The Haunting in Connecticut (Blu-ray)
Film Length: 102 minutes/92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1; French DD 5.1 (theatrical cut only)
Subtitles: English SDH; English; Spanish
Disc Format: 1 50GB + 1 DVD-5 (digital copy)
Theatrical Release Date: Mar. 27, 2009
Blu-ray Release Date: July 14, 2009
Haunted house films have been done so often that they're almost self-defeating. What can anyone
bring to the formula that's new? Jan de Bont's ill-fated 1999 remake of the classic The Haunting
demonstrated that CGI alone was not enough to scare an audience, and we've known since The
Amityville Horror that the mere claim that a movie is "based on a true story" adds nothing to the
fear. So the marketing campaign for The Haunting in Connecticut, which stressed the story's
roots in reality, wasn't especially effective, and the film came and went quickly.
Which is too bad, because, as genre films go, it's pretty good. It's well-crafted and features
talented lead actors who are allowed the room to give credible performances, an essential
element so often missing from genre films. Although any experienced film watcher will
recognize elements lifted from dozens of other films (The Shining, The Exorcist and Poltergeist
are obvious sources), there's nothing wrong with creative borrowing if the borrowed elements are
well-used, and they are.
(Note: This disc had an unusually long start-up time, even on my Panasonic BD-50, which
normally loads BD-J encoded discs pretty quickly, though not as fast as the PS3. This may have
something to do with the downloadable content, which is further discussed under Special
In 1987, the Campbell family rents a house in upstate Connecticut so that their son Matt can be
close to the hospital where he is receiving experimental radiation therapy for cancer. (Matt is
played by a well-cast Kyle Gallner, well-known to fans of Veronica Mars as the younger
Casablancas brother, and to fans of The Shield as Lloyd the fledgling serial killer.) Already
distraught over their son's dire medical condition, his parents Sara (Virginia Madsen) and Peter
(Martin Donovan) grow even more concerned when Matt begins to exhibit odd behavior. They
have been warned that the treatment may produce hallucinations, in which case the therapy will
have to be abandoned. Matt is well aware of this proviso, which makes him reluctant to tell his
parents about the strange figures that keep appearing to him and the strange visions he keeps
experiencing that seem to be a window into the house's past.
Matt does eventually share some of his experiences with his cousin Wendy (Amanda Crew), who
lives with the family along with her younger brother and sister. This allows for the expository
sequence, essential in every supernatural film, in which the history behind the haunting is
researched and revealed. Further insight will ultimately be provided by a mysterious reverend
that Matt meets at the hospital; he is played by Elias Koteas, with his customary sinister elan. But
it is Matt himself who must eventually confront the dark forces inhabiting the house, and after
many lead-up encounters, including attacks on other family members, he does just that in an
elaborate concluding sequence where past and present merge.
Virginia Madsen anchors the film emotionally, just as her character holds the family together.
(There are tensions between Sara and Peter, who is a recovering alcoholic.) In this respect,
Madsen's performance recalls that of Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist, an admittedly superior film
but one that owes much of its staying power to the emotional gravitas of its lead performances.
Madsen is able to lend a similar weight to The Haunting in Connecticut, which is makes it more
than just a series of mechanical shocks. She is assisted by Gallner, whose ability to play tortured
youth has been well-established (he is currently working on the remake of A Nightmare on Elm
Street). Elias Koteas, of course, adds a compelling touch of weirdness to almost anything he
The film is presented in both its PG-13 and unrated versions, and according to IMDb there is a
ten-minute difference. No listing of the differences is given, and I did not attempt a comparison,
preferring instead to watch only the unrated version, as all viewers of this disc will surely do. To
get some idea of the changes, though, just compare the opening titles. In the unrated version, old
photographs of strange-looking people are intercut with gruesome close-ups of surgical
procedures and copious amounts of blood. In the PG-13 version, those close-ups have been
shortened and, more importantly, they're in black and white, so that the gore is only suggested.
Since even the unrated version contains no sex or problematic language, gore was obviously the
only element that had to be trimmed.
I did not see the film theatrically, but I can't imagine it looked any better than this Blu-ray. The
2:35:1 transfer is exceptionally crisp and detailed, with solid blacks and subtle color
differentiations, which are important in separating the past from the present as Matt's reality
shifts between them. The numerous scenes set in a mortuary are delivered with stomach-churning
accuracy, as are the scenes of Matt's treatment (a touch that director Cornwell admits borrowing
from The Exorcist - medical procedures being one of the scariest experiences shared by many
audience members). I did not detect any signs of grain reduction or edge enhancement.
Haunted house movies are always fun for sound designers, because they're not constrained by
physical reality. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 track delivers an immersive experience filled with rattles,
groans, shrieks, rumbles, scuttling, flapping wings, burning flames - you name it, and it's
probably in there somewhere. This is a track for folks who want to hear something from every
speaker. Fidelity is consistently excellent.
Commentary by director Peter Cornwell, producer Andy Trapani, writer Adam Simon and
editor Tom Elkins (unrated version only). As one might expect from this group, the discussion
is about the history of the production and the mechanics of mounting it. To the extent one is
interested in digging into these subjects, it is a worthwhile commentary.
Commentary by director Peter Cornwell and actors Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner
(unrated version only). By far the more entertaining of the two commentaries, this track
benefits from Madsen's charm and good humor. She takes her work seriously, but not herself,
going so far as to point out a scene in which her thickening belly betrayed the pregnancy of
which she was in the early stages during the shoot and describing the steps necessary to
camouflage it. Madsen and Gallner enjoy a good rapport, and it enlivens the track.
Two Dead Boys: The Making of "The Haunting in Connecticut" (14:36). A standard EPK,
mostly interviews with the principals. Again, Madsen is the most enjoyable subject. At one point
she refers to an unhappy experience she shared with Elias Koteas working on another
supernatural thriller, which she doesn't name. Alert viewers will identify it as The Prophecy.
The Fear is Real: Reinvestigating the Haunting (41:46). Interviews with members of the family
on whom the film is based, as well as neighbors of the Connecticut house where the haunting
took place. There is at least some suggestion in the interviews that odd occurrences attach to the
family as much as the house, and since the documentary opens with a disclaimer that certain
names have been changed to protect the privacy of people who chose not to participate, it is
difficult to evaluate the documentary's veracity. In the age of reality TV, "reality" isn't what it
used to be.
Anatomy of a Haunting (12:17). Interviews with a Ph.D. and parapsychologist on the
characteristics of haunted houses. I freely confess that my attention wandered.
Memento Mori: The History of Post Mortem Photography (10:59). This is one of the strangest
and creepiest extras I've ever encountered. It provides an overview of the nineteenth century
convention of photographing the dead to create mementos (framed portraits, lockets, etc.),
explains how this practice was related to funerary customs of the era, and describes how it fell
out of favor in the twentieth century. Color me grateful.
Deleted scenes (w/optional director commentary) (8:32). Presented in 1:78:1, these are brief
scenes that were cut either for pacing or because they involved other family members too directly
and too early in the ghostly enounters.
Trailers. The theatrical trailer is included, as are trailers for My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Eye
and Cabin Fever. The latter three also play at startup, but can be skipped with the chapter button.
LG Live. This is Lionsgate's version of BD Live. If your player is connected to the internet, the
disc will check for updates at startup and give you the option to download them. I recommend
declining, as this will add further delay to an already lengthy startup process. As of the date of
this review, the online content consists of (a) downloadable "gadgets" that display your local
time, temperature and headlines about upcoming Lionsgate features over the main menu (these
can be toggled on and off individually, or together with the red button); and (b) online trailers, of
which the only one so far is for Gamer.
I don't want to oversell The Haunting in Connecticut. In the end, it's no more than a genre
potboiler. But it's a good one, and those aren't common these days.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Velodyne HGS-10 sub
Edited by Michael Reuben - 7/20/2009 at 04:41 pm GMT
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