Yet another apparent true story about another haunting in America, “The Haunted” is one of the most effective and creepy ghost films ever made. Though it’s primarily a TV movie, it’s been sadly shunned in to obscurity in favor of the more appealing “Amityville.” But in the end, “The Haunted” ends up feeling like much more of a true and realistic tale of an actual demonic haunting, and it’s one filled with unnerving and absolutely terrifying instances of hauntings that are filmed with such sharp editing and dark tones that it still holds up as a cinematic experience you’ll be thinking about for hours after you’ve finished it.
1991’s “The Haunted” is a horror drama based around the experiences of the Smurl family, a well meaning family with some underlying tensions surrounding them, all of whom move in to a new duplex that slowly but surely indicates that it’s in fact haunted by something truly horrific and demonic over the course of ten years. “The Haunted” begins on a fairly uneasy note and completely degrades in to the horrific as the first instance of paranormal activity begins with a misplaced hammer. And though the characters basically laugh it off, the audience knows deep down that this is only the beginning. Like all of the famous incidents involving a haunting or possession the evil is only allowed to enter because of deep seated familial discord, and much of this involves the troubled marriage of the Smurl parents Jack and Janet as played by Jeffery DeMunn and Sally Kirkland.
As the film progresses we learn more about their troubled relationship and this allowed the demonic entities to taunt and torment them as much as they possibly want. And this sets the stage for some simplistic but truly horrifying moments in the film including a scene involving shadows by a door, and another involving ghostly murmuring that could be heard even through a pillow. The film’s entire story is set in under a decade where the Smurl family were forced to co-exist with the demonic entities and find ways to keep from letting them destroy the family base. In one instance when they attempt to leave for the weekend to go camping they find there’s simply no escape from the paranormal forces and their house becomes a veritable warzone for the demons much to the awe of the neighbors. As the years pass the Smurl’s seek help in the form of their local church and are completely denied and become the victim of vicious attacks including wife Janet being pushed down a basement, and husband Jack being raped by a female apparition.
There’s also a spotlight on the Smurl’s encounters with ghost hunters, and their inevitable fame that becomes a burden on their lives. Stars Kirkland and DeMunn give fantastic performances and their terror is felt throughout the film’s odd incidents and unusual occurrences that escalate in to violent before the closes on a gasp. “The Haunted” may be one of the most obscure television movies to date and isn’t even mentioned alongside the pantheon of great haunted house films, which is a shame because it manages to accomplish frights and uneasy tension better than most modern haunted house films with multi-million dollar budgets. Fact or fiction, “The Haunted” is a truly great ghost film and one I prefer greatly over the more sensationalistic “Amityville Horror.” With great performances from Jeffery DeMunn and Sally Kirkland, director Robert Mandel’s 1991 horror film is still very entertaining and incredibly scary relying on simple special effects and using its shocks sparingly and cleverly. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest giving it a try.