REVIEW: The Haunting a.k.a. No-Do: The Beckoning
The Haunting (a.k.a. No-Do: The Beckoning) (2009), is a film that was released as part of Fangoria’s FrightFest series, distributed by Lightening Media, and we over at SHU-IZMZ just got around to reviewing this title, the final one of the eight new films that came out over a year ago (July, 2010). As I have said before, time and time again, I have always been apprehensive when watching a film that has Fangoria’s name attached to it. Fango has put out some really large pieces of shit that they have attached their names to through Fango Films, distributor or otherwise. One in particular that I felt was atrocious was The Last Horror Movie (2003).
Generally, many of the films distributed were very low-budget and were less than adequate in the genre of horror. If the films were not putting Fangoria on the banner head I might cut the movies some slack but I felt that a horror film from a generally reputable horror publication such as Fangoria whom has been in the horror business for so many years should not attach their name to films that are really scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of plot, gore, special effects, and acting. I have come to grow extremely leery of any film that Fangoria gives its thumbs-up to. As of recent years, I have also come to regard the magazine itself as one of the lesser in strength in terms of writing, coverage, and knowledge of horror and genre films. I grew up reading Fangoria, as well as GoreZone and Toxic Horror (with its short run), and, sadly, I no longer subscribe to Fangoria. I have, instead, started reading Rue Morgue and HorrorHound. I think the only good thing about Fangoria is the fact that it is priced lower than the aforementioned publications, particularly if one subscribes to it. I wish Rue Morgue would offer a discount to subscribers that was as substantial as Fangoria’s discount was. Rue Morgue is my favorite of the three magazines but who the hell can afford to be spending $10 on one single issue of a magazine. Most of the relevant and current newsworthy articles one can obtain via the Internet for free of charge (as long as one has an internet connection) anyways. But let’s get back to a line-up Fangoria has come out with that, as readers of the past seven reviews up at SHU-IZMZ can attest to, did not all suck. In fact, some of the films were pretty decent, if not totally kick-ass horror films.
For reasons that are beyond my comprehension, Lightening Media decided to send me a screener of The Haunting (not to be confused with Robert Wise’s 1963 film of the same title or its horrible remake) that was dubbed HORRIBLY in English. The film is originally in Spanish and the overdub was so bad that a good portion of the soundtrack was considerably lower in volume, in regards to the sound effects, whenever a piece of dialogue was spoken. That really sucked and as hard as it is to do so, I am trying to not be biased in review because I really enjoyed most of the film as a whole. I was infuriated to find that the official release of the film has the original soundtrack option of Spanish with English subtitles or the craptastic English dubbing that I was privy to. Now that my rants on the current state of Fangoria Magazine and sending Shu screeners that are not in the original language with English subtitles is over, lets get on to Mr. Quiroga’s film, The Haunting.
The Haunting (a.k.a. No-Do: The Beckoning) is a Spanish ghost story that takes its plot line from a bit of historical fact, as well as some possible speculation, inspired by the Catholic Church’s documentation of actual, unexplained supernatural phenomena in the ‘40s, as well as drawing from the No-Do: Noticiarios y Documentales (News & Documentaries), the state-controlled series of cinema newsreels produced in Spain from 1943-1981 and closely associated with the 1939-1975 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. These “newsreels” contained a good deal of propaganda, as well.
In a Fangoria interview, director Elio Quiroga (Fotos, La Hora Fria) was quoted as saying that the film “is a ghost story about people who can see invisible things”, as well as going on to say that, “also the story of the people that secretly filmed supernatural phenomena about a century ago in Spain: The cameramen of the Secret No-Dos, old newsreels about unexplainable phenomena commissioned by the Catholic Church in the ‘40s that have been kept buried in secret for decades.”
The first time watching The Haunting, I was extremely intrigued and riveted by the thought that the Catholic Church had actually did their own sort of paranormal investigation. I did know they had done exorcisms and battled the Devil. Whether they really were battling and exorcising some dark force, be it Satan or any other evil entity, I was not sure. I do not know if the priests performing the exorcism were even sure, but the possibility that there are (or is) really demons and evil entities was thoroughly fascinating and entertaining to me. For this sole reason, I was ultimately hooked on Quiroga’s film, hoping that by its end I would not be angry at having spent 90 minutes watching it. I was more than pleased, as The Haunting is a pretty solid ghost story. Viewers of the film are bound to be comparing it to other Spanish horror films regarding ghosts and the paranormal, such as Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage (El orfanato) (2007), or Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (2001) which both films, in my opinion, are excellent, but Quiroga’s film is both on a much smaller budget and a somewhat different subject matter in its exploration of ghosts.
Our story starts out with two married physicians, Francesca (Anna Torrent) and Pedro (Francisco Boira), whom Francesca has just given birth to her new baby and is now suffering from postpartum depression. On the advice of their friend and psychologist Jean (Roscio Munoz), the family moves to a new home that is outside of the city and in a more rural setting. They decide to move into a house that was once occupied and is still owned by the Catholic Church, of which the cellar and attic are locked and the family is barred from entering.
As Francesca’s depression deepens, her husband really begins to start worrying about her, especially when she becomes obsessed with her new baby and the fact that she begins to hear and see strange things, most of which she believes their origins to be coming from the basement and attic which is locked up. As her nightmares continue, more and more apparitions and ghostly happenings begin to occur and she starts to fear for her newborn child’s life. After seeking the help of a local Catholic priest and psychiatrist, Father Miguel (Hector Colome) (who knows very well the history of the house), he unveils the true matters at hand and together they figure out a way to uncover what exactly they are dealing with and how to combat it. The film has decent acting, not the best and not the worst, but what really stands out aside from a slightly common theme and storyline are the filters used for filming and the all-around atmosphere and special effects. A ghost story just does not pack any thrills or chills if the visual effects are lacking. Terrible visual effects turn a possibly engaging and quasi-terrifying experience into another run-of-the-mill viewing experience. Fortunately, the filmmakers threw in some very cool special effects and made the film an overall enjoyable view and surprisingly creepy experience.
I thought that adding the No-Do component to the film was a brilliant idea. It offers some Spanish history to add validity to the background information concerning the Catholic Priests, as well as the time-period in which the Spanish production company No-Do was present. During the 1940’s, many Catholic priests were investigating supernatural and paranormal activities and Quiroga shows good judgment in slipping this aspect into the film to keep things interesting for viewers.
If at times the film seems choppy and scenes do not flow together quite as nicely, that is due to the film being originally around two hours in duration and being chopped down to 95 minutes. That is almost 25 minutes of footage cut from the film. I really have to wonder if that footage really needed to be removed from the film and why it was removed. Maybe one-day a Director’s Cut will come out with the original footage restored.
The film, The Haunting, is dedicated to the memory of Joaquim Jorda (1935-2006), a Spanish director who traveled to Paris, France and met Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol, and Rivette which led his films to gain a political edge and awareness to them. He directed and wrote a number of influential films, as well as winning and being nominated for a handful of awards. Posthumously, Jorda was awarded the National Film Award. He had died at age 70.
The Haunting also ends with very interesting quote from Sci-Fi author Philip K. Dick: “If you find this world bad, you should see some of the others.” This just gives viewers something to ponder once the film is finished-to believers of ghosts, the paranormal, and other alien worlds, as well as to those more grounded in things that are far easier in justifying their existence.
For those in need of a decent ghost story that delivers solid visual effects and also adds a bit of Spanish history in the mix, The Haunting is your bag of tricks. It may not be on par with some of the other Spanish and Japanese ghost stories with far greater budgets, but the film does well with what it has to work with. I just wish the version I had seen was in Spanish and subtitled in English instead of being atrociously dubbed over in English. I think I would have had a far more enjoyable viewing experience had it been the other way around.