APRIL 10, 2009
Since I first saw The Haunting In Connecticut last fall, I have been wanting to know more about the "true" story that inspired it. I would have preferred the book, but it's out of print (way to tie in your existing property to a new and quite successful film, whoever published it!), so I had to go with A Haunting In Connecticut, a half doc/half movie (think the 're-enactments' you see on Unsolved Mysteries, albeit in full length feature form) that aired on the Discovery Channel back in 2002.
I wasn't too surprised to see that the 2009 movie was more enjoyable and simply better made, but I WAS surprised to see that the film version actually makes more sense. For example, in the movie, the kid with cancer sees the blood on the floor, and isn't sure if it's real or a hallucination brought on by his experimental cancer treatment. The mother, of course, doesn't see it at all. But in the docudrama (which I assume is telling the story more or less exactly how it happened, or at least, how the family claims it did), it's the mother who sees the blood. Cancer kid isn't even around (in fact, he's sort of a supporting player in the 2002 version as a whole - the focus is more on the mother). This is ridiculous - why would a rational woman more or less ignore a giant puddle of blood on the floor?
Another botched scene made far more effective in the new movie (thanks for using 99% the same title, Lionsgate! Or should I just refer to them as "A" and "THE"?) is the part where the kid puts the plates out, only to discover them right back in the cupboard a few seconds later. Once again, this part was originally just with the mother, but worse, the time from when she puts the plates down to when she notices that they are gone is like 30 seconds. An ADD-addled viewer might not even remember what is supposed to be scaring him by the time the sequence reaches its punchline.
There were other pretty big changes as well, but more often than not, I honestly believe that the "based on" version from the Hollywood machine is more plausible and far more interesting than the Discovery Channel one. Even smaller things that had nothing to do with the haunting didn't work as well. For example, in real life (again - assuming the DC one is sticking to the facts) the father apparently had a say in whether or not they bought the house. In the movie, Virginia Madsen just takes it and tells her husband later- it not only adds some character development, but also gives the family as a whole a different dynamic. And the movie version dropped one of the brothers, another wise choice as it allowed more focus on the one with cancer.
Really, the only thing I think the Discovery Channel version has over the Lionsgate one is a much hotter nanny/aunt character. Well played! Also, I loved how the real family members appear in silhouette. To avoid being recognized by the ghost mafia, I assume? Why not use a voicebox too?
There is one thing I have to consider shenanigans on though - the final act of the movie seems like it's just taken from Poltergeist. After an hour or so, the family calls in a team of experts, including an elderly woman. They live in the house and observe while the family all huddles together in the living room. Their tech guy even gets so spooked that he has to quit! The Catholic element is still present, but the priest character (embodied by Elias Koteas in the feature version) has no role in the tale until the very end. It all gets very silly, and I have to assume that Discovery embellished this stuff, if it even happened at all. The movie version got a bit over the top near the end too, but it was at least consistent with the rest of the film in terms of character and plot, instead of suddenly bringing in a bunch of random folks and putting the family on the sidelines.
I know it sounds like I'm just pimping for big budget movies, but hear me out. Since I don't really believe in this type of stuff, I have to judge such stories on plausibility and entertainment value. And in that regard, "THE" is far more effective than "A" (except for the title - if I were to accept that haunted houses DO exist, then I would hardly believe that this was "The" only one ever). It's kind of telling that I can more easily believe what's happening to recognizable actors than I do for regular people talking directly to the camera about the same events while re-enactors helped flesh it out a bit.
Now, someone find me the goddamn book!
What say you?