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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.84%
Worth A Look: 8.2%
Average: 4.92%
Pretty Bad: 26.23%
Total Crap50.82%

5 reviews, 31 user ratings

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American Haunting, An
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by Scott Weinberg

"All I saw was An American Yawning"
2 stars

Pay close enough attention to 30 years worth of cheesy movies, and you begin to notice all the tacky little shortcuts: The Flashback, The Dream Sequence, The Sudden Loud Noise, The Voice-Over Narration, and The "Based on Fact" Ploy are only a few of the weapons in the arsenal of the lazy filmmaker. "An American Haunting" is a 70-ish minute compilation of cinematic shortcuts, topped off with a doe-eyed Sissy Spacek and a wild-eyed Donald Sutherland.

It's been over five years since writer/director Courtney Solomon made a feature film, and if I explained that that film was Dungeons & Dragons -- that'd be all the explanation you'd need. Solomon's sophmore effort, the brazenly dull and high-school pageant-y An American Haunting is equal parts The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Little House on the Prairie, and large glass of warm milk.

We open with a modern-day framing story, one that exists for no good reason except to provide a rather unseemly epilogue (and pad the scant running time), before we flash back to the early 1800's -- where farmer-guy patriarch John Bell (Sutherland) is being berated in open court for daring to charge his neighbor interest on a loan. Mr. Bell is clearly unaware that it's unwise to cheat a woman believed to be a freaky witch, but one can only assume that Mr. Bell isn't the brightest farmer in the cornfield. The unpleasant shrew promptly curses the Bell family -- more specifically, she curses Papa John and his willowy wisp of a daughter, Betsy.

Thus begins a 50-some minute series of sequences in which: blankets move on their own, lights dim, thunder crashes, and poor Betsy finds herself molested by an unseen force. Just as each attack gets extra-spooky -- Solomon cuts to the next morning, where everything seems to be getting back to normal. Repeat this bit about five more times and you've just experienced the entire second act of An American Haunting ... and most of the third.

A variety of outrageously ineffectual characters stop by to witness the occult-ish goings-on; the Bells initially recruit help from a drunken preacher-type guy, but they're not above pulling out the big guns when Betsy's attacks become extra-creepy. That's right; they call in Betsy's 14-year-old best friend and her 24-year-old elementary school teacher. Throw in a few slave/maids who vanish as readily as any poltergeist, a woodblock of a big brother who gets maybe nine lines of dialogue, and a pair of anonymous little kids who (I believe) are meant to be the Bells' youngest children ... and you're looking at a movie that feels like it was edited with the dull end of a plastic butterknife.

Solomon's visual technique -- swooping, spinning camera whizzes repeated ad nauseum -- is consistently at odds with the low-tech ghost story he's trying to spin. The ever-gyrating perspectives do little to mask the flick's sparse production design, redundant plot contortions, or narrative anorexia. As far as the pair of well-respected leads are concerned, Spacek underplays it and Sutherland opts for over. These actors could do work like this in their sleep ... and now we have the proof.

"Based on a true story" means next to nothing where movies are concerned, but the faithful fright-flick fans know what this label means: Vague scares, a whole lot of plodding plot stuff, and next to nothing that's shocking or unique. If "An American Haunting" truly represents a factual and accurate story ... I'm stunned that the legend has remained alive this long.

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originally posted: 05/06/06 04:10:38
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell boring tacky trash 1 stars
4/09/11 Annoymous Waste of two lead actors, waste of storyline about incest=Bad Movie 1 stars
2/26/11 Mary Ann Schlacks Movie had scary moments, but incest explanation didn't make sense. 4 stars
8/29/08 Shaun Wallner Great Horror film!! 5 stars
9/24/07 Burgerman One of the few great ghost movies, it doesn't rely on gore to scare you. Worth watching. 5 stars
7/21/07 Tankgirl Great ,scary movie! The ending stunk. I wish they did not make Sutherland out to be a creep 4 stars
6/26/07 Marion It was SO funny! Especially liked those excruciating slaps. 1 stars
6/11/07 Marls Just a sad waste of time when it could have been much better 2 stars
3/22/07 MeMyself and I I enjoyed this movie! Love Sissy. A rare good suspensful film without unnecessary gore. 4 stars
2/20/07 Christine I thought it was a great movie and I would watch it again. 5 stars
1/21/07 David A. Delightfully creepy movie that offers a possible explanation for the Bell WItch legend. 5 stars
12/28/06 David Pollastrini Brilliant, with a great twist 5 stars
12/05/06 Indrid Cold The same 2 or 3 scenes repeat ad nauseum and then bam! ... an out-of-nowhere twist ending. 2 stars
12/04/06 Traice There were jumps, but how many times did they make her sleep in that bedroom?! BAD ending! 2 stars
11/15/06 Melissa It was ok. Seems like they couldn't think of an ending & just threw something in to end it. 3 stars
11/04/06 Sam Kepfield BOOOOOOO! 1 stars
10/29/06 Mike Classic horror story. This is a REAL ghost story, not crap like Saw. For the mature only. 4 stars
10/24/06 farcemaster truly a waste of $1.05 via the Red Box DVD rental machine 1 stars
10/14/06 desu kind of sucked. 1 stars
8/06/06 Erik Van Sant The only scary thing was Sissy Spacek's face. So disappointing. Couldn't wait for it to end 1 stars
6/30/06 SACRILEGE! An AMERICAN _____ movie without Mena Suvari. An M. Night Shyamalan wannabee that makes even his worst look relatively good. 1 stars
6/28/06 Ariadne Christina Renee Gladstone Dreary and unentertaining, plus it's a totally bogus morality play! John Bell not THAT evil 1 stars
6/04/06 Charles This movie doesn't even scratch the surface of the real story. So dissapointing. 1 stars
5/18/06 David the real story is actually scary. This movie is NOT. 1 stars
5/18/06 Alfred Guy The real account is much scarier and logical. 3 stars
5/17/06 John it seems like a decent short has been put on a loop and you watch it 100 times 2 stars
5/14/06 movi_critic what a waste of time and space, it went nowhere; the few "special effects" sucked. 1 stars
5/14/06 Mase Like being forced to ride "the haunted mansion" over and over for 2 hours. God awful 1 stars
5/13/06 David I am amazed how ignorant critics have become when it comes to brilliant movies these days. 5 stars
5/10/06 San Lamar Decent Horror Entry 3 stars
5/06/06 Heather Runyan great movie! 4 stars
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  05-May-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Oct-2006



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