It’s 12:30 AM, Saturday night and I’ve just got in from a day at my friend’s house. I’m bleary-eyed and exhausted. My wife is out of town, the house is empty and quiet, and instead of calling it a night, I decide to watch The Haunting in Connecticut. IMDB.COM has given it about a 6.5 out of 10, which is a perfect score for a horror movie (anything above that, the movie actually becomes good film-making and therefore less frightening). I should know better than to sit alone in an empty old house and watch a movie about an empty old house filled with hostile ghosts, but I just can’t help myself. I am fascinated by the horror genre, and will often spend hours on Rotten Tomatoes looking for the next big thrill.
Queue the pleasant but soon-to-be-corrupted intro music and here we have a family in dire circumstances, looking for a house. Just by chance they find a big old place with ridiculously cheap rent. There is the big move-in day, the strange locked room in the basement, and then the first few nights with the ominous creaking sounds and horrid faces flashing in bedroom mirrors, which no one seems to hear or see. It’s fifteen minutes into the movie when I begin make quick glances over my shoulder. At the twenty-five minute mark, when the central character of the movie, the oldest and cancer-ridden son of the family, chooses the dark basement to be his bedroom, I pull the throw-blanket up to my chin with the hopes of obscuring the view of the TV. Then there’s the second game of hide-and-seek at the 45 minute mark. By the time the two younger siblings have chosen their hiding places, the old dumb-waiter and the unexplored attic, my nerves have had enough. I press pause and decide to go into the other room and check my email, making sure not to look at anything with a reflective surface.
Now, at this point, the fear is merely superficial. I could go to bed and sleep reasonably well. But there are just so many unanswered questions like: you’ve just woken to see a char-faced spectre standing at the foot of your bed, how can you even attempt to roll over and go back to sleep? Or, you’re renting the house, you don’t own it! You can just move! Why do you insist on living there? Or, in your first game of hide-and-seek you were attacked by zombie ghosts in the basement. Why are you playing another game? And why are you still sleeping in the basement?
These queries, and so many more, cannot be left unresolved. So I return to the movie, making sure to sit on the other coach, because from this new angle, the movie should be less scary. To my disappointment, the ensuing flashback-riddled exorcism scene, the teenaged shower scene and the axe-wielding chase scene all fail to answer my questions. By the film’s end, however, I do learn two things. First, a haunting is sometimes caused by the presence of about 100 odour-free corpses stuffed in your dining room walls. Second, the ghosts of said corpses, if you’re really nice, can cure cancer.
During the first few moments of silence after I have stopped the DVD, I begin to understand what I have done to myself, and what I am in for. It’s 2:30 AM and the normally random and innocent sounds made by my old house are no longer random or innocent. I am edgy and twitchy. In a vain attempt to rinse the dread from my bones, I watch 20 minutes of a documentary on Stephan Hawking. I skip brushing my teeth because that would involve both staring into the mirror of my medicine cabinet and standing with my back to the shower curtains.
Not to worry, I tell myself as I get into bed, just read until you fall asleep. But isn’t this what everyone in the movie did? Tried to ignore the ghosts waiting in the closet and behind the curtains? To my deepening horror do I suddenly realize how reasonable is the behaviour of the characters in these horror movies. This is not the realization one wants to come to on a dark, rainy night in an old empty house. But having made my bed, I do what I’m supposed to. I lie there, pretending to read some Bukowski, listening to the house creek under a mysterious weight, wondering why I couldn’t have watched He’s Just Not That Into You instead.