USA [TV movie]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 96 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Julie Evans moves into a new house by the sea with her husband Dan. He was a successful football player, but when his contract expired recently, it wasn’t renewed due to his age He’s now emotionally struggling with the life changes he’s had to make, and as a result doesn’t seem to want intimacy with Julie. While he starts a second career as a news reporter Julie is home alone, and it seems that there’s a presence in the house, a presence which not only takes her over at certain times but which seems to want to make love to her. Of course Dan just thinks that she’s either losing it or having an affair….
This will probably be the one out of this mini-series of reviews that many readers won’t have heard of, but I wanted to include a slightly obscure film as well as a TV movie, and The Haunting Passion [not admittedly a very promising title] fits both criteria. I actually wanted to watch and review it principally because it was a film which has….well….haunted me for about over three decades but which I only now bought because the only legitimate DVDs of the film always seemed to be ludicrously overpriced whenever I looked until, prompted by my watching of Live And Let Die for my James Bond series, I had a look on Amazon and a reasonably priced Spanish release was on there. What I recall made a great impression on me, who was about 12 at the time, was that it was both spooky and sexy. Finally viewing it again after all these years, it’s still both of those things at times, though it’s really a ghost tale of the romantic kind and will probably best satisfy those after a moving supernatural love story rather than a scary horror film. In fact, memory had probably held it up to be a bit better than it actually turned out to be despite it having some notatble qualities, in particular one of the best performances by Jane Seymour I’ve ever seen.
With little background information available on the film, it’s straight into the review proper and, while the music of a film is usually something I cover in the last paragraph, Paul Chihara’s score for The Haunting Passion is so insistent and even sometimes downright annoying that it was the main thing that struck me about the film for some time as I watched it. Even dialogue scenes often have the main theme played over and over again, while Chihara won’t ever let the potentially scary scenes speak for themselves. Anyway, strange things begin to happen as soon as Dan and Jane have moved into their new house, though of course one is left with the suggestion for some time that Jane could be imagining flickering lights, doors closing by themselves and being sexily kissed in bed by someone or something while her husband sleeps beside her. After all, Dan’s difficulty in dealing with the fact that his football playing days are over has led him to not want to get close to his wife, let alone want to have sex with her. The lonely and frustrated Jane could just be fantasising, and there are several other routes the story could have gone down here [it would have been interesting if Jane had someone dreamt up or summoned the ghost to satisfy her ‘needs’] while some of the scenes between the two discussing their marriage are quite well written by screenwriters Michael Berk and Douglas Schwartz despite – and this is something that really lets the side down – the very bland performance from Gerald McRaney as Dan.
Dan actually manages to get rid of some of his demons when he interviews the coach who let him go, and it seems like he’s now ready to pay some attention to his wife, but by now she spends much of the time in a daze. She’s also both drawn to and scared by what is going on, just like us horror movie fans I guess. There are two moments which gave me a chill in this movie, one being when Jane is sketching a friend’s little girl and, possessed, half draws the face of a man just above the girl’s face, and the other being when the same man’s face looms in the bathroom mirror. Meanwhile Jane being made love to by the ghost just outside the house and in the shower, if quite subtle by today’s standards, are quite erotic scenes for a TV movie of the time and I’m not sure that they’d work quite so well if they were more explicit. The ghost effects tend to be rather weak though even if you accept that this is a TV movie from 1983, and, because they’re not really needed until near the end, one wonders why they decided to include them in some earlier scenes [where they can’t seem to decide what the ghost looks like either], especially as the ghost is never actually seen when indulging in his fun with Julie.
Of course we do eventually find out who the ghost is and why [well, kind of] he’s doing what he’s doing, and the story becomes a fantasy romance for which tissues may very well be required. The horror fan may feel cheated, and the film does seem to suddenly hurry to its conclusion too, but the ending is genuinely touching, even if it’s almost exactly the same as the ones in The Ghost And Mrs Muir and Titanic while also being rather similar to the ending of Somewhere In Time which Seymour had made three years prior to this film. In fact the fan of that movie in me begun to envisage The Haunting Passion as a semi-sequel to it. I’m not sure that everything ends up being satisfactorily explained though [the ghost apparently does much of what he does because he’s “confused”?] and I think that the script needed a final workover in places. There’s also one unintentionally funny moment when Julie’s attacked by a burglar and the ghost comes to the rescue which is so poorly staged and is made further amusing by the bizarre music written for it. One thing that did pleasantly surprise me was how director John Korty didn’t go in for the lots of close-ups thing that many TV directors tended to do around the time, something which really helps in giving the viewer a feel of the house which, despite not being your typical-looking haunted abode, is made quite good use of.
Seymour is probably the best thing in the film. She acts her part with considerable conviction and helps considerably in some moments which could have almost become amusing without her great efforts. I wish that she’d played more roles of such a sexual nature back then. Millie Perkins, despite being too young, appears far too briefly [in fact it looks like her part was cut down] in a pivotal and rather heartbreaking part. I’ve already mentioned the non-stop music, but I will say that the often strange synthesiser sonorities are certainly interesting to hear. and would have certainly worked if used more sparingly. Overall I’d probably only recommend The Haunting Passion [which is also available to view on YouTube, but I just wanted to own it] with caution, and I think that it may be more to the liking of folk who aren’t too keen on ghost stories rather than folk who are. After all, you’ll left thinking more about eternal love and similarly soppy stuff rather than things that go bump in the night as the end credits come up, which makes me wish that I’d decided to review this movie next February, though it’s evidence that it is possible to make a ghost story that’s actually quite erotic, and I’m surprised more films haven’t tried this kind of thing. In any case, seeing this odd, minor but rather likeable film was still quite a pleasurable experience. I was a little disappointed in it, yes, but not hugely so. So many times people revisit something they once loved and are so bitterly let down that they wish they hadn’t bothered.