Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Haunting of Seacliff Inn (1994)

Yuppie couple Susan (Ally Sheedy) and Mark Enright (William R. Moses) are giving up on the big city lifestyle to open up an inn – really a bed and breakfast place – in a small California coast town. It’s an attempt to get their marriage back on track after Mark cheated on Susan, which sounds like a bad plan to me, but what do I know?

When the Enrights have already decided on a house to buy for their genius plan, Susan takes one look at a different place and feels at once drawn to it, as if it were calling to her. Too bad the house already belongs to a nice, elderly lady who doesn’t want to sell. But what do you know? She conveniently dies the day after the Enrights visited her, so it looks as if the Enrights can go about building their dream inn in Susan’s dream house.

However, something’s certainly not right with the house: Susan has strange visions, feelings and dreams; curious accidents happen; a rather mysterious stranger (Lucinda Weist) appears and disappears as their first guest and seems rather interested in seducing Mark; and a black dog that certainly doesn’t act normal threatens. Why, you might think the house is haunted and has some sinister interest in pushing the couple into repeating a dreadful sin of the past!

If you’re going into Walter Klenhard’s TV movie The Haunting of Seacliff Inn expecting a standard horror film, you’ll probably be disappointed by its rather mild nature. This is more in the tradition of the second coming of the Gothic Romance that mostly happened in paperbacks – predominantly marketed to women – during the 70s and later, and filtered through the filter of a TV channel that certainly was rather more tame than HBO.

However, there is of course nothing wrong at all with the ghost story tradition this film belongs to, and while I generally prefer my ghost stories a bit nastier, and their ghosts rather more unpleasant to look at, I did enjoy my time with the film quite a bit. Klenhard (also working as a co-writer) certainly makes the most out of pleasantly shuddery shots of the coast line set to Shirley Walker’s romantically sumptuous score (which – as is typical of Walker’s TV scores as far as I know them – doesn’t sound much like a typical TV score at all), and while he’s never going all out on the horror, the ghostly attacks and visions are generally creepy and never feel harmless. I’m also very fond of the film’s use of a black dog which adds a folkloric edge to the film, giving it a pleasant resonance with quite a bit of British supernatural lore concerning these creatures.

Klenhard handles the Enrights’ marriage troubles very well, too, adding an appropriate dramatic punch to scenes that often feel very much like a real couple fighting – which means they often transfer the core problems of their relationship onto some minor crap, so they can become bitter about things of little to no import instead of facing their actual troubles. And as any fool knows, ghosts really like to wallow in this sort of thing, particularly the evil ones with their tendency to see the smallest parallel between their lives and those of the living as an invitation to cause bad history to repeat itself.

As a whole, The Haunting of Seacliff Inn is a well made and effective example of a type of ghost story one doesn’t encounter too often on screen (large or small); one of those films that knows exactly what it is and wants to be, and then proceeds to be just that.

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