Cinema Fearité presents 'The Haunted'
Cinema Fearité pays tribute to pop culture icon Lorraine Warren with the unsung Warren Case made-for-TV movie ‘The Haunted.’
Last week, paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren passed away at the age of 92. It may seem weird for a horror movie column to mention this fact, but the cases of Lorraine and her husband Ed directly inspired some of the best fright flicks of all time, including The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring (and The Conjuring 2), A Haunting in Connecticut, and Annabelle. And that’s just scratching the surface. Between the movies and television appearances, Ed and Lorraine were pop culture icons. One of their cases was even turned into a Fox made-for-TV movie in 1991. That movie is called, simply, The Haunted.
Set mostly in the late seventies, The Haunted is about Jack and Janet Smurl (Sally Kirkland from Two Evil Eyes and Jeffrey DeMunn from The Mist) who, along with their daughters Katie (Allison Barron from Night of the Demons), Colleen (Krista Murphy from “The Wonder Years”), Shawn (Ashley Bank from The Monster Squad), and Erin (Michelle Collins from “Jake and the Fatman”), move into a duplex in suburban Pennsylvania, with Jack’s parents John and Mary (Forbidden Planet’s George D. Wallace and Marnie’s Louise Latham) occupying the other half.
Not long after moving in, the Smurls start experiencing strange happenings. At first, it’s just unexplained noises or phantom caresses in the night. But when Jack is physically assaulted by the presence, Janet seeks help from famed parapsychologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Stephen Markle from Invasion U.S.A. and Diane Baker from The Silence of the Lambs). The Warrens figure out that the Smurls are being haunted by a demon that is using three different spirits to tear their family apart.
The Haunted was directed by Robert Mandel (F/X, School Ties) from a teleplay by Darrah Cloud (who has made a career since out of writing Christmas TV movies with titles like I’ll Be Home for Christmas and A Holiday to Remember), which in turn was based on a book co-authored by writer Robert Curran with the real Jack and Janet Smurl along with Ed and Lorraine Warren. It was broadcast by the Fox Network, a newer network that was just starting to challenge the big three for viewership and, therefore, broke the rules to set themselves apart. This explain why, for a television movie, The Haunted has so many borderline horrifying moments.
The words “based on a true story” have always been gold for horror movie producers, especially when the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren are involved. The couple was well-known for always being at the center of legendary hauntings, and the Smurl haunting was no exception. They were also well-known for embellishing their stories for dramatic effect, and The Haunted was no exception to that, either. Both the Warrens and the Smurls have been criticized for falsifying events for the sake of the book that they co-wrote.
The portrayals of the Warrens in The Haunted are much safer and calmer than the depictions of them in other movies. One might even say that the performances of Stephen Markle and Diane Baker are sterile and emotionless, especially when compared to those of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in the Conjuring universe movies. Even the look of the characters is toned down and bland. Fortunately, the Warrens are only in a couple of scenes (one of which, the meeting between the Warrens and Janet Smurl, seems to have been directly lifted for The Conjuring). The movie is based on a Warren case, but the Smurls are the stars.
Even though it was made by a renegade television network in the days when made-for-TV movies were starting to get slick, The Haunted is absolutely a TV movie. From the corny women’s voiceover that makes it feel like an episode of “Beyond Belief” to the all-too-convenient cop-out ending which seems like Mandel and Cloud couldn’t think of another way to wrap things up, the hallmarks of television safety are all there. The spirit manifests itself as a double-exposure video shadow effect that is typically lo-fi. Even the disturbing demon rape scene (seriously!) is toned down a bit, transforming it from horrifying to hilarious. The Haunted is as risky as a TV movie could be at the time, but it’s still tamer than it would have been had the story become a theatrical feature instead.
Ed and Lorraine Warren have a dubious reputation as a pair of hucksters in the parapsychology scene, but one thing is for sure; their cases, embellished or not, have inspired some great movies. Even the ones that are based on the lesser-known cases are compelling. Like The Haunted. Hopefully, Lorraine is now reunited with Ed and they’re sharing memories with some of the spirits that they encountered in the world when they were both alive.