Saturday, September 12, 2009

In short: Haunted (1976?/1979?/1982?)

In the 1860s, the Native American sorceress Abanaki (Ann Michelle) is killed for no good reason in the traditional way all frontier communities dealt with their witches, namely by being tied naked to horse and left in the desert. Abanaki of course curses her killers and their descendants.

About a hundred years later, the small Western town where all this happened has turned into a ghost town. Only two young men, their psychosomatically blind and depressed mother (Virginia Mayo) and their uncle (Aldo Ray), who is madly in love with mum, still live there, and Patrick, the older brother, is not planning on staying much longer. Tomorrow, he'll pack up his mum and get her into a sanatorium, and he and his brother aren't going to stay in town after that.

A woman named Jennifer Baines (Ann Michelle) gets stuck in the ghost town. Is she Abanaki reincarnated come to take vengeance? People discuss reincarnation. A pay phone is installed in the graveyard next to the ghost town. People talk melodramatically. Virginia Mayo out-melodramatizes everyone else. Patrick has sex with Jennifer, leading to more melodramatic and kitchen philosophical talk and some fine analysis of gayness. Aldo Ray goes mad! (He has probably heard the film's music). Dark secrets are sort of unveiled. There are pay-phone calls from beyond. Ballads play. Aldo Ray burns.

Haunted is yet another of the mighty peculiar films the great years of American local independent filmmaking have brought us.

I must admit that I have not much of a clue what director/writer Michael A. DeGaetano intended to do here. Is it an homage to classic Hollywood melodrama that accidentally got mixed up with a horror film? A parody? An early example of post-modern filmmaking? An arthouse film about memory that is betrayed by the incompetence of its actors? I certainly don't know, and I am also less than sure that DeGaetano knew what he was doing.

I find Haunted quite a bit more difficult to like than many of its brethren in spirit, in part probably because the classic era of the Hollywood melodrama is not as evocative for me as it seems to be for DeGaetano. On the other hand, however, I find it equally difficult to agree with the handful of reviews of the film which call it things like "a pile of crap". Haunted is just much too careful, confusing and confused to run under the trash label. The film also completely lacks in the hack and slash mundanity that is often used to hide a lack in imagination in horror films.

Still, Haunted is more a mystery than a film, a riddle instead of a coherent narrative - if you want to call it a narrative at all. As such, it's the sort of movie many a viewer will find boring or just plain annoying. With this one, I honestly can't blame anyone not being interested in. I'll probably have to watch it another dozen times or so before I know what I truly make of it.


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