I'd been warned.
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I'd read the critics, heard the water cooler chatter, even browsed the epinions. "Stay away!" they howled like banshees. "Stay far away from this movie!"
But I was like the last remaining member of the Slaughterhouse Slumber Party cast who goes to the basement door, tries the light switch, finds the power's been cut, peers down the dark stairwell, calls out, "Is anybody down there?", then goes into the dark basement anyhow.
In short, I rented The Haunting.
How could I help myself? Maybe I'm just addicted to Bad Cinema; maybe I just like seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones in a bustier; maybe there was just nothing else on the video store shelves. Or maybe, like the ill-fated basement explorer, I just had to see for myself.
Well, I survived. Barely. Now I can add my howl to the other banshees: "Avoid The Haunting!"
It isn't even Bad Modern Cinema--it's a throwback to the B.C. of the 1970s. In The Haunting, films like The Amityville Horror and Burnt Offerings are resurrected in all their evil-house-tries-to-eat-occupants glory. For good measure, the King of 70s B.C., Bruce Dern, gets a cameo as the caretaker who gets to warn the others, "Stay away," etc.
The plot (much as I could make sense of it): a troubled spinster (Lili Taylor) answers a classified ad that reads something like this: "Trouble Sleeping? We're looking for insomniacs for a sleep disorder study. Report to creepy old mansion on the hill." Little does she know, the insomnia bit is actually a ruse, placed by a brilliant but misguided psychology professor (Liam Neeson) who wants to study the effects of fear on a group of average folks. Ahem, "average" in the cliched movie character sense: the innocent virgin (Miss Taylor), the sluttish wiseacre (Miss Zeta-Jones) and the guy who can't choose between the two (Owen Wilson). There's also two other characters who get about three lines of dialogue before they're sent back into town and never heard from again.
Once Bruce Dern locks the gates and seals the fear-study folks into the mansion, the (slight) fright begins. The house is a set designer's Art Deco dream gone wild (one character calls it "a cross between Charles Foster Kane and The Munsters"). There are plenty of carved statues, huge fireplaces and paintings like the ones in Scooby Doo where the eyes always seem to follow you. As the insomniacs wander the miles of hallways, the house starts to give off chills and thrills, courtesy of the special effects wizards. Carvings come to life, curtains billow and the floorboards creak (actually, it sounds like the mansion has a really bad case of indigestion).
To its credit, the beginning of The Haunting is atmospherically creepy, the special effects are top-notch and there is at least one come-out-of-your-seat-and-yelp moment. But the movie soon gets lost in an incoherent gothic ghost story which makes even less sense the more I think about it. The Haunting is, ultimately, only for die-hard devotees of Bad Horror Cinema. The rest of us shouldn't even go into the dark basement.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
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