A Haunting in Salem (2011): Out now on DVD
(15) Running time: 86 minutes
Director: Shane Van Dyke
Writer: H. Perry Horton
Starring: Bill Oberst Jr, Courtney Abbiati, Jenna Stone
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Ah the Asylum, or in the case of A Haunting in Salem, ‘Global Asylum’, you do help me through stressful days with your playful films full of stupidity, mayhem, bad acting and bad effects. Films like Almighty Thor, Megashark VS Crocosaurus, Titanic 2, Mega Piranha and Megashark VS Giant Octopus are guaranteed to brighten up anyone’s day, but see these films fitted the poor production and cheap effects, and the bad acting just enhanced the enjoyment. Where things go wrong is when the fun is taken out and The Asylum actually attempts something serious. Step forward director Shane Van Dyke (Titanic 2), a fella who has actually tried to make a serious, atmospheric Gothic horror, supposedly based on real events, and a director who has failed beyond belief. A Haunting in Salem is one of the worst horror films I have ever seen, and sadly it doesn’t even have the sense of humour of most Asylum projects to put it into the “so bad its good” category. This is a poor film, and to watch it is a painful, irritating experience.
A new sheriff has moved into a rather impressive mansion in the town of Salem, and he has brought his stunning wife Carrie (Courtney Abbiati), equally stunning daughter Alli (Jenna Stone) and annoying son Kyle (Nicholas Harsin). Sherriff Wayne Downs is played by horror veteran Bill Oberst Jr, and even though the actor has played many impressive parts in the past, here it’s as if the director just couldn’t be bothered with any retakes as each and every scene is painfully crap. The acting here is horrendous, and really doesn’t help move the story along as the family begin to witness spooky things happening around the house. Yes, it is haunted, yes, the daughter gets possessed, but sadly none of it is believable because the acting is just so incredibly bad. There are hints here that the cast are not a lost cause, but honestly it feels as if they are performing in a school play for the first time. Maybe the director was more focused on the fact the film was being made for 3D, although having watched it in 2D there was nothing here that made me think “wow, in 3D that would look kinda cool”.
Saying that though the film does have some good stuff, like the setting and, believe it or not, some scares. The setting is stunning, the massive Gothic style mansion is superb and the grounds hark back to the sinister horrors of old with large gardens and trees. Incredibly the film also delivers a number of well timed and well crafted scares, which show that with maybe a bigger budget this director just might be able to pull off something half decent. One particular scare see’s the Sherriff lie down in his bed and expect to see his wife, but see’s a horrific demonic face instead. Granted most of the scares come from the same formula as this, but some are actually very effective. See, it is the Sherriff who loses it first, which is interesting, and he begins to dig into both the house and town’s history while his wife thinks he is being stupid. Sadly though, Oberst Jr just can’t hold a film as a lead actor, and even with him being the Sherriff (normally a strong, magnetic character) he can’t keep your interest. Even when his daughter becomes possessed it is laughable, and sadly when she starts speaking in a demonic voice you will find yourself reaching for the off button.
It’s a real shame as there is clearly a lot of potential here, but there is just no one skilled enough to deliver it, let alone drive it. The effects are poor, and thanks to the seriousness of proceedings, fail to conjure up that feeling of “ah, it’s OK this is a B-movie after all” type attitude. If this was played for laughs then it would have sat nicely alongside the Asylum’s other great “bad” movies, but annoyingly this is played serious, and it is very hard to take seriously when it is this bad. Each and every actor look completely lost, the camerawork is poor, the effects shoddy and the music adds very little to the overall atmosphere. The actual plot has some promise, but there is just simply no one in the driving seat to deliver it with any real substance. This is a poor poor film, a wasted opportunity, and proof that The Asylum are not quite ready to take on serious stuff. I hope one day they can, I really really do, but on this effort, The Asylum need to stick with what they know best, cheap rip off’s of big budget films played for laughs. Sorry Asylum chaps, usually I love your films, but A Haunting in Salem takes the biscuit! Burn it and forget it ever happened.