A Haunting In Salem (2011)

DECEMBER 4, 2011


When it comes to movies set in my home state of Massachusetts, I get much more anal about geographical errors. The mountains in Halloween don’t bother me much – I didn’t know that Illinois was mountain-free until someone pointed it out. And I can be lenient – I think Fringe does a great job of faking Boston with their mostly Canadian exteriors, even though I can always tell when they switch (there are a number of establishing shots in Boston). But when I see a movie like A Haunting In Salem try to pass off some “just outside of Los Angeles” locale as the town that was only about 25 minutes from where I grew up, I get pretty miffed.

The giant mountains (heh) weren’t even my biggest annoyance – the fact that it wasn’t seaside was! Salem, Mass is right on the water, something that played into the “witch” back-story this movie is “based on” (more on that later), yet we don’t see as much as a pond here. Last I checked, Los Angeles itself is on the water, and while they couldn’t exactly pass off Venice Beach as part of the Atlantic, they could have at least driven up north for an hour or so and shot a few seconds of establishing footage. Hell, even Santa Barbara could pass at a glance for some sort of New England town.

And yeah, they fuck up the whole “Salem Witch” story too, not even getting basic 3rd grade factoids about it right. “19 of em were killed. All hung to death!” a character explains. Well, no. Not only is “hung to death” a fairly stupid thing to say anyway, but more than 19 people were killed (there WERE 19 hangings, so at least they got some of it right), including Giles Corey, who was crushed by stones – his story is one of the most infamous about the case, in fact. It just baffles me on so many levels – they didn’t bother to try to pass off their locale as the real town, and they clearly didn’t do any research about the story – why even use it at all? Why not make up your own fiction and set it in California where it was obviously shot?

Especially when the real hook for the production was the fact that it was shot in 3D, which (obviously) this Netflix version doesn’t have. The Blu-ray is formatted that way for those of you with 3DTVs, and I wish I could count myself among you. The film might not be very good, but it looks like it could have been a fun 3D flick, especially in the first act which is set mostly in daylight and has a lot of “looking around the big creepy house” scenes. Note, when I say fun 3D I mean GOOD 3D, in that the director uses corners and carefully arranged objects to give the image some true depth. I DON’T mean a bunch of shit flying out at you, which is not good 3D at all. Good 3D means you can watch it in 2D and not feel like you’re missing something (see: Friday the 13th part 3 in 2D for the most extreme example).

It’s kind of funny though, since Winchester House was also much smarter with its use of the technology than half of the big budget movies coming along. The Asylum can’t get basic things about filmmaking right, yet they’re 2-2 in providing quality use of 3D. Maybe the third time will be the charm and they’ll make a movie that’s actually worth your time in any format.

As usual, their “originals” are better than their mockbusters, since they’re not racing to get it on shelves. I guess you can consider this a Haunting In Connecticut wannabe, but that movie’s like 3 years old now, and if it was a true Asylum ripoff it’d be titled something like "A Connecticut Haunting" or "The Haunting Of Connecticut". At any rate, it’s more of 2nd rate Amityville, with the dad of the family snapping as he learns more about the house’s history, leaving the mother to fear that he may harm her or their children. Not much happens until the (surprisingly violent) ending, but the slightly above average production value and relatively decent writing makes it watchable at least.

I was also entertained by the mismatched family unit, as the four actors were seemingly cast by a drunken child utilizing a dartboard. The mom is the main problem – she looks too young to be married to Bill Oberst Jr, and too young to be the mother of two grown teenagers. The guy playing the “little brother” also seemed too old for his character’s role, who spends most of the time playing video games and sneering at his “older” sister – it’s the type of role you’d expect a 9 or 10 year old to be playing, not a guy who looks late in his teens. Grow up, man! None of them look anything like each other either, though I guess the mom and daughter are acceptable since they both have dark hair.

The pacing kills the movie more than anything else; the first act is all “this house is big/oh no this minor weird thing happened but it’s no big deal” sort of stuff, and then the second seems like one long scene of Oberst talking to people about the folks who used to live in the house. Finally the 3rd act starts, and this is where the 3D must fall apart if you’re watching it that way, as it’s set in near total darkness and contains the action into the smaller bedrooms instead of the more open areas (or outside – the house has some nice land around it that they never utilize). It’s also weird that Oberst is the one finding out things about the past and what can be happening, since he’s the one seemingly going crazy – shouldn’t the mom or maybe even the brother be in charge of that?

But, you know. The Asylum. It’s watchable and technically proficient, which is more than anyone can expect. I just wish they’d stick more with this sort of thing than the mockbusters – they could be turning out a couple of decent low budget indies a year, but they focus too much of their limited money/resources on shit like Transmorphers. But that gets them more attention than an average, largely forgettable movie like this (even in 3D), so I doubt they’ll change their business model anytime soon.

What say you?


  1. Salem is about 40 minutes away, dummy!!!

  2. I was so distracted by the weird casting of the actors playing the family that I actually found the movie to be hard to pay attention to at times. Especially any time the mom appeared with either the husband or kids. It would have made sense if she was their stepmother and had just married a guy 25 years her senior, but really?
    Also- why is it that teenage girls always think it sucks that they have to move into some huge, awesome house? I'd be elated if, when I was a teenager, I got to move to some old mansion, especially in a cool town like Salem!

  3. Agreed. It's like in Poltergeist 3 where the other kids (at a school for "different" kids no less) all make fun of her because she's had ghost problems. I'd think she was awesome!


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