Monday, April 06, 2009

"The Haunting in Connecticut" - where serious medicine meets horror, and makes a hero

"The Haunting in Connecticut", (website), from LionsGate and Gold Circle, directed by Peter Cornwell, written by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, purports to be a true “morality” story from the late 1980s, about the Snedeker family’s experience with a haunted house in Southington, Ct. In the movie, it’s the Campbell family, which rents the house near a medical center where the most likeable teenage son Matt (Kyle Gallner) must undergo an experiment course in what is apparently whole body radiation therapy for cancer, which sounds like leukemia from the description.

The movie even makes a point of saying that his chest will turn red, like it is sunburned, and it does. Radiation therapy is supposed to be so pinpoint now that such effects are minimal, but maybe that wasn’t true in the 1980s. As far back as the 1970s, cancers like Hodgkins Disease, common in young adults (and sometimes clustered geographically for unknown reasons, suggesting viral origin) were treated with a chemotherapy regime called MOPP, and sometimes radiation. The whole idea of saving lives this brutal way had been first explored at NIH in the early 1960s.

The mother is played by Virginia Madsen, and tenderly supports her son, who gradually seems to climb out of his illness (and vomiting from chemo) to take charge of the whole movie and become its hero. It seems that the house is haunted because it once was a mortuary, and some of the previous inhabitants want to claim new victims (such as Matt). The boy takes medication which may cause hallucinations (many prescription drugs do, as they can also cause depression, suicide thoughts, panic attacks, or runaway anxiety). But what he sees is “real” to him, and eventually to others. Another cancer patient from the hospital, to the discomfort of the family, tries to help, and pretty soon we are seeing ectoplasm just as in supernatural (and not from the chemo).

The combinations of images and concepts of horror with real medical challenges might offends some people, but Matt rises to the challenge, and, when he should be dying from a runaway blast crisis of his leukemia (there is a harrowing unveiling where it looks like he has cut crosses all over his body, or perhaps it is just a hemorrhagic rash, first seen on the ghosts), destroys the demons with fires, and, after being revived, may become the next medical miracle.

Did this really happen? I actually heard about another case like this back in the 1970s when living in New York. I wonder.

The instruments hidden away in the mortuary were pretty brutal, and some of the backstory flashbacks reminded one of the Hostel movies.

The film was actually shot around Winnipeg, Manitoba. Good old DGC work!

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