The Haunting of Marsten Manor
When you have seen as many films as I have, you know the tell-tale signs of a low-budget movie and, right from the opening credits, I knew that this was one as people with the same surname (and, indeed, the same first name) appeared multiple times. Of course, this doesn't tell you anything about the quality of the film as there are many great movies on which one man did many different things (Vincent Gallo's terrific indie film Buffalo 66, for example and no lesser talents than Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick often acted as writer, producer and director) so, knowing not to expect state-of-the-art special effects or big name stars, I settled down to watch a 'cheap and cheerful' horror movie.
The film begins in a lawyer's office, the most unobservant attorney in the entire world, who informs the recently blinded Jill that she has inherited her late aunt's Manor as the old woman, who Jill had never met, changed her will shortly before she died. When Jill asks the attorney if she can ask him a question, he suddenly decides to change character completely, switching from a rather calm southern gent into Mr Angry, demanding to know if she was "all bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of information having gone off to law school", to which she retorts that she didn't go off to law school because she is blind. This seems to shut the lawyer up and, once he has handed over the deeds and the key, Jill, and her friend Rob, heads out of the office, team up with her best friend Erika, head off for a weekend in the mansion. Strange thing is, she never got to ask that question and I spent quite a few minutes wondering what it was!
On the way, the car almost runs out of fuel (no surprise, being a Jaguar, hardly the most economic of road cars), so they stop at a fairly rundown gas station where Hank, the owner/proprietor/worker, tells them that the place is haunted. Not exactly wanting to hear such things, Erika gives Hank money for the gas and they travel the few extra miles to Marsten Manor.
Now, one of the great horror movie clichés is that people who are blind or deaf will always be more perceptive to supernatural forces than those of all five senses intact and, even before Jill can cross the threshold, she is struck with a vision of a plainly dressed woman, clearly from several generations past. Predictably enough, this shakes her already slightly fragile state of mind had been shaken by their encounter with Hank. During their stay in the Manor, these visions get worse along with mysterious creaks and voices that Jill captures on her laptop's WebCam. When Erika finds the family Bible, the once fervently religious Jill doesn't want to know and hasn't even touched the Braille Bible that Rob bought her over a year ago as losing her sight has made her lose her faith and become bitter.
Anyway, as the hours go by and the supernatural phenomena increase, they all decide they want to get out but the car won't start so they are stuck in a mansion in which something, or someone, is targeting Jill for some reason. Furthermore, tensions begin running high when Erika accuses Rob of making some of the noises himself and sabotaging the car in order to get closer to Jill. During their second night in Marsten Manor, Jill goes missing and, whilst Erika and Rob are looking for her, she is busy confronting her past.
I really wouldn't know where to start when it comes to getting a film off the ground and on to DVDs around the world so there is something commendable about a couple who, together, write, shoot, edit, compose the score and, as director oversee the whole process. No matter how bad the movie, and The Haunting of Marsten Manor is actually reasonable fare, there is something commendable about what David Greenlaw Sapp and his wife(?), Julie managed to achieve on what was, quite clearly, a very small amount of money.
You have the theatrical trailer as well as trailers for other MVM releases Zombeak!, Dr Chopper, Razor's Ring, Mr Halloween and Backwards Bloodbath, all of which I have previously reviewed..
The anamorphic picture is clear enough although it is fairly soft with some graining and lack of clarity in the darker scenes. I imagine that the budget wasn't particularly high yet the effects with the malevolent spirit and ghosts 'fading away' are done fairly well, suiting the general tone of movie. It isn't exactly an effects driven film so the most you can ask is that it has an anamorphic, rather than a letterboxed, picture and that things are easy enough to make out and not completely swallowed up by grain, aliasing or moiré (all three are evident though, especially moiré on the car's grill and one exterior shots of the house.
The dialogue is reasonably clear although there are a couple of lines that do suffer from a slight drop out in sound volume but, by and large, everything is fairly easy to hear and the atmosphere is generated by music from the 'Ghost Movie Music Book' which does its best to generate tension and elicit jumps from the more nervous viewer.
Hardened horror fans need not worry if this is fairly tame fair and just about every jump accompanied by an aural stab can be fairly well anticipated. Even so, the atmosphere is pretty good and, when called for, it does escalate quite nicely.
The Haunting of Marsten Manor really isn't anything special or anything you haven't seen it several times before in different movies but it is good to see a low-budget film drawing on other, better films and featuring people like Ezra Buckington from The Hills Have Eyes remake and C. Thomas Howell from the original The Hitcher. I quite enjoyed it for what it was: a fairly undemanding low-budget ghost story with a neatly developed narrative and a satisfactory ending.