Haunting in Salem, A

Shane Van Dyke Should Stick to the Paranormal Entity Movies

Main Cast: Bill Oberts Jr.

Director: Shane Van Dyke

So apparently one of the perks of being hired on as sheriff of Salem, Massachusetts is getting to live in the Corwin mansion for free. So when ex-soldier and PTSD-sufferer Wayne Downs (Bill Oberst, Jr, Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies) moves his family into the house after taking the gig, of course he and wife Carrie (Courtney Abbiati, “How I Met Your Mother”) are pleased (it’s a huge house, built in the 1690s, and beautiful), while his kids, Alli (Jenna Stone, “Miss Behave”) and Kyle (Nicholas Harsin, “Matchmakers”), immediately peg the place as “haunted”.

Don’t be silly, the parents say. It’s just an old house. Of course there are going to be weird noises in the night. That scratching Alli hears that keeps her up all night is a mouse. And the walls are really thin, so naturally you’re going to hear every noise. It’s the pipes. It’s the house settling. It’s the wind. It’s the old groundskeeper getting killed by his own hedge trimmers, then strung up in a tree, but don’t tell the kids; we don’t want to frighten them.

Deputy Mike tells the new sheriff that the house sits where the old town hall used to be, which is also, coincidentally, where the Salem Witch Trial executions were held. Yep, Deputy Mike says, 19 bodies were buried on these here grounds over 300 years ago. But don’t worry, the only evil in the house was the last occupant 60 years ago who killed his entire family. Well, have a good night, Sheriff.

So you can understand when, the next morning, Wayne decides to find out for himself whether or not those noises in the night–not to mention the ghastly visions he keeps having–are real or merely symptoms of his mental issues returning.

You know, I really dig Asylum movies. They show that, with a small budget and little time (this one was reportedly shot in 12 days, and it shows!), you can take a knock-off story (in this case, it feels a lot like The Amityville Horror), and make a pretty bad movie as long as you hire actors with few to no credits.

That’s not a dig, I really respect the motivation behind Asylum movies, a company which has obviously built its business plan around the Roger Corman school of moviemaking.

A Haunting in Salem is a horror movie more in theory than fact, but it does provide a small handful of creepy scenes, hidden beneath a layer of even more obvious and telegraphed “jump scares” that result in anything but jumping. Written by H. Perry Horton (2-Headed Shark Attack) and directed by Shane Van Dyke (Paranormal Entity), A Haunting in Salem wastes no time in getting right to the point, and this actually works against the movie; a more moderately paced film that wants you to care one iota about the characters, or that wants to develop the plot in a more natural way would have worked wonders here. As it is, we get an hour and 24 minutes of zooming from shot to shot with little time to acclimate or even suspend our disbelief. In one scene, a woman shows up at the house for some reason we never discover. She lets herself in the unlocked door and spends about 3 seconds calling for anyone who might be home. Meanwhile the mother is upstairs helping the daughter bite down on a peroxide-soaked rag after losing a tooth (WHAT!?!). Downstairs the woman sees a mysterious figure that first frightens her, then obviously possesses her and compels the woman into the kitchen were she takes a big pot, spends 2 seconds running water into it, sets it on the stove, where the pot immediately begins to boil, and the woman lowers her face into the now full, and boiling, pot.

She falls dead to the floor and is dragged away, never to be seen again. Where she went and why the ghosts felt the need to kill the woman is never explained, and the whole section probably takes less than 90 seconds of screen time.

Why do we care, again? Oh, right, we don’t.

Now, none of this is to say A Haunting in Salem doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. Bill Oberst Jr. does a pretty convincing job as the long-suffering Wayne. That’s about it; I didn’t buy any of the other cast as his family. The effects, what there were of them, were dull, bordering on lame, but luckily we saw very little of them anyway. Then again, that also means that most of the “good stuff” happened off screen.

Blah.

In the end, I’m not sure what could have been done to make this a GOOD movie, other than casting James Brolin and Margot Kidder and calling it The Amityville Horror. I’m sure there are SOME people who work for The Asylum who honestly want to make quality films, but these budgets and these shooting schedules, man, they’re just not doing themselves any favors. If nothing else, I guess I can just hope that one day a writer or director will emerge who DOES make great movies, and who also just happened to have cut his teeth working as a grip or something on an Asylum movie. Hope springs eternal.

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