"True" ghost story movies have had mixed success over the years. The first "Amityville Horror" was a real snoozer. Aside from some interesting ghost-grope-breasts special effects, 1981's "The Entity" (also based on a supposed fact) was a real snore fest as well. But 1988's Wes Craven vehicle "The Serpent and the Rainbow" improved the genre mightily.
Finally, a remake of "Amityville Horror" set that story right and made serious money. And "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" was a hit at the box office. So, it was inevitable that the "true" tale of a haunting captured in a 2002 documentary called "A Haunting in Connecticut" be transformed into an Amityville-sized feature film.
The result is a decent, mystery/ghost story that has all the elements a modern poltergeist tale should -- from the mystery around the source of the haunting to the psychic/priest character eager to exorcise the house -- plus Virginia Madsen to boot.
After a series of black and white images depicting the horrors of a mortuary, the film introduces us to the family of the story -- forced to move into a former mortuary while their son (Kyle Gallner) is undergoing experimental cancer treatment nearby. Like "Amityville," the price of the building is phenomenally cheap. Once they move in, however, they learn that the structure used to house corpses.
Madsen, as the Christian matriarch of the clan, tries to hold the family together as the father (Martin Donovan, fresh off a starring role in the "Right to Die" episode of "Masters of Horror") relapses into alcoholism and her cancer-ridden teenage son starts having apparent hallucinations of seeing dead people in their new home.
Adding to the gravity of the situation is the fact that seeing delusions could prevent him from qualifying for the experimental cancer treatment that's his only hope for survival. So as the boy (played very well by newcomer Kyle Gallner) starts seeing the usual signs of a haunted house -- blood on the floor, maggots, etc. -- he becomes too frightened to tell anyone about it. Luckily, he befriends a local priest who believes that those close to death can see the undead -- and is willing to exorcise the home.
Of course, the big problem is unraveling who haunts the house -- and for a while it looks like it's the spirit of a medium that used to reside there, before he was killed in a seance that went terribly wrong. But naturally there turns out to be more to the mystery than meets the eye.
There's a poltergeist attack in a shower, plenty of shocks involving the burned-to-a-crisp medium spirit walking up on people, and an excellent flashback to the seance that went haywire. For a film with a body count of essentially zero (if you don't include the flashback scenes), its' a pretty scary movie. Director Peter Cornwell knows how to keep up the tension.
Not as scary as 2005's "Amityville Horror" but good nonetheless.