Original Air Date: May 6th, 1991
It’s rare that you see a modern film that takes place in the 70s that actually looks like it was made in the 70s. One of the only films that spring to mind is the criminally underrated Zodiac which came out last year (and is a must see!). The Haunted is another example. And not only does it aptly capture the fashion of the decade (without going over the top with it), but it damn well feels like a film made in the 70s. It's an awesomely creepy throwback to a time when television got it right.
The part of The Haunted that actually takes place during one of my favorite decades is at the beginning and is brief, maybe only 15 minutes or so, but it sets the stage for a movie that manages to encompass both the slow burn of the early made for television movies with brief glimpses of modern horror to take the film to depths of all things creepy.
The Smurl family is a typical Catholic family who move into a new house after they lost their original home in a hurricane. A fixer upper for sure, the family jumps into making it feel as much like a home as possible. The weirdness starts off subtly enough, with a few objects gone missing and some weird but not overly suspicious noises. As the family grows older and become an integral part of the neighborhood, Janet (Sally Kirkland) and her mother-in-law Mary (Louise Latham) start to notice odd happenings which eventually lead to an apparition. At first Janet’s blue collar husband Jack (Jeffrey DeMunn) thinks his wife is just stressed with all of her community commitments, but then one night a spirit appears and fondles Janet’s leg (think of a PG version of The Entity) and Jack witnesses it. Thoroughly concerned, the family seeks out help from the church only to be patronized and then turned away. That’s when the Warrens show up (Diane Baker and Stephen Markle). Janet invites these parapsychologists into their home. Although not before this shows up:
This, my friend is approximately 45 minutes into the movie and it lets the viewer know that whatever slow burn of a film you were watching is now ready to take no prisoners. Albeit, this is by far the scariest scene in the movie – even eliciting an OMG Moment from me! It’s one of the creepiest-out-of-nowhere things I've witnessed in a horror movie. The rest of The Haunted surrounds the Smurl family’s several failed attempts to rid themselves of the evil spirits, which even follows them on a camping trip!
Based on allegedly true events, The Haunted is an exceptional thriller masked as a not-so-exceptional thriller. The odd pacing, basic cinematography and lack of soundtrack through most of the movie, along with its overt religious undercurrents may seem distasteful to some, but don’t be fooled - all of the weird beats work in this film’s favor. It’s a plain tele-film that uses traditional and simple effects to pull the viewer inside the horrible world of the Smurl family. Sally Kirkland is exceptional, and the person I least expected to pull off the sympathetic holy roller routine, but she’s really strong and comes across as a loving mother with a lot of faith in her religion. In fact, although it’s blatantly obvious that this family is ultra-religious and the church and its traditions play a large part in the film, I never felt like I was being beat over the head with it. I think The Haunted definitely conveys the message that the people who go to church aren’t the enemy, it’s the bureaucracy of organized religion and the feeble attempts to maintain its ‘image’ that is the real problem.
Who knew you’d get so much out of a film that features demon rape?
Read more about the Smurl Family here:
The Smurl Haunting Wikipedia Page
The Warren’s website page on the Smurl haunting
Another article on the Smurl haunting