With the emphasis in horrors more than ever on violence and humiliation, old fashioned ghost stories are almost as rare as must-see films starring J Lo. So the appearance of 'An American Haunting' and its celebrated stars looks like good news. If only.
Set in 1818 and based on a true story, the film follows the disintegrating family of John Bell (Sutherland). He's ostracised by his religious community for charging too much interest on a business deal, with the complainant, a suspected witch, vowing that neither Bell or daughter Betsy (Hurd-Wood) will have any rest in this world.
Sure enough, things start going bump; Bell's hair cries out for the Just for Men treatment and Betsy succumbs to nightmares, fits and trances. Her teacher (D'Arcy) is at a loss to explain it all and one of the church elders can't do anything to stop it either. Is it all the witch's fault or are is there an even darker explanation for the goings on?
When the thought enters your head that the film you're watching is a cross between 'The Exorcist' and 'The Little House on the Prairie' it's hard to concentrate on anything else, but 'An American Haunting' doesn't help itself by running out of ideas 25 minutes in. What starts promisingly soon becomes a succession of repetitive scares (convulsions on a bed etc) and dreary scenes that neither up the ante or make you feel any more for the characters. Worse still, director Solomon uses wandering overhead camera shots and black and white sequences so that his film starts to look even cheaper than one that's set within the confines of a wooden house. Sutherland and Spacek deliver the lines with gusto, but not even their talents can save what's onscreen.
The star of 'Don't Look Now' and the star of 'Carrie' appearing in a film as weak as this - now that's scary.