An oddly wistful attempt at a classic English ghost story (think 1961's THE INNOCENTS) sans gore or special-effects indulgence, HAUNTED is handsome but short-lived. David Ash (Aidan Quinn), American-born psychic researcher and debunker in 1920s England, is invited to pack his skepticism and weekend at Edbrook mansion, a country estate supposedly wracked...read more
An oddly wistful attempt at a classic English ghost story (think 1961's THE INNOCENTS) sans gore or special-effects indulgence, HAUNTED is handsome but short-lived.
David Ash (Aidan Quinn), American-born psychic researcher and debunker in 1920s England, is invited to pack his skepticism and weekend at Edbrook mansion, a country estate supposedly wracked by spooks. There David finds curiously immature adult heirs Robert and Simon Mariell (Anthony Andrews, Alex
Lowe) and sister Christina (Kate Beckinsale). Only terrified, elderly Nanny Tess (Anna Massey) hints at ghosts-at-large. David is more bewitched by flirt Christina, but at night he experiences guilty visions of his sister Juliet (Victoria Shalet), who drowned within his reach when they were
children. David's love for Christina sours with a revelation of her long-term incest with Robert, but David doesn't appreciate how long it's gone on until phantom Juliet shows him the Mariell tombstones. Christina, Robert, and Simon--sadists and psychotics--perished years ago in a fire set by an
outraged Tess. Their vengeful spirits have kept the nanny prisoner in the charred ruins of Edbrook, preservation of which is just a supernatural mirage. Ruse ended, the ghosts kill Tess, while David is led to safety by Juliet--though affectionate Christina follows close behind.
Glorious cinematography and production design evoke the between-the-wars period of the 1920s and 1930s so favored in British drama. Alas, the sunny croquet grounds and ponds of Edbrook would better suit Bertie Wooster and Jeeves than the gothic presence of unquiet dead. Even at their most
malevolent, HAUNTED's specters seem little more threatening than Mary Poppins as they slay Nanny Tess with a high-speed game of ring-around-the-rosy. Novelist James Herbert reportedly conceived the book Haunted as a BBC-TV series pilot, but much menace washed out in the transmutation from script
to prose and back (like Herbert's payoff that Juliet is the most wrathful of the wraiths). The noble cast seems straight out of Brideshead Revisited--and in fact Andrews and John Gielgud teamed for 1981's TV miniseries based on Evelyn Waugh's saga of a not-dissimilarly dysfunctional household of
aristocrats. Director Lewis Gilbert, whose career encompasses ALFIE (1966), THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), EDUCATING RITA (1983), and more, renders HAUNTED with refinement, but it needs a jolt of Hammer horror. Despite Francis Ford Coppola as executive producer, the film went straight to home video
in the US after 1995 theatrical release in England and overseas. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, violence.)
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