Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Haunting in Salem and Unearthing the Witches' Graves: A Movie Review

*full disclosure: a DVD screener of this film was provided by The Asylum.

Director: Shane Van Dyke.

Writers: H. Perry Horton.

Everyone needs a guilty pleasure and this reviewer enjoys an occasional The Asylum production. Their latest is called A Haunting in Salem and this title released on DVD October 4th and in a 3D Blu-Ray format as well. This horror title stars Bill Oberst Jr. (The Shunning), Gerald Webb and Courtney Abbiati in a mostly thrilling straight-to-video release. The film is loosely based on the Salem witch trials of 1692 and this film fan enjoyed the story, gore effects and musical score from composer Chris Ridenhour.

The film begins with three murders in under five minutes and clearly this is a film unafraid of restricted territory. The final scene in a series of shots involves a sheriff flying off of a two story roof to his death. Then, another sheriff comes to town with his family in tow as the replacement. In no time, teeth are falling out of a character's mouth, there are scalding burns and gardeners turn up hanging from trees. It is time to put up a for sale sign! However, Wayne (Bill Oberst Jr.) decides to stick it out, despite warnings of his new abode being built on a series of graves. These are the last remnants of eighteen falsely accused witches who are searching for some sort of revenge three hundred years later.

The story is supposedly based on a true story; yet, there have been few murders based on these trials since the 17th Century. In the film, there are lots of instances of hangings which represent the victims of the Puritans (a group of no fun religious zealouts). There are also drownings in hot water. Apparently this was another way to dispose of witches. All of these deaths will keep the audience on their toes, but there are only a few tense moments in A Haunting in Salem. A few more jump scares were required to take the film over the edge, into heart seizing territory.

This reviewer enjoyed the film because of the thrilling nature of the script, from The Asylum fan H. Perry Horton. Horton manages to evade most of the tropes of a haunted house story while introducing a plot line that is one of the lowlights of American history. The tone is often tense and Ridenhour's score stays in synchronicity with the film. There are light moments; however, this is mostly dark material. And this darkness intensifies in the final moments as characters turn up covered in blood or on their death bed. Unfortunately, the film comes to an end much too quickly as The Asylum sticks to the requisite ninety minutes. There was at least another thirty minutes of material here. These criticisms do not take much away from an indie thriller that is both exciting and sometimes even scary.

All of the film elements, from lighting to acting, are of a good caliber here. Only the short runtime of A Haunting in Salem dampers the experience of the film, with this production one of The Asylum's best. Thankfully, this is not a mockbuster either, with Horton's script original and even refreshing at times. If you watch this instantly on video-on-demand, DVD or Blu-Ray (3D), then expect to have an entertaining time. On the other hand, do not expect an in-depth story as the film is over just as it is building momentum.

Story/plot/writing: 7.5 (well written, good characters, sparseness of sub-plots).
Makeup/visuals: 7.5 (good makeup, some of the costumes looked ill fitting or hastily put together).

Overall: 7.5 (enjoyable).

A second review of this film at Match Flick (Mike):

A Haunting in Salem Reviewed at Match Flick

A Haunting in Salem at The Asylum:

A Haunting in Salem Reviewed at The Asylum

Similar in theme, story and structure:

Amityville Horror on DVD at Amazon

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