STUDIO: Lions Gate
MSRP: $28.98
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
• Video commentary by director Courtney Solomon
• Alternate and deleted scenes
• Interview with director Courtney Solomon and actress Sissy Spacek
• Internet promotions
• Trailer and TV spots

The Pitch

Don’t no ghost scare the shit out of you like an American ghost, son.

The Humans

Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D’Arcy, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Matthew Marsh, Thom Fell.

"Hey Malick, how much longer we gonna be shooting this friggin’ Pocahontas movie anyway?"

The Nutshell

Things are fine for the Bell family of 19th-century Tennessee, until inexplicably, a supernatural entity starts making their lives a living hell. The entity is fixated on tormenting John Bell (Sutherland) and his teenage daughter Betsy (Hurd-Wood), robbing him of his health, while physically punishing Betsy with assaults time and time again. The entity also manifests itself in the form of poltergeists, bad dreams, and whispers. The attacks serve to almost rob Betsy of her sanity and John of his will to live and it’s presumably brought on by a dispute between Bell and a local woman, Kate Batts, who is thought to be a witch, and presumably cursed them both. As the assaults on Betsy increase in intensity, the source of the curse is finally uncovered, and someone is going to pay the price.

The Lowdown

An American Haunting isn’t a bad little flick as far as weaving a creepy tale is concerned. It relies a little too much on the sudden scare, but otherwise it does a pretty good job of building some suspense as you seek to find out what has pissed off whatever it is that’s doing all the shenanigans and tomfoolery. The tale is told from the point of Richard Powell, the local school teacher who documented the goings-on in a journal. The journal is found by a young girl in present day, and she seems to be going through some of the things that Betsy went through back in the day. She has violent dreams of being chased and a young girl appearing to her, just as Betsy did. As we go back to the 19th Century, we find that that’s just the beginning.

Turns out there was something just a little…off…about Hester Prynne’s little girl…

Betsy’s a normal girl who all of a sudden starts being bedeviled by an unseen entity that’s pissed off at something. It can manifest as a young girl, a black wolf, or a poltergeist that tosses things around. Prior to the attacks, Bell had a court case with Kate Batts, a local woman, over profit from a land deal between the two. In the end, the case wasn’t resolved to either of their satisfaction as they both profited and both lost something, in Bell’s case his good name. Afterwards, Batts uttered a curse upon Bell and Betsy, and that seems to be the cause of everything bad happening to the Bell family. One thing is certain though, Betsy is being savaged both mentally and physically throughout the film, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it, not even by taking her away. The source of the entity’s rage is eventually revealed and you might see it coming if you catch the clues, but I didn’t. It also has ties to what is happening to the present day girl and her family to provide a creepy bookend to the whole tale.

"Hey Oddball, aren’t we about a hundred years too early for there to be Germans around here?"
"Always with the negative vibes, man…."

Director Solomon uses a lot of practical effects and some dizzying camerawork to spin his intrigue rather than CGI and that’s nice. The movie does take a little too long to really get going, and some of the attacks on Betsy do get a bit repetitive. The roles of Bell and his wife, Lucy, are ones that Sutherland and Spacek could play in their sleep, and the film is mostly carried by the believability of Hurd-Wood as the tormented Betsy, and she does it pretty effectively. This won’t turn out to be a classic horror tale by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a pretty solid offering. But once again, don’t fall for the Unrated Edition hype, there’s nothing here scarier or even nuder than what was in the theatre probably.

The Package

The video is fine in 2.35:1 but the sound is a bit dodgy as some of the vocals are a little too low at times. Had to check out the subtitles more than once. As for features, there’s a video commentary by Solomon, and several alternate and deleted scenes, including four alternate endings. There’s also an interview between Solomon and Spacek that lasts about four minutes, some Internet promotions and Trailer and TV spots.

Unfortunately, Season 46 of 24 saw ole Jack just a little bit depressed…

7.0 out of 10