I love ghost stories. I eat 'em up like candy. Mostly I love the classics, the Poe's, the Stoker's, etc. But, even modern-day ones will do if they're creepy enough. Something about ghost stories can just be eerie, even if you don't believe at all in ghosts. The fright in them comes because, no matter how rational you are, a little part of you isn't sure if ghosts exist or not. That's my theory, at least. So when I rented HAUNTED, I was looking forward to getting a good scare. What I got instead was a few creepy moments, a lot of beautiful people, and ultimately a disappointing film (although 2 out of 3 ain’t bad).
Based on a James Herbert book of the same title, HAUNTED opens with a great sequence. A boy and girl are playing near a stream. The girl falls and hits her head and then falls into the stream and drowns, while the boy watches helplessly. Later in the evening, the boy goes to see his dead sister in the open casket. She suddenly opens her eyes and he screams and the title comes on the screen. Brilliant! Scary! Exactly what the rest of the movie should have been!
Now we jump ahead to the boy's future, all grown up and a professor of psychology in England (played by Aidan Quinn). Quinn spends his free time disproving psychics and séances. He accepts an invitation to examine a haunting in the countryside so that he can skeptically prove the events rationally.
When he arrives, he is greeted by a young Christina (played by a stunning Kate Beckinsale, pre-PEARL HARBOR era) and brought by her to the large home. Apparently, the nanny/housekeeper of the home feels it is haunted by spooks. Beckinsale has two brothers, one of whom is a reserved painter, the other a wild party animal. Pretty soon, you can figure out that something odd is going on between them (as they say in West Virginia, incest is best!).
Quinn doesn't believe that there are any ghosts in the house at all. Instead, he spends most of his time frolicking around with Beckinsale, who is flirting like crazy with him. Soon, however, he discovers some odd family history about their parents and some mysteries' surrounding their deaths. This leads to one particularly frightening scene in which Quinn is outside at night and follows the apparition of a small tornado-like thing out to the lake. At the lake, the wind tosses him and he finds himself tangled in weeds. When he is at last rescued he exclaims, "The weeds pulled me down!" To this one of the brothers responds, "But we have no weeds!" This is the kind of stuff good ghost movies are made of.
Unfortunately, these kinds of creepy scenes are far and few between. Instead, there is a lot of talk and flirting between Quinn and Beckinsale (and quite an erotic sex scene ultimately – bonus points!). But there is so much talk in it, that you find yourself crying out for a creepy ghost scene. Some of the scenes which are meant to be scary come across as a bit silly. At least there is a good plot twist at the end which is genuinely surprising.
Still, the film gets ridiculous in the final ten minutes and uses way more bad special effects than were necessary. The best ghost movies underdo it rather than overdo it (example: the 1961 film THE INNOCENTS, perhaps the greatest haunted house movie ever). HAUNTED is great to look at. The locations and the people in it are all beautiful – especially Beckinsale. The plot is good. These are all pluses in the film's favor.
Nevertheless, these are not the reasons one watches a ghost movie. You want to be scared. The film has a few creepy moments, but ultimately is not scary. It's not a bad film and worth watching for its good sides, but not if you want to be scared. To really be scared, go with THE INNOCENTS, a much much much more frightening movie.
RATING: ** (out of a possible 4