by a mob is beyond me. The fact that while alive he didn’t kill one of the children he harmed does give Freddy more motivation, but we’re not dealing with the most plausible concept to begin with so that justification hardly needs addressing and does create a logic flaw in the past, mainly being why would a psychopath think the kids wouldn’t talk?

While there is more to Freddy’s back-story, which is new and good to see because it was a compelling and chilling part of the tale, it created and contributed to the number of issues with logic this film has. Examples of logic flaws include: Nancy at one point sings the “Freddy Song” yet never really follows it up or wonders why she knows it, yet she has repressed other kinds of memories, so what purpose does it serve? Jesse, aptly played by Thomas Dekker, is arrested way too quickly it’s almost like a Reichstag fire situation and aside from lacking credibility it hurts the story. The line “Who can remember being five?” stands out as being quite lazy on a few accounts, firstly, it’s clear Dr. Holbrook (Connie Britton) is hiding something and is not pressed about it and, second, even if I buy that these kids all repressed memories of what happened to them (which is easy to believe), the film also wants me to believe they all stayed in the same town and now almost all go to the same high school and don’t remember having known each other? Also, while the factoid about insomniacs experiencing micro-naps is a good touch and an added suspense element, as then one won’t realize they’re dreaming, it’s repeated ad nauseum in dialogue to make sure we remember the fact. Similarly, the allusion to the Pied Piper of Hamelin is duly noted but has no effect whatsoever on the story and is clumsily done. If the reference was to be fit in why not have Krueger read it to the kids?

Perhaps the biggest logic flaw, which is also the biggest argument for the fact that for some reason they also sought to soften Krueger, is the fact that at one point Quentin (Gallner) doubts Krueger’s guilt. Quentin’s contention is that it’s mass hysteria and they all made it up and were instantly believed, which in a post-McMartin Trial world is a legitimate enough point to address as it wouldn’t be the first false accusation of its kind. The problem is that there is no moment of decision for the character and it’s not even debated it shifts immediately from “this happened” to “we lied” with nothing in between. And only their continued investigation into how to rid themselves of Krueger proves otherwise.

So, here you have a film in which not only is Krueger not a murderer until after his death but you also have his victims believing that he may not have been guilty in the first place. It is not something that increases his villainy. What then is the point of having his absolute evil doubted? Is it armchair psychological reassurance to those who identify, however loosely, with Krueger that it’s OK because he’s not that bad? It seems unlikely but whether people want to admit it or not there is some level of identification felt with an antagonist. As Hitchcock and Truffaut discuss in an interview talking about Psycho there is a degree of that identification in that film and hence a slasher film such that the longer a franchise goes the more the villain is the star and the less you want to see him toppled. Ultimately, it just seems like another unusual decision which muddles the film.

Putting a more human face on Fred Krueger does not make him scarier. Having Jackie Earle Haley play him and not Robert Englund does but all of that is rendered nearly pointless by the rewrite of the character.

An examination of the back-story of A Nightmare on Elm Street was something I wanted to see. What it had the potential of is to intensify the fear because you more readily understand the evil. What should be sought from a more intimate portrait of the cinematic psychopath is not a softer, cuddlier interpretation of what it is he did, by having it be doubted and thus stripping it of its visceral impact, but a closer examination of it.

This very type of close examination was exactly what the Halloween remake did succeed in. It may or may not have crossed every T and dotted every I with regards to why Michael Myers became the way he was but it gave you a true, no-holds-barred glimpse of who he was before he was legend. It didn’t rewrite a history it enhanced a history, and that is what this film had the opportunity to do but it failed.


3/10