"Haunted" is a jazzed-up British programmer of the kind that companies like Amicus used to crank out in the '60s. Anchored by solid local talent and toplined by Aidan Quinn as the statutory Yank in rural England, this pic version of James Herbert's bestselling spook yarn looks destined for ephemeral business in English-speaking territories prior to a rapid crossing to ancillary.
“Haunted” is a jazzed-up British programmer of the kind that companies like Amicus used to crank out in the ’60s. Anchored by solid local talent and toplined by Aidan Quinn as the statutory Yank in rural England, this pic version of James Herbert’s bestselling spook yarn looks destined for ephemeral business in English-speaking territories prior to a rapid crossing to ancillary. Though competently helmed by veteran Lewis Gilbert, there’s no longer a real market in mature territories for lowish-tech, basically old-fashioned ghost movies like this, unless made with real style and a considerably tonier script than here.
A brief prologue, set in 1905, introduces two young siblings, David and Juliet, at play on the grounds of a country house in Sussex, southern England. Juliet accidentally drowns, David feels guilty, and the plot basics are staked out.
Flash forward to 1928, when David (Quinn), who meanwhile has been raised in the States and acquired an American accent, returns to teach a course on the supernatural at a university. He’s a skeptic — and proves it by exposing a phony medium — but can’t resist a letter from a dotty old nanny (Anna Massey) inviting him to a stately pile she claims is haunted.
The inhabitants of the mansion are an odd lot: Elder brother Robert (Anthony Andrews) spends his time painting his voluptuous sister Christina (Kate Beckinsale) in the nude, and younger bro Simon (Alex Lowe) is a prankster with several screws loose. Soon after arriving, David starts experiencing visions of his dead sister, mysterious fires, and other unexplained events. Christina comes on strong but remains sexually elusive, which doesn’t help David’s fast-declining sanity one bit.
Quinn starts confidently but is soon reduced to playing variations on mad staring eyes by a script that obstinately refuses to go anywhere after laying out its characters. Mingling echoes of “Turn of the Screw” with every squeaking-door and apparition cliche in the book, pic is light on real thrills and sustained tension, and doesn’t compensate with any real interplay between its eccentric characters. More plot is crammed into the final two reels — which unspool like a series of increasingly desperate endings — than in the whole of the previous 80 minutes.
Andrews, who optioned the novel six years ago and produced alongside Gilbert , is the film’s strongest presence, with some acidic delivery of limited dialogue. Beckinsale, a rising Brit talent, also holds the screen, with both physical looks and verbal poise in the sister-vamp role. (Obvious use, however, of a body double for her nude scenes reduces some of the character’s sexual heat.) Lowe doesn’t have much to go on in the peripheral role of the younger brother. Stalwarts Massey and John Gielgud (cameoing as a doctor) phone in their perfs.
Tech credits on the $ 7.5 million production are good, with richly colored lensing of the Sussex countryside by Tony Pierce-Roberts and some fine use of digital sound effects when the f/x belatedly move into high gear. Debbie Wiseman’s clean-sounding orchestral score is episodic rather than a constant partner to the action.
Christina Mariell - Kate Beckinsale
Robert Mariell - Anthony Andrews
Dr. Doyle - John Gielgud
Nanny Tess - Anna Massey
Simon Mariell - Alex Lowe
Kate - Geraldine Somerville
Juliet Ash - Victoria Shalet