| The Red Right Hand
AN AMERICAN HAUNTING
1818. Mary Shelley has just published the first edition of her terrifying horror, 'Frankenstein,' an analytical study of a man playing God, dabbling with science and the occult, filled with horrific terror and intrigue. But that's England. What were the Americans doing at this point? In Tennessee (the Volunteer State... apparently) they were blaming a spirit for the death of a man. The legend of the Bell Witch is one that's well-known folklore in the southern states. The tale tells of the Bell family who were visited during nights by an evil spirit who tortured them by, at first, pulling down the covers and throwing their pillows around then violently throwing them about the room, striking them repeatedly about the face and body, leaving marks that remained for days. The story became so talked about that future US President Andrew Jackson was believed to visit the Bell house in order to aid the Bell family who had served under him in previous years. There's plenty of literature and documentaries you can look into if you really want to know any more. There's also this film - An American Haunting - but I really wouldn't bother. This film is one that has no real concept of who its' target audience is, the opening sequence sets the pace for the duration that follows and leaves you wondering, is this a period horror or another shoddy version of The Ring? A girl runs through a snow-laden woodland area, seemingly chased by an unseen force. She locks her bedroom door and backs off to a safe corner; the entity rattles at the handle and bangs furiously, then stops. Stillness washes over the girl as she starts to breathe easy. The camera, low, tracks the girl backing further into the room then suddenly reveals a Sadako-esque girl in a white night-gown (think wet looking girl in white with long dark hair). The girl wakes up screaming, terrified, her mother desperate to calm her.
So begins the recalling of the tale of the Bell Witch.. ooooooh! Early 1800's and the Bell family have been recently punished for loan sharking, violating church-law. On wronging the lady in question with this loan she bitterly turns to them and vows "Treasure your land, health and family while you can, for I swear a dreadful darkness will fall upon you, you and your precious daughter" almost in the ilk of "I'll get you, my pretty. And your little dog too!" Later that night the Bell household is subject to a visitor (of sorts) and sounds can be heard throughout the house. The next day land-owning farmer John Bell [Sutherland] is out hunting with his sons when he spots a wolf that attacks him, then mysteriously disappears - unseen by the others. The original folklore states it was a wolf with a rabbits' head, which would have been interesting to see, ah well. Betsy Bell [Hurd-Wood] -of Peter Pan fame- also has visions, of a little girl in a bonnet that hides her face. Things get worse and soon Betsy is visited almost every night, dragged through the hallways, disturbed in her bed, etc. The biggest killer with this movie is that we've all seen thousands of spin-offs of both The Exorcist and A Nightmare On Elm Street and this simply calls upon both (with a hint of Little House On The Prairie), with rather poor results.
Although the cast is of a revered (and slightly British) nature, the one-note 'hauntings' become increasingly repetitive and dull. The shock value is there but with films from the East proving far superior in that field, Western cinema is having difficulties catching up. The best way to think of this film is by using 1999's controversial Blair Witch Project - I only say controversial because some people loved it, others hated it. Essentially, the Blair Witch film told the tale of three students researching a legend, if you were going to film the happenings of said legend you would have something a little similar to An American Haunting and possibly just as stupid and boring. Sorry, any film that claims to be not only true but 'the only recorded case in the history of this country where a spirit caused the death of a human being' is absolute piffle; in a country steeped with religious paranoia and a time before the industrial revolutions it's only natural that they would blame a witch or the devil for what was happening. But I'm not trying to prove or disprove this story and neither is this film, it's simply trying to show it.... badly - this is of course excluding the plot's twist/extenuation which is just ill-conceived nonsense anyway. The performances are lack lustre, with Sutherland looking regretful of taking the role and bored by the plot and Spacek (as his wife) desperately harking back to her Carrie days. Granted, Hurd-Wood gives a good performance but she is just in the 'scream and look scared' department of the film and offers little else.
Ultimately this film offers nothing new or unique to audiences, as it trundles along with a terribly cliched musical score (slow eerie music, followed by a crescendo and a.... LOUD SOUND! ARGHH! HOLY CRAP!) and amateur snap-cuts between scared girl and bits of floor. But if you're the kind of person who enjoys their horror movies (despite being told they're awful - no House Of Wax watching idiots shall be named) then by all means queue up, hand over your £6.00 and enjoy 91 minutes of silly bedroom antics, courtesy of the director of Dungeons & Dragons - ah, see how everything falls into place when you expose the culprits?
UK - 14th April 2006
US - 5th May 2006
The Scene To Look Out For:
I actually liked the scene with Betsy sitting on a swing as the children play around her. The camera encircles a tree and a girl is sitting in the swing next to her, looking down at the ground. Betsy, almost entranced, watches the girl hold out her hand, all the time under the watch of Richard Powell [D'arcy], who can only see Betsy reaching towards an empty swing. Sure, it ends stupidly, but I liked the build-up.
Sissy Spacek as Lucy Bell, the one who knows the truth behind the story, the one who tries her best to wrestle with a dull script and moronic character with lines like, 'maybe it's squirrels' and 'are we all having nightmares now?'
"We did not all imagine the same thing"
In A Few Words:
"A truly one-shock-wonder. Repetitive and banal, to the last. Sometimes films are so bad that they become viewable, this is not the case here."