'Haunted' a spirited look at the other world


May 06, 1991|By Michael Hill

Let's have a show of hands. How many of you have misplaced something, looked all over for it in frustration, and then come across it again right under your nose, just where you thought you'd left it?

Pretty many? Yeah, thought so.

Now, how many of you have blamed that on an evil spirit haunting your house?

Not too many hands up now.

Well, according to the Spurl family, that was the cause when a hammer disappeared shortly after they moved into their modest duplex in a small Pennsylvania mining town. The story of this alleged infestation by evil spirits is told in "The Haunted," tonight's Fox movie on Channel 45 (WBFF) at 8 o'clock.

Your reaction to this basically well-made film will depend on if you're a believer or a skeptic. Chalk up your reviewer as one of the latter.

If you're a believer, you'll probably get caught up in the Spurls' story of strange noises and shadowy spirits. If you're not, you might get almost as caught up in trying to come up with alternate explanations for these occurrences.

The cast is first-rate. Sally Kirkland plays Janet Spurl, Jeffrey DeMunn is husband Jack. We meet them in 1975. Forced out of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., by a flood, they move with their two daughters into their new house in West Pittston. Jack's parents -- played by Louis Latham and George D. Wallace -- take the other half of the duplex.

Soon enough, Jack is having trouble finding the hammer he knew he left right there, and Janet can't cover that stubborn stain in the hallway with paint. But basically things are fairly normal for a few years.

Then the weird stuff starts. Odd feelings, strange voices, banging in the walls, all depicted with fairly sophisticated special effects. Janet notices it first. Jack is skeptical until one night when he actually feels a presence that is touching Janet as they lie in bed. He becomes a true believer after a visit from a sex-crazed spirit known as a succubus who has her way with him, a dramatized scene you may well have never come across in prime time before.

Then you've got your door slammings, your shoves across the room, your banging drawers, and even a light fixture crashing to the table in the kitchen. Then there was the time when the Spurls had headed out to a campground seeking relief and the neighbors heard screaming coming from the vacant house, which had always had a reputation around town even before the Spurls moved in. Oh, and don't forget Janet's middle-of-the-night levitation.

Much of "The Haunted" is taken up with the Spurls' attempts to get help. Devout Catholics, they are nonetheless rejected by their church when they ask for an exorcism. Janet eventually catches a lecture by a couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren, who make their living off psychic phenomena. Indeed, this skeptic, on assignment, even caught the Warrens' act maybe 15 years ago at a nearby college.

The Warrens pay a visit and detect a spiritual infestation in the Spurl house, much as the Orkin man might find termites. They finally get a priest to perform an exorcism, but it doesn't take. Evidently that's because he's a defrocked Catholic who became an Episcopalian.

The Warrens arm the Spurls with holy water, crucifixes and Hail Marys to battle the demons. Nothing wrong with their beliefs, but the reliance on purely Catholic methodology is somewhat troubling. Does this mean that Jews, Muslims, agnostics, or even Protestants for that matter, don't get visited by spirits? Or just that they don't have the means to fight them off? Just wondering. Hardly ecumenical, but these folks do seem skeptical of the so-called "modern" -- i.e. post-Vatican II -- church, which doesn't go in too much for demonology.

Eventually, after going public and getting haunted by the country's most evil demon -- the press -- the Spurls do get some help from their church. But the hauntings continue, even following them to a new house.

Frankly, if the Spurls had contacted someone like the magician Randy the Magnificent, who spends his career debunking claims of the supernatural, instead of a couple who make their living by confirming them, their case might be more believable.

As it is, "The Haunted" is not going to change anyone's mind about such phenomena, though it is good enough to make you open your eyes a bit wider if the house creaks and wakes you up tonight.

"The Haunted" ** A movie based on the claims of a Pennsylvania family whose modest duplex was allegedly the home to a variety of evil spirits and supernatural phenomena.

CAST: Sally Kirkland, Jeffrey DeMunn

TIME: Tonight at 8 p.m.

.` CHANNEL: Fox Channel 45 (WBFF)

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