Friday, November 2, 2012

A Haunting In Conne--er, Salem

“From the director of Paranormal Entity” isn’t generally considered a selling point for your film…unless your audience is Emily Intravia. Hence, we enter:

Quick Plot: After an apparently set-in-the-past prologue that gives us a slaughtered family, we flash forward to present day Salem. Sheriff Down has recently been hired with the added bonus of moving his brood into a gorgeously historic (and naturally haunted) house that just might definitely be located over the burial ground for the 19 hanged alleged witches of those infamous 1692 trials.

It doesn’t take more than a day or two for ominous signs to reveal themselves. After finding some hair clogs in the drain and dead crows on the floor, things start to get a tad more intense. Older daughter Ali receives creepy instant messages, while dad’s PTSD resurfaces to turn him into a major jerk. His much hotter wife can do nothing but watch, while teen son…well, we can kind of forget he exists until plot demands we remember.

Directed by Asylum stalwart Shane Van Dyke, A Haunting In Salem falls into a very particular class of straight-to-DVD horror. Much like Van Dyke’s previous better-than-it-should’ve-been Paranormal Entity (yes, you read that right), the film is far more capably made than the typical Megasharktopusacondas you might find floating on Titanic 2. Other reviews might be quick to deride the acting, but the performances are perfectly fine for the material and believe it or not, A Haunting In Salem actually has a few impressive scares.

Yes, we have the token grizzly man child caretaker spewing out predictable lines about the house’s history, but there’s also a nifty surprise suicide from an unlikely source and a few jumps that are timed just right. Is the movie anything special? No. Having recently watched another haunted house indie, Lovely Molly, it's hard to say A Haunting In Salem is worthwhile. Where Lovely Molly took the tried and true demonic possession trope and gave it a unique spin, A Haunting In Salem treads almost no new territory and doesn't necessarily conquer the old. 

In a word that's not a word, A Haunting In Salem is aight (I hope that came across with the same kind of Wire accent it had in my head). Better than it could have been but only if your expectations are low. And if you're skimming through Netflix Instant Watch and stop upon a haunted house movie made by the man responsible for Titanic 2, I imagine they are.

High Notes
People were quick to deride Paranormal Entity for its brand name, but when I look at that film next to this one, I think it's clear that Van Dyke is a more than capable filmmaker when it comes to delivering competent horror moments

Low Notes
The problem with a fairly briskly paced film like A Haunting In Salem is that it gives us virtually no time to connect with a single character. The teen daughter has a computer; the son plays baseball; mom is a hot mom and dad looks like an average man who was accidentally put into a dryer. I have no reason to care about a single one.

Lessons Learned
Big ol’ houses come with ghost stories (and a lot of leftover hair)

You can’t have your civic forefathers execute 19 people without getting some kind of a reputation

Slapping a man’s face after he tumbles out the third story window will not bring him back from the dead...or WILL it?

I don’t know who to recommend A Haunting In Salem to, but that doesn’t make it a total waste. The script is neither original nor tight, but the end result works better than it should, even if the film doesn’t tread new ground nor quite land on its own. I guess this is good for those just looking for some haunted house fun. It's passable channel surfing fodder and currently on Netflix Instant.

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