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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A review of Haunted

Haunted, 1995, British, color, 108 minutes, Zoetrope Films. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. Based on a novel by James Herbert. Starring Aidan Quinn as David Ash, Kate Beckinsale as Christina Mariell, Anthony Andrews as Robert Mariell, John Gielgud as Dr. Doyle, Alex Lowe as Simon Mariell, Victoria Shalet as Juliet Ash and Anna Massey as Nanny Tess Webb. Schlock-Meter rating: Nine stars out of 10.

This is a very spooky, fun ghost story with twists and turns that will leave most viewers guessing. It's based on a popular novel by British author James Herbert, who is as famous in Britain as Stephen King is in America. Here's the plot: Famed psychologist David Ash (Quinn) enjoys debunking mediums and rumors of ghosts. This may be because Ash refuses to accept that many years earlier, he saw a manifestation of his dead twin sister after she drowned in an accident. Seeking material for a book, he amuses himself by accepting an invitation from a frightened elderly woman (Massey) to kick out some ghosts who are in her home, which is a huge mansion near the white cliffs of Dover. As soon as Ash arrives he meets three adult siblings (Andrews, Beckinsale and Lowe). They're an odd but charming trio, oftentimes acting more like children. Nevertheless, Ash begins to feel a strong attraction for the sister, Christina Mariell, played by future star Kate Beckinsale.

There's no gore in this film, but it's as spooky as The Others and nearly as terrifying as the classic The Haunted. As time passes, Ash witnesses several supernatural encounters that force him to revise his earlier theories. He appears to be no help to his poor client (Massey), who lives in terror within the house. Although Ash's romance with the beautiful Christina intensifies, the brothers become more cold, and Ash also witnesses several strong hints of incest between Christina and the oldest brother Robert (Andrews). The home also appears isolated at times, except for occasional visits from a kindly country doctor (Gielgud) in a marvelous small role.

It would be a crime to give away the ending in this review, but rest assured it packs a powerful punch. To survive, Ash must reach deep back into the past of his life and seek help from someone he's trying to forget about. Quinn gives a marvelous performance as he tries to deal with a horror he's always scorned. Beckinsale radiates sensuality (note to her fans, the nude scenes are with a double). Finally, Massey literally looks like an old woman who has been scared so badly that she has become a walking corpse, just waiting to die. By all means, buy it or rent it, and make sure you watch it after dark. A second viewing provides fun in counting plot clues missed the first time.

-- Doug Gibson

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