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review by Anthony D.


Studio: Artisan Home Entertainment

Running Time: 109 minutes

Starring Aidan Quinn, Kate Bekinsale, Sir John Gielgud, Anna Massey, Anthony Andrews

Written by Lewis Gilbert
Based on the novel by James Herbert

Directed by Lewis Gilbert

Retail Price: $14.98

Features: None

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Frame, English Dolby Digital 2.0, English Closed Captions, Scenes Access (19 Scenes)

For some bizarre reason, ghost stories - or ghostly tales, are a rare cinematic breed. Few, if any can live up to the expectations set by 1944's "The Uninvited," 1961's "The Innocents," 1963's "The Haunting," or 1972's "The Other." This past summer critics found the Nicole Kidman-starrer, "The Others" to be a refreshing return to the difficult genre. On the other hand, ghost stories as comedies have virtually thrived while the true ghost story has withered on the development lists.

1995's "Haunted," produced by Francis Ford Coppola, though not a great ghost story, is certainly well above average, and film likely to win some champions. Adapted from a novel by James Herbert, and directed with a flair from former James Bond director Lewis Gilbert, "Haunted" takes on various ghostly guises, as well as several cliches, to weave its supernatural spell over the viewer.

The vastly underrated Aiden Quinn ("Reckless," "Legends of the Fall") David, a professor whose specialty is debunking the paranormal. (Gillian Anderson could have played a distaff version of David with a little re-writing). In a brief prologue, we are introduced to David as a child, playing with his kid sister, who is accidently drowned. This central event of David's youth, has haunted him even into maturity, making him the first of the "haunted" characters in the film. Before being invited to the next place of haunting, we witness a scene of David involved in seance, where he masterfully unmasks the medium. David receives, and replies positively to a request to investigate the tragic haunting of "Nanny," the stalwart servant at the Edbrook country manse.

He is met at the station by the charmingly disarming Christina, the very lovely and gifted Kate Beckensale ("Pearl Harbor," "Cold Comfort Farm") driving an immaculately kept roadster, even though she states that she never learned to drive. Once at Edbrook, things get a little creepy as we are introduced to the other residences of the haunted property: Chirstina's near-incestous Mariell brothers played with brio by "Brideshead Revisited's" Anthony Andrews and Alex Low. These guys are really creepy, though they act very naturally. Nude paintings of Christina adorn the studio, they, nor Christina, think nothing of hopping into the lake for a brisk skinny dip, yet there is something a little off-putting in all their comings and goings. Nanny, the great Anna Massey, is seen speaking to invisible forces, and crying. In a sedate moment, Nanny divulges the family history to David, a history which might just be a total fiction. Nanny's only other comfort in her haunted state, is the kindly country doctor, who makes house calls to offer medical advice. John Gielgud was a remarkable talent, and even with his brief appearance here, he once again demonstrates his superior acting ability.

Once settled into the manse, David begins to feel the haunting presence of his departed sister amongst the sinister trappings: flickering gaslights, storms that seem to be alive with murderous intentions and a really great depiction of a conflagration which isn't what it seems to be either. With all the pieces in place, so to speak: a sordid family, secrets and lies, strange doings and things that go bump in the night, the stage is set for a suspenseful denouement, which this writer will not spoil. Suffice it to say, that the ending will force the viewer to re-examine all that had transpired up to that point in a different light.

Relying less on ghostly imagery, and concentrating instead on the effects of the paranormal on normal individuals, Lewis Gilbert has crafted a fine film. All the elements; air, water, fire and earth conspire together to create a ripping yarn of haunted souls and houses. It's not that often that ripping yarns are told these days, but the sure-fire team both in front of and behind the camera, allow "Haunted" to be a believable entry in the great gallery of ghostly doings on film.

"Haunted" is presented in a full-screen transfer, with little or no noticeable information gained or lost. Gilbert's color palette is remarkably subdued, possibly due to an inclination to film with a monochromatic template, but still the picture is not without flaws. The gray scale is lacking, and as such, blacks are not rich and heavy. Fleshtones are merely adequate, edging to a paleness appropriate for the genre. At times colors blotch out from within their boundaries, leaving a halo-effect. Grain is evident, mostly in the limited SPX shots. It's not sumptuous film, but the transfer surely could have been tweaked a little.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 English soundtrack, like the transfer, is a muted affair. The musical score is spread out, with a few jolts of ambient sound to the rears. With the exception of Quinn, who has a tendency to speak as if with a closed-mouth, the dialogue is crisply reproduced. John Gielgud's Shakespearian tones ring true. The disc has been encoded with Closed Captioning in English for the Hearing Impaired.

Artisan has gone barely even bare-bones for this production. As promised, there are Interactive Menus for easy Scene Access to the 19 Chapters; other than that, nothing.

It's good to see the ghost story told well; and if more people check out "Haunted," either as a rental or a purchase, then the genre will not become a ghost of its former self. "Haunted" is a credible entry in the genre, and in spite of the lack of Special Features, I found myself mesmerized enough by the film (which previously I had only encountered half of one late night on Cinemax) to find it a compelling, if minor, entry into the ghostly record.

(3.5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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