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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 EricDSnider

"'American haunting'? Like a possessed bald eagle attacking an apple pie?"
2 stars

The big selling point for "An American Haunting" seems to be that it's based on the only case in U.S. history where a spirit caused the death of a man. That credential is cited so authoritatively in the film's promotional materials and in the movie's opening titles that it's a couple seconds before you think: Wait a minute. Are you telling me the official cause of death was a GHOST? That was the undisputed medical opinion of the examiners? That a ghost killed him? I don't think so, movie. Not even in 1820, not even in Tennessee.

Indeed, the legend of the Bell Witch who tormented a Red River, Tenn., family in the late 1810s is, of course, widely disputed, and is mostly believed only by people who like to believe in ghosts anyway. But even if the story were scientifically documented and universally accepted as truth, "An American Haunting" would still be a very lousy thriller.

Written and directed by Courtney Solomon -- the man who brought us "Dungeons & Dragons" in 2000 and hasn't done anything since -- "An American Haunting" firmly believes if something happens suddenly and is accompanied by a loud "sting" on the musical score, that's all that's necessary to scare an audience. There are no haunting images, no creepy scenarios beyond the basic "there's a ghost in my room and it keeps rattling the doorknob." Nope, just a lot of loud noises designed to make you jump.

The story is set mostly in 1817 and 1818, where John Bell (Donald Sutherland) is cursed by a local woman who believes he has wronged her in some business dispute. The woman, Kate Batts (Gaye Brown), declares that "darkness will fall upon you -- you and your precious daughter, too!" So if you wondered whether ALL witches talk like the Wicked Witch of the West, it turns out they do.

Soon thereafter, John and his precious daughter, Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), are indeed harassed by a violent spirit that drags Betsy around the room and rips pages out of Bibles. At first her father and mother (Sissy Spacek) think she's just having nightmares. Then they see her suspended in midair by an unseen force and slapped around like Faye Dunaway at the end of "Chinatown." That settles it: This house is haunted!!

For no reason at all, the story is framed by scenes of the house in 2006, where a mother and daughter live in it and are also beset by spirits. (The girl in these scenes has a poster behind her bed from the movie "Monster," where Charlize Theron played a trailer-trash lesbian murderer. It's such an odd, unlikely detail that I feel obligated to point it out.) The movie also offers a rather specious "explanation" for what causes the haunting, one that adheres to Hollywood's Principle of Religious Hypocrisy: If a character is portrayed as a hardcore Bible-quoting good-faith Christian, he will turn out to be evil.

Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek deserve better than this, and both use their considerable talent to imbue the generic ghost story with more weight than it deserves. Rachel Hurd-Wood, meanwhile, conveys her character's torment mostly by looking sleepy all the time. I guess she would be, what with the ghost pestering her all night, but still. Try to look a little scared, sweetie, not bored. Goodness knows I'm trying.

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originally posted: 05/09/06 04:56:40
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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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