Monday, 19 October 2015



Though I'm not sure I want them to be true, I'm all for haunted house movies. Especially ordinary, suburban, "real" British houses with cracked tiles in the bathrooms and not really enough space for everyone: they're much more the kind of abodes we're used to, rather than the unfeasibly vast American houses of films like the Paranormal Activity series. They feel that much more real and believable than Castle Dracula or the fabulous old mansions Vincent Price would go insane in in the Corman Poe movies. If a horror movie is set in a house not dissimilar to one you've actually lived in at some point, much of the heavy lifting of plausibility is already done. Even Hellraiser, wonky and wayward though it might be, works in part because we've all been in a house like that. All you really need to do then is to slap on an opening caption saying it's "Based On Real Events".

As far as true, fiercely British period ghost stories go, The Enfield Haunting is closer to 2010's When The Lights Went Out (at least up to that film's unnecessary CGI-enhanced climax). This is also set in the 1970s, in this case 1977, when an ordinary North London family in suddenly plagued by inexplicable activity: noises, marks on the wall, moving furniture. The press turn up, then Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair (Timothy Spall and Matthew McFadyen) from the British Psychical Society arrive to investigate. Are the two daughters faking it, and why? (Neither the psychic investigators nor the Daily Mirror were called in by the family.) Or is there a genuine presence in the house?

Much of the first half of The Enfield Haunting is pretty chilling and very effective (the sight of large items of furniture suddenly rocketing across the room always creeps me out: for me it's actually one of the more potent images from The Exorcist), and given that it's based on Playfair's book and that both Playfair and Grosse's son Richard acted as consultants, it should have a measure of truth on its side. Later sections, where it suggests that Grosse was particularly interested in this case due to an overwhelming need to communicate with his daughter who died after a motorbike crash the previous year, do feel more like dramatic padding. The ending lacks punch, but that's probably due to the facts of the case rather than a desire not to end in a spectacular and exciting, but perhaps inaccurate, way.

At around 135 minutes it's way too long, but The Enfield Haunting isn't actually a movie, so the usual rules and preferences for a tidy running time don't really apply. It's a TV mini-series for Sky TV which originally ran in three one-hour timeslots but condenses down to two and a quarter hours minus the advert breaks; the DVD includes the opening and closing credits for each individual episode, though it does omit any "End Of Part One" bumpers and "Previously On...." introductions. But the period detail (cars, decor, hair, clothes and so on) looks perfect, Timothy Spall is one of those character actors who's infinitely watchable in pretty much anything, and the various manifestations of the poltergeist activity work terrifically, mostly because the show stays low-key and keeps visible spectres out of sight save a few very scary walk-ons. Generally it's pretty enjoyable, and it'll be interesting to see what next year's The Conjuring 2 makes of it, as it's based on the same events.


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