James Herbert is a fantastic horror writer and, arguably, the best writer within the genre to come out of the UK in the past 50 years. Okay, there's very stiff competition from writers as varied in style and content as Clive Barker, Graham Masterton, Shaun Hutson, Kim Newman and Ramsey Campbell but, to me, Herbert is at the very top of the tree. And deservedly so. Yet very few of his works have been made into films and even fewer have been made into great films (at the last count, by my estimation, that figure would be . . . . . . . . . . zero). I stumbled upon the works of Herbert like so many others of my generation. Basically, I saw copies of The Rats at almost every jumble sale and eventually picked it up, along with a copy of The Fog. Puff your chest up if you like but I'm pretty certain that many people born in the mid- to late 70s, as I was, thought that The Fog by James Herbert and The Fog by John Carpenter were one and the same until they eventually got around to reading the book. In fact, there may even be some people reading this now who never realised that the two stories were very different. Which brings me, in a ridiculously roundabout way, to Haunted, a movie based on the novel by James Herbert. I read the novel many years ago and really enjoyed it. It was a great read, not Herbert's best but very enjoyable nonetheless. I never managed to see the movie until now. Perhaps if I'd seen it back when it was first released I may have found it a bit more enjoyable but I strongly doubt it. Because the film is pretty rubbish.
The story is a pretty cliched one, but cliched doesn't always mean something bad. Aidan Quinn plays someone who doesn't believe in the paranormal and he's asked along to a large country house to help prove to an elderly woman (Anna Massey) that the ghost she thinks is haunting her house isn't a ghost at all. When he arrives at his destination, he meets a beautiful young woman (Kate Beckinsale) and then is soon introduced to her two brothers (Anthony Andrews and Alex Lowe). The siblings seem to take very little seriously and there are moments when they seem to be a little bit too affectionate to one another. But whatever is going on with this slightly strange family, there's a ghost to be disproved and that should remain the top priority.
Directed by Lewis Gilbert, who also co-wrote the script with Timothy Prager and Bob Kellett, Haunted has very little to praise. The acting is okay, with the lovely Kate Beckinsale being a highlight and a wonderful, though small, appearance by John Gielgud but the script is clumsy and awkward (in terms of exchanges of dialogue and the way details are revealed), the pacing is off and everything feels very . . . . . . stagey, despite some outdoor scenes. As much as I disliked, though certainly didn't hate, The Awakening, I now recommend that movie instead of this one to fans of Haunted, the novel.
Despite my disappointment in the movie, it's a hard one to rant about. The setting and some of the cinematography is lovely and it doesn't seem to deliberately try to insult the intelligence of viewers. Oh, except when it comes to using body doubles for nude scenes. Yeah, you know how body doubles work. You have stars that don't want to do nudity and so "inserts" are shot that give audiences a bit of naked flesh while the stars actually didn't disrobe, providing a nice (though I've always thought unnecessary) illusion. That's how using body doubles is supposed to work, at any rate. Not in this movie though, oh no. This is the film in which you get to see the faces of the doubles too. In fact, in one scene "involving Aidan Quinn and Kate Beckinsale" I actually saw that Aidan Quinn was no longer Aidan Quinn and I wondered if some different footage had been slipped in to the film as either some kind of joke I wasn't getting or some psychological horror that was never again mentioned. The simple fact is that it was all down to bad shot choice.
I'm sure that Haunted will appeal to some people but I can't think of any horror fans that it will appeal to. As a big James Herbert fan, I just grow more and more disappointed every time I see his work mistreated and not given a chance to connect with moviegoers. Maybe one day that will change. I've never stopped hoping that one day someone would, at the very least, see sense and adapt the superb Creed.