Haunted (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is a handsomely mounted ghost story about a professor of parapsychology in England. He is well-known as a debunker of paranormal phenomena, and his book states that he has never found a valid example.

His inherent skepticism is challenged by an old woman who writes him to say that she's being held prisoner by ghosts. When he arrives at the haunted mansion, he finds that the old woman is working as a servant for an extremely eccentric and debauched upper-class family, and that everyone there seems to be harboring a great secret.

Let's just say that he eventually changes his mind about the existence of paranormal phenomena.

Good looking movie, with a solid cast, great locales, and Coppola as executive producer. I enjoyed the atmosphere- the tranquil autumnal haze, the muted fall colors and the grey skies, coupled with the isolated but grand country estate in Sussex, and the old-fashioned period railroad. Great setting for a spooky story.

The story is not wildly original, and I also have to say that the ending was pretty unconvincing. Without spoiling it too much, let me just say that he requires the intercession of good spirits to save him from naughty spirits. On the other hand, the movie did develop the good spirit sub-plot, so it wasn't a complete deus ex machina. Unfortunately, if you read ghost stories and pay attention to the sub-plot, the solution will be obvious to you before it happens, but it still isn't a bad ride, albeit a long one.

The special effects are laugh-out-load atrocious. There are many examples, but here are two:

  • The ghosts finally kill the crazy old woman by making her play ring around the rosie at high speed until she collapses. I didn't make that up.

  • Aidan Quinn must spent at least ten minutes of the film fighting off imaginary fires. I think he repeats this three times, and in each case he was obviously just sheltering his eyes against a "fire to be added later", and he used the identical physical gestures.

But it's not supposed to be a special effects film, and I think it's all good enough to hold your attention when combined with the film's other plusses in atmosphere, characterization and performance.

The film was even awarded a second place at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Films. I believe they award that each year to the film that makes the best use of lace in the settings. Seriously, I should warn you that the same festival once gave an award to Galaxina.

What I really want to talk about is the nudity, which is plentiful, although I'm sorry to report that Sir John Gielgud did not get naked.

A few points:

1. This is probably the best example of body doubling in the history of cinema. There are four separate scenes where one can clearly see the face of Kate Beckinsale's body double:

  • Coming out of the water.
  • Posing for a painting.
  • In bed with a lover.
  • Underwater.

In no case is one aware that the body double is not Beckinsale when the movie is watched at normal speed. When the movie is watched frame-by-frame, it is possible to identify a separate woman, but it is not very obvious. All this magic was spun merely with artful camera angles and a solid physical resemblance between the two women..

They further cemented the illusion by showing showed several paintings of Beckinsale topless, and various other camera angles with no visible face.

2. This may be artful, but it seems to me that this is also a bit dishonest. There is no body double credited. It's my opinion that body doubles should be credited in all cases, just like stunt people, but in this case the double had nearly as much screen time as Beckinsale, looked exquisite, and I think we'd all like to know who it is.

3. Why did they hire Beckinsale? Don't misunderstand me. I think she delivered the role as it was meant to be, and I'm not impugning her acting skills. But if you are going to film a movie about a family that is almost always inappropriately naked (she poses nude for her brothers, skinny dips with them, and sleeps with them as well), and if you know that the lead actress will have some very long and very frequent nude scenes, why would you hire an actress with a no-nudity clause? Does that make sense? Beckinsale did a good job, but plenty of fine young actresses would have delivered the job and the body. That would have allowed the director to use different camera set-ups and fewer cut-aways, and he would not have to constantly had to work around Beckinsale's face.

According to Beckinsale, there was no nudity when she took the role, and they just kept finding reasons to get the character naked.

By the way, Beckinsale has had an interesting life. Her mother is TV actress Judy Loe. Her father, who died when she was six, was prominent comic actor Richard Beckinsale. Kate obviously has a good head on her shoulders. She won two writing awards when she was younger, attended Oxford, taught herself French, studied Russian literature, etc.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Beckinsale in Cosmo UK, May, 1997 edition.

In the past, Kate has consented to the use of a body double when nudity was required. In the 1995 film Haunted, her cavortings with Aidan Quinn were performed by someone else. But, surely, the very idea of a body double is that people see the body double and think it's you.

"Oh, that was a fucking disaster", she grimaces. "Of course, everyone just assumes it's you. I should have said no. I still get letters saying, 'I've seen your bum'. I really don't know what possessed me to agree to it. The other thing that happens is, once the body double is there, a five second scene suddenly turns into 15 minutes"

She pauses, then retrieves a particularly painful memory. "At the premier of Haunted ... Oh, God, I was so embarrassed. Afterwards you could see it in everyone's eyes. 'Mmmm, I've seen your arse'. I was with my boyfriend and he was saying, 'It didn't even look like your arse.'"

IMDB summary: 6.5 out of 10.

DVD info from Amazon. This DVD is a completely bare-bones offering. There are no special features at all, and no widescreen version. The entire DVD consists of a re-formatted full screen version of the movie with individual scene selection. The colors are muted, but I can't tell whether that is an accurate reproduction of the print.

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