The Haunting in Connecticut Blu-ray Review
Sadly, this is not the best picture around on Blu-ray. I'm sure it looks a lot better than its SD equivalent, but this is a bit of a drab experience, hi-def-wise.
Grain has been left intact, but there is also a little bit of overt noise that comes creeping in to some of the darker portions of the image. Edges have been enhanced - not all the time, mind you, but on occasion, very noticeably. The 2.35:1 MPEG-4 transfer has moments when depth takes on a marvellously embedded, three-dimensional quality - primarily for atmospheric tracking shots of, or glides around, the outside of the house - but these are few and far between.
There is an agreeable autumnal hue to the colour palette. Blues, greens, browns and yellows stand out quite well during the daylight exterior shots, and the blend is reasonably natural-looking. The sepia tint to the photos and the various visions is good, too - mimicking the sickly, jaundiced appearance of Matt - and the shades found in the wood panels, banisters and stairs is finely reproduced. Reds can occasionally stand out. A neon sign at a tavern, shock-cuts of bloody inscriptions lacerated into skin, some flambéed flesh and the final conflagration provide an acceptably vivid appearance. But this is not a bright film by any stretch of the imagination. As I said in the main review, Cornwell loves his shadows and, as a result, the image is simply painted with smears of the black stuff (and I don't mean Guinness!) for large portions of the time. Almost every single interior scene is covered with thick blacks that do not bend or give an inch to the surrounding picture. I would also suspect that detail has been crushed beneath some of the thicker, denser swathes of it, although I will admit that I have not seen any other version of the film - on SD or at the cinema - so I cannot state this with any complete certainty. It does look flattened by the blacks to me, though. For instance, a couple of shots featuring a horribly burned phantom look too ridiculously dark, surely some detail was meant to be seen.
Besides this strikingly dark and shadow-bulging aspect, the image has a cold look about it. Not quite clinical, but somehow gleaming and stripped of natural warmth. This is obviously intentional, of course, but it does leave a visual cast that is strangely metallic at times. Contrast is fine, however, with lots of shots illuminating pale visages amidst inky, coiling shadows. But the major bugbear is probably the inconsistency of the detail in the image. The film can look very impressive at times - facial close-ups, the skin-sliced symbols, the collection of eyelids found in a box - but it can lose distinction all too easily. A great reference element is always leaves and foliage and here, in the mid-ground and distance shots of the trees and the garden around the house, the image doesn't hold up too well. The various instruments and oddities in jars and whatnot down in the basement may be covered in grime and cobwebs but they still lack that necessary distinction that you may expect. The bodies that come to populate the climax - grotesque parchment-like flesh, pale blue fish-eyes - look good, though, even if dust and flames do try to obscure much of their appalling detail. Clothing can exhibit some fine levels of material texture - the arms and shoulders of pullovers, shirts and jackets - in the immediate foreground, but the drop-off is still quite glaring when you cast your eyes around the rest of the frame.
The noise that spikes in the darker scenes can really be seen during the séances and when the father first tells the kids about their new home's somewhat unsettling past - mainly moments that are set around the dinner table, in fact. Although this is not too distracting in the grand scheme of things, it is still very noticeable. Due to its inconsistency and those all-swallowing blacks, this earns itself a 6 out of 10 ... but that is a strong 6, mind.
The Haunting In Connecticut is not great hi-def material as far as the picture is concerned but, with this being a Lionsgate release, I'm pretty certain that we can do a lot better in the audio department.
And, indeed we can!
Lionsgate provide one of their typically gung-ho DTS-HD MA 7.1 tracks that is designed to pummel your system with wild bass and well-utilised surround activity - and this one certainly doesn't disappoint. By now we've probably come to expect such audio extravagances from this company, but with a film such as this, there is ample opportunity for subtlety and spectral finesse too, and it is here, perhaps, where the track doesn't quite hit the mark.
Firstly, dialogue is always clear and sharp and well-prioritised. The score is powerfully reproduced with regards to stingers and moody jolts, but also warm and lilting for the quieter moments. The sound-field is wide and active, the sense of directionality acute and the steerage around the set-up excellent. The stereo spread across the front is expressive and deep, and the immersion into the track's environment is deftly handled with precision. Surround activity is frequent and reaches all speakers. There are numerous door-slammings, heavy thuds, footsteps, distant screams, scrapings and floorboard creaks and groans dispersed all around you with a natural sound that definitely brings the house to life. There is a great heartbeat that thumps across the soundscape during one early scene, heavy and resonant with a bass level that positively thrums. When Matt spins the operating table - with his younger brother on it - the rushing momentum strikes all points in the set-up with its continuous whooshing! There is also a terrific violin screech from the front left speaker during the, otherwise, daft crab-vision sequence in the clinic. The banging on doors and walls, the slamming of the dumb-waiter hatch and the hacking apart of the walls with an axe are also elements that have been mixed superbly, never too loud or crunching for the rest of the track, but dished-up with sonic relish, nevertheless.
The raging flames during the finale, and also during some of the flashbacks have some degree of crackling bite to them, as well, showing that the track can put some detail into the cacophony at times. Yet, I still feel that this is predominantly geared towards crescendo and aggression - which is no bad thing in a film like this, but more finite elements are either swallowed-up or just not there in the first place.
On the whole, this is a great, clean and crisp track that loves its bass. The atmosphere is allowed to positively hum with it sometimes. Thus, even if the movie comes up short in the terror stakes, the lossless DTS tries its best to make up for it by providing a strong and active aural experience that delivers to all corners of the 7.1 set-up.
This release contains both the theatrical and the unrated cuts of the film which can accessed from the main menu. The two commentary tracks only apply to the unrated version, however.
The first one is a group effort from Peter Cornwell, Producer Andy Trapani, Writer Adam Simon and Editor Tom Elkins. Quite relaxed and informative, this is also highly opinionated and more than a little defensive of the story and the film, itself. The boys clearly enjoy their time reminiscing (reminiscing - it was hardly a long time ago when they made the film, was it?) and the track is witty and spontaneous. They discuss the casting and praise their leads, the effects and the mood that they attained. I may not have thought that the movie was anywhere near as good as they think it is, but the team do a good job of promoting it, just the same, despite some youthful enthusiasm.
The second chat track brings in actors Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner and place them in the company of Cornwell, who returns to discuss the film was a slightly different perspective, this time out. Equally as entertaining, this is aided by lots of on-set anecdotes and trivia that, once again, makes you wonder just why you didn't like the movie as much as those who made it seem to.
Next up is the fifteen-minute Two Dead Boys: The Making of 'The Haunting in Connecticut' . What starts out as a pretty run-of-the-mill slice of pure EPK - gushing actors, carefully chosen sound-bites - actually pitches a couple of unexpected details our way. We hear about the tracking down of the original family to help them get the film made, and we are treated to the unbelievably convincing prop-body of a nude male cadaver. Madsen confesses to having peeked beneath the little towel that covered its modesty, but the featurette actually bares all. Ooh, cheeky! The production designer walks us around the set and we see the painstaking creation of the skin-etched symbols. Obviously the film's themes are discussed, as are some of the supposedly mysterious things that went on during the shoot. Not bad considering that this is really just a promotional piece.
The Fear is Real: Reinvestigating the Haunting comes as a two-part documentary (lasting around 45 minutes in all) which is given over to the Snedeker Family whose story started the whole ball rolling, and some of their neighbours and friends, who all combine to tell of the events that allegedly plagued the residents of the old funeral parlour. Now, you don't need me to tell you that their version of events differs considerably from that of the filmmakers - for instance, there is no mention of grave-robbing, corpse defiling or house infernos. Indeed, the spook house is still standing despite the Hollywood-style destruction at the end. But, no matter how you feel about this tale - and although I wish I did, I don't believe much of it at all - the family do take on-board the scepticism and the critical backlash towards their account.
A creepy little featurette comes next. Entitled Memento Mori: The History Of Post-Mortem Photography, this is an 11-minute overview not just of the snapping of dead bodies for familial posterity, but of the capturing of images of ectoplasm, as well. Where's Dr. Pete Venkman when you need him? Bizarre and intriguing, this also takes a wider look at the traditions and perceptions that society has towards death. As far as I am concerned, this should have been longer and more comprehensive.
Anatomy Of A Haunting (12 mins) allows investigators to discuss real cases of ghostly hauntings, such as the one that inspired the genuinely terrifying film, The Entity (with Barbara Hershey), as well as the incidents that inspired this movie. Again, this could have been great stuff if it had been allowed to go more in-depth.
Lionsgate also supply us with six Deleted Scenes, which last for around nine-minutes and carry an optional commentary from Cornwell. Some interesting little moments can be found here, actually, since a fair amount of the stuff presented is actually atmospheric and moody. But you can still see why these scenes ended up getting jettisoned.
LG-Live and a trio of BD trailers round off the main assortment of extra features on the first disc, whilst the second disc in this set holds a digital copy of the movie.
A passable horror - nothing more, nothing less. The story isn't particularly good and the tone, as dark as it likes to get, is rarely disturbing. Whilst the house is large, ominous and labyrinthine, its residents are mostly shallow and un-engaging and the set-pieces, therein, lacklustre and reliant on knee-jerk shocks that occur with monotonous regularity and without any substance or long-lasting effect. Peter Cornwell deserves plaudits for trying to keep the narrative character-based, but his tendency to pilfer from past genre successes soon grows wearisome.
Lionsgate delivers a release that gets some mileage out of its bonus features, and the audio is spot-on for an atmospheric and aggressive experience to wallop you from all corners of the room. But the video transfer is inconsistent and bullied too much by intensive black levels. It becomes frustratingly two-faced - crystal-clear and embellished with a terrific sense of depth at times, and then softer, noisier and murkier at others.
If you enjoyed The Amityville Horror then this should be right up your haunted street. But even if it looks more polished and enjoys better special effects, it is nothing more than a clone ... a little rowdier, maybe, but just too derivative to take on a life of its own.
Slick, but disappointing.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79
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