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HARTFORD — Lately American horror films have devolved into remaking (or re-imagining, as the studio publicists insist) the fright films of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s like we’ve run out of spooks. Luckily last spring there was a cinematic scare-fest that brought us a fresh set of chills with The Haunting In Connecticut.

A mother (Virginia Madsen) rents an ex-funeral home so her son (Kyle Gallner) can be close to the hospital where he undergoes radiation chemotherapy to combat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The son sees strange things in the house. Seems a few of the former clients hadn’t left with their embalmed bodies. The film is based on a true story.

The Haunting In Connecticut is out on DVD and Blu-ray in both the PG-13 cut and the Unrated Special Edition from Lionsgate. To celebrate the release, the Party Favors hotline received calls from director Peter Cornwell and Carmen Reed, the mother whose ghostly encounters were the basis of the movie.

The DVD includes a documentary about the real incidents Carmen Reed experienced in the haunted house during the mid-80s. Not to spoil the flick, but the house in the movie looks like nothing like the actual haunted ex-funeral home. The real one is a regular neighborhood while the movie version is remote in the woods. Reed didn’t mind the alterations, but admitted that “it didn’t look like anything like the one I lived in.”

How involved was she in the fictionalized version of her supernatural experience?

“I talked to the director and the screenwriters for months before they started the production,” she said.

Did she demand any changes in their script?

“No,” she said. “They had a template idea of what they wanted when they went in.” She’s at ease with the dramatic liberties in the film. “I have to remind people that this is a movie that’s based on my story. It’s not a blow-by-blow. I’m not angry of anything. I think they did an excellent job on my movie.”

The film does not come close to ending like the actual event. How did things come to a head at the real house? “We ended with an exorcism,” she said. “Trying to push them back through the doors and close the doors and keep it that way.”

Did the exorcism work?

“Oh yeah. Only when I go into great detail about the story does anything ever happen.”

At this point in the interview I’m concerned about her ghosts coming through the telephone wire to spook me. Will the Party Favors headquarters need its own exorcism?

“No,” she said. “Not generally to you. It would be to me.”

Now I’m going to feel guilty if she upsets the spirits. Enough gabbing about the undead. How did she feel when she found out Virginia Madsen (Sideways) was playing her in the movie?

“I was thrilled,” Reed said. “She’s a beautiful, classy lady. I’m honored to have her play me.”
?Did they spend a lot of time together while the actress researched the role?

“No,” she said. “I’ve never spoken to Virginia Madsen. I’ve never met her. She must have watched the documentary. She had my hand mannerisms.”

Did she have contact with any of the actors wanting to research their roles? “No. I don’t know if they had time. They just never spoke with me.”

Does she suspect that the actors were afraid that making contact with her might upset the ghosts and get them haunted in process?

“Maybe,” she said. “I hope they wouldn’t be like that, but you never know. Anytime I talk to other people about it, for example I was talking to my sister in South Carolina. She started experiencing banging on her walls and things of that nature. I was afraid I would harm someone else.”

When the family moved into the ex-funeral house, what remained from the former occupants?

“When we moved in, there was still a gurney to hold the coffin, a lung nail, there was face putty, eyelashes, make up,” Reed said. “There was bloodstains on the wall. There was a blood tank. There was a body lift that went from the morgue up into the viewing area, which was my bedroom. There was a pad on my ceiling in my bedroom where the coffin would hit the ceiling. There was lots of personal paraphernalia, hats, coats, and some photos. There were toetags.”

Did the landlord clean it up much before her family moved in?

“He cleaned a lot of it out, but we had to repaint the rooms because their was blood splatter all over,” Reed said. “I had to pull an intestine out of the sink. It was pretty gory. But we got it all cleaned up.”

The movie compacts the amount of time the real family spent at the address. They had lived in the house for two years, but it everyone wasn’t haunted the entire time.

“The first time my son walked in there, he heard his name called,” she said. “He heard voices and saw apparitions on the very first day. (It was) the last nine weeks we lived in the house that we started experiencing things. It mostly bothered my oldest boy and then it gradually included my other children.

“We thought it was related to him receiving cobalt to the head and neck. You don’t know what kind of side effects those things are going to have. I don’t care what the doctors say. Cobalt is radioactive.” She was warned that if her son had knocked a vial out of the doctor’s hand and onto the floor, they’d have to shut down the unit and remodel. “I’m surprised he didn’t glow in the dark.”

What did she do when she realized that this wasn’t all a part of her son’s chemo?

“The next day after all that started happened to me, I called the Catholic church and had an interview with my local parish priest. He didn’t give me satisfaction so I went directly to the Archdiocese. They had five or six different people interview me. Finally one gentleman came out to the house and interviewed me at length. He told me that I needed a drug test, psychological test and lie detector. In the end I didn’t have to take those things. He determined I wasn’t crazy, on drugs or lying. He blessed the house. He determined to send an exorcist in. The first exorcist they sent in came under attack. He took us to another exorcist since he didn’t feel he could be effective.”

The movie only has one priest enter the house. Reverend Popescu is played by Elias Koteas (Exotica).

“Elias looks a lot like John Zaffis, who was the researcher in the house,” she admitted. “He has a lot of his mannerism, but he wasn’t the minister. He did help a lot in the house. He was there 9 1/2 weeks.”

How long afterward did the family stick around the funeral home?

“A week after the exorcism,” she said. “We waited to make sure everything was calm and we moved out.”

She’s seen the film four times. What scared her the most in the dark theater?

“I think the guy in the closet made me jump. It was more because everyone else screamed in the theater,” she admitted.

Did she ever catch herself yelling at her cinematic character to not open the door?

“No,” she said. “I cried through the whole thing. It was reliving my son’s cancer treatment. Some of the guilt I still carry from that. All four times I cried through the whole thing. I wasn’t so much scared.”

Does Reed get calls from people wanting to know if their house is really haunted by the dead?

“That’s what I do,” she said. “I counsel people who are going through it. Many times they want me to check their house out. I will find them someone if there in an area that I can get to them readily.”

Does she find herself being contacted by people who think they’re being haunted by dead family members or are these people who just bought a house without knowing former occupants haven’t checked out?

“Usually it’s a lot of people that have just got a haunting and they don’t care who it is,” Reed said. “They just want them gone. If the spirits are causing them distress, they want them gone.”

What event sets them off to want help removing the ghost?

“It’s generally when it starts frightening kids,” Reed said. “People are very protective of their children.”

How did her own children react to seeing their personal ghost story on the screen?

“I think they’re all thrilled with it,” she said. “It’s hard to sit and watch it with them because they’re saying, ‘That didn’t happen’ and ‘This happened this way.’ I had to warn them beforehand that this isn’t exactly blow by blow of our house, but they still have to critique it.”

When they finally moved out the haunted funeral home, did she get her security deposit back?

“You know, I don’t think we did,” Reed said. No one has ever asked me that. I really haven’t thought about it. But no, I don’t think so.”

A few minutes later director Peter Cornwell rang up the Party Favors hotline (which was hopefully ghost-free). The Australian director had made a name from himself with the short stop-motion film “Ward 13.” The Haunting In Connecticut was his first feature film. What attracted him to the project?

“I’d watched tons of haunted house films and there aren’t that many good ones so it didn’t take very long to see them,” Cornwell said. “When I read the script, I realized this is really original and different. I wanted for my first film to be in a contained environment. I liked the idea that you’re stuck in a pressure cooker environment. The house becomes a character in this film. The logic of the script made sense. The hardest thing in a haunted house story is coming up with something besides being built on an Indian burial ground. We get this intricate backstory that has layers that keeps you intrigued. The character stuff is great. Getting the opportunity to work with Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner.”

He was very proud to mention that Gallner is “now starring in A Nightmare on Elm Street playing Johnny Depp’s part.” After being attacked by ghosts, Gallner now will be chased by a razor glove wearing Jackie Earle Haley (Bad News Bears and The Watchmen).

One of the interesting pieces of casting is reuniting Elias Koteas and Virginia Madsen, the stars of The Prophecy. Did he realize what he was doing?

“I found that out. Virgina told me all about that,” he said. “I don’t think either of them had much fun making that film so they enjoyed being able to get back together and clean the slate. I really enjoyed The Prophecy. I watched it after I had directed them both. It was funny seeing two actors I’d directed in a scene in another film.”

How much time did he spend at the real haunted ex-funeral home?

“I remember looking it up on Google Earth and discovering it was really right near a graveyard,” he said. “But no. The budget didn’t allow me to fly out to Connecticut. Even though Connecticut had a tax break, I was thinking it made sense to make it to shoot it in Connecticut. But they were no. We shot it in Winnipeg.”

Does he think the cast avoided talking to the family to avoid any contact with any lingering ghosts?

“Maybe,” he said. “The writers worked with Carmen for two years on the script. I was talking to the writers a lot and they knew (the family’s) minds.”

The film differs a lot from the experiences of Carmen Reed and her family. How does he view leaving out certain elements of their testimony like the little kid in the Superman pajamas?

“Some of the stuff was creepy in real life, but might not really work in a movie,” he said.

Folks can get the Unrated Special Edition of the film. How did this cut come around?

“The Un-rated cut is more graphic,” he said. “Originally we submitted the film and got an R. We wanted to try and get it back down to a PG-13. Because it’s a ghost story, you’re not missing out in a gory death like you do in a slasher film. We managed to be as disturbing. We didn’t revert to the previous version. It’s more sort of the pumped up version of the PG-13 with close ups and stuff.

There’s already news that the film will spawn two sequels with The Haunting in New York and The Haunting in Georgia. Is he part of the upcoming productions?

“Gold Circle (the production company) are. I’m not,” Cornwell said. He can’t discuss what his next project will be.

How hard was it to make sure the frightening moments in the film worked? Did he have to drag in innocent eyes into the editing room to see them pop?

“I think I have a pretty good sense of how it works from how I storyboarded the scenes. For me it’s a big thing of how you reveal the monster. How do you create a scare? I’ve watched a lot of horror films and there’s reveals in this film that I’ve never seen in other films. I was thrilled when it worked. When we first screened it to random people off the street at the first big scare, people screamed their heads. People were jumping and screaming all through the film which was great. When you jump, that’s when it really gets scary. I don’t think you can have a really scary film that doesn’t make you jump. What makes it work is that you really care about the family. When the characters are in jeopardy, you worry for that person and you’re not worried about yourself jumping.”

Was The Haunting in Connecticut a play upon Christmas in Connecticut, most recently remade with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the director?

“I’ve never really thought about that,” Cornwell said. “That might be why they named the original documentary? We just called it that because of the documentary.”

AMERICAN DOUCHEBAGS

If there’s one industry that’s not hurting in America, it’s the production of douchebags. Turn on the TV see the bounty harvest of douchebags. It’s time for a Douchebag of the Year Award.

Originally this hardware was a lock for Spencer Pratt of The Hills on MTV. I don’t watch the show since Showtime still has OnDemand adult content. But the clips that make The Soup on E! have shown Spencer to be the biggest douchebag that hasn’t run for public office, played sports or done anything in his life other than attempt to grow a beard. His antics on NBC’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here really made me wish they had been stuck on Cannibal Island. Why didn’t he get an intestinal parasite during his jungle days? Because he is an intestinal parasite. However all of Spencer’s douche work was blown away when Bravo debuted NYC Prep.

The reality show follows a group of extremely rich white high schoolers in Manhattan. The girls are cute although a couple of them appear to be headed towards MTV’s 16 and Pregnant. The star of the show is PC (Peter Peterson), a senior who acts like he’s auditioning for the Broadway version of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. He’s not merely a teenage douchebag. He’s an adult size douchebag stuck in a child’s body. Kinda of like Danny Bonaduce. I find his smug antics to be precious simply because I have zero contact with this guy. Although I don’t blame him for being a douchebag since who the hell names their kid Peter Peterson? Is his cousin Michael Micheals?

But PC’s reign as America’s top Douchebag was incredibly short. Who could trump this privileged jerk? Would you believe a middle aged father of eight in the midst of an identity crisis?

When Jon & Kate Plus Eight turns splitsville, America blamed the break up of the marriage on Kate Gosselin. She had that horrible haircut, controlling attitude and dreams of being Octo-Oprah. She came off so cold and self-absorbed during the interview segments. When news of the divorce hit, people felt Jon needed to bolt. The world thought she’d ripped his balls off. With all the sympathy of the world, Jon proved us all wrong in one little photo.

There was Jon wearing a crummy Ed Hardy t-shirt, diamond studs in his ears, over-priced sunglasses. He was sharing cigarettes with his 22 year-old girlfriend in the south of France while waiting to hang out on designer Christian Audigier’s yacht. It was not the look of a man with 8 kids across the Atlantic and the ink still drying on his separation papers. This was a guy who cashed out on the family life for a world reserved for people with old money or talent. How much of his girlfriend’s vacation cash came out of his kids’ college fund?

Supposedly this trip to Saint Tropez was work. He’s going to help launch Ed Hardy For Kids. Do you really want your kids wearing that over-priced junk? Wouldn’t you be better off buying your kids t-shirts and Sharpie markers to create their own spastic designs? What’s his angle? Clothes dads can buy their kids when they’re ready to “upgrade” their wives? Is he really going to make yacht money from this deal? Jon priced an apartment in Trump Tower with his girlfriend. What sort of gravy train does he imagine he’s riding? Is the new girlfriend going to pump out nine puppies at once? Now that the Masche sextuplets are camera ready on We’s Raising Sextuplets, the Goselins days are numbered. There’s just too much creepy divorce drama to imagine the cameras need to be around the Goselin kids. Once the trainwreck appeal ends, Jon & Kate Plus Eight will be uncomfortable viewing on par with The Osbournes: The Rehab Days. But a douchebag thinks that they’ll always be superstars in the eyes of America. There’s no need to think of the day the cameras disappear.

When Jon returned from France, he told the reporters that he’d returned “to film” for the series Not that he needed to return for his kids. He needed to spend quality time in front of the cameras with those 8 kids as extras. Man has to keep up the career so he can keep his little girlfriend happy. It’s not about the kids, it’s about his toys. And that’s why Jon Gosselin is America’s Greatest Douchebag.

DVD SHELF

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse: Season One presents Eliza Dushku as a woman who can be anything you want. While it seemed like this would be a woman on adventures, the series gets into the internal politics of maintaining such a business. There’s a reporter wanting to expose the whole operation. Olivia Williams (Rushmore) is the prig in charge of The Dollhouse (not to be confused with Thee Dollhouse). There’s a lot of gunfire and mind games. Above it all, there’s Eliza looking hot no matter what role her clients want. The first three DVDs contain the 12 episodes that ran last year on Fox. The 4th disc contains what fans of Whedon crave including the original cut of the pilot “Echo” and the unaired “Epitaph One.” The unaired episode is getting run at Comic-con for those heading out to San Diego. This is a first season boxset with plenty of surprises beside what Eliza will be doing.

Jim Breuer - Let’s Clear The Air lets the star of Half Baked admit that he’s not always high. He was just born with a face that makes him look stoned. The hour long special includes his tale of teaching Dave Chappelle to drive a car. His story of appearing in Half Baked involves him being fully baked when he went before the cameras after his role was upgraded. He was stoned while working against Clarence Williams III (Linc from The Mod Squad). Breuer reflects on what it’s like to be the father of three young girls. He swears the volume knob was busted on his daughter. His hatred of kiddie music is dead on. I’m up for the Metallica for the kiddies album. He reminds the couples thinking of having babies that they need to imagine a world without sleep. The bonus short of “Fireside Chat With Dad” shows where Jim learned to handle a rough crowd. Dad wants his money and food. Breuer proves he’s more than the guy who hosted The Joe Pesci Show on Saturday Night Live. He’s still funny even if you’re not stoned.

The Lucy Show: The Official First Season contains the continuation of I Love Lucy minus the men. Lucy (Lucille Ball) is now a widow with two kids. Instead of being Ethel, Vivian Vance plays Vivian, a divorcee with a young son. She’s not even dressed in Ethel’s frumpy clothes. The two single moms share a house in a quiet New York town. The lack of Desi Arnaz and William Frawley (Fred Mertz) allows Lucy and Vivian to get caught up in too many harebrained schemes. There’s nobody to truly put a stop to them - outside of cops. The most memorable episode of the season is “Lucy Visits The White House.” Lucy and Viv’s Cub Scouts build a White House out of sugar cubes before their big trip to Washington D.C. On a whim, Lucy calls the president’s office to see about giving it as a gift. JFK answers the phone and tells her to drop by with the kids. The trip turns out to be a disaster when the sugar cubes take a hit. Can she and Viv redo the project in time? The boxset is loaded with bonus features including the commercials featuring Lucy, Viv and their kids that ran during the shows. They even show off the vintage comic books and board games associated with Lucy’s new show. This is the perfect gift for the Lucy fanatic in your life.

Early Edition: The Second Season stars Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) as a guy who gets a newspaper with tomorrow’s news. He’s becomes a subscription superhero trying to undo bad headlines. “Angels and Demons” has Nia Peebles playing a nun. She was recently playing a dead beauty contestant on Matlock: The Third Season. “March of Time” has future Speed Racer star Emile Hirsch. The episode had Kyle discover a racist leader is going to be assassinated during a hate march. Should he really stop this headline from happening? He should have stopped Speed Racer from going into production. “A Regular Joe” has Kyle attempting to talk a quarterback into retiring since the next game will put him on the severally disabled list. The episode gets bonus points for starring Hall of Famer Dick Butkus. If only newspapers worked like this, the Boston Globe wouldn’t be slashing salaries.

Leverage: The 1st Season allows Timothy Hutton to put together a financial version of Mission: Impossible. He’s an ex-insurance company investigator who got screwed over by his employer when his son was sick. The kid died waiting for treatment. Now he’s out to get revenge on these folks with a crew made up of folks he nailed for fraud. They stage elaborate scams to set up their victims for the kill. “The Nigerian Job” has him him being tricked into stealing aviation secrets for the wrong guy. Hutton won’t be screwed. He comes up with a front that involves real Nigerians. “The Two-Horse Job” sounds like something that costs an extra C note at the Bunny Ranch. It’s just a guy killing off his underachieving race horses. Whatever happened to just sending them off to the Alpo factory. “The Miracle Job” has them save a church. It’s a mission oriented 12 episodes on the box set. Best bonus feature is the cast being told the series has been renewed. The second season of Leverage is about to kick off on TNT.

This American Life: Season Two continues the stellar Showtime TV adaptation of the radio show. Host Ira Glass brings another six episodes that explore the American experience. “Going Down In History” documents a jailbreak that involved dental floss. “Scenes From a Marriage” animates the tales of married couples. The husband and wife tell stories from their perspective. The wife swears the husband wasn’t there when she saw Jackie Kennedy. It’s cute. The second half has a marriage fall apart when the husband’s legal battle completely alienates his wife. It’s not cute. The most moving of the episodes is “John Smith” where the lives of numerous John Smiths at different ages are spliced together to create the life of one John Smith. It’s creative and inspiring. The newborn John Smith hasn’t done that much. The big bonus feature for this release is This American Life Live! The 77 minute event ran in theaters across America. Ira gets to mix the audio live on stage. They feature segments from the upcoming second season along with a few things that didn’t make the cut. If you couldn’t make it to the theater that day, you can now enjoy Ira Glass in your living room.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV brings another four titles of the award winning Comedy Central program from the Satellite of Love to your house. The folks at Best Brains worked hard on this batch since they include the most painful excuses for cinema. Racket Girls is about pro women’s wrestling in 1951. The women aren’t close to the hotties that grappled on GLOW. They spend most of their time in the ring swapping headlocks. The “action” in Racket Girls might cause you to pass out from a sleeper hold plot. Mike Nelson and the robots have to do three times the work to keep up the funny. “Zombie Nightmare” gets saved by the casting of Adam West and a really young Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World). A dead baseball player returns as a zombie to destroy Tia and her friends. They put him in the grave. West has to solve this supernatural thriller. The bonus features include a recent interview with the zombie actor and the actor who formed a lifelong bond with Adam West. “The Girl In Lover’s Lane” gives us riding the rails action. There’s not as much action as craved in a tale of drifters. Luckily Joel and the Robots bring the wisecracks that pep up the plot. “The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy” is a prime piece of goofiness from Mexico. Who knew robots could battle the undead? This was from the first season on Comedy Channel when Josh Weinstein played Tom Servo and Dr. Laurence Erhardt. The Satellite of Love gets invade by demon dogs. For folks who really want to go old school, there’s segments from their first season on KTMA in Minnesota. They were below Lo-Fi that season. The next installment will come out Dec. 1 with The Corpse Vanishes, Warrior of the Lost World, Santa Claus and Night of the Blood Beast.

Love Boat: Season Two, Volume Two allows your brain to take an ocean cruise vacation. The funniest moment of the dozen episodes is Sonny Bono playing Deacon Dark. With his face painted kabuki-style and a python around his shoulders, he’s a cross between Alice Cooper and Kiss. His lounge performance deserves to be played during any “Metal Years” documentary. Sonny drops his schtick when a deaf girl inspires him to become the next Paul Williams. Arte Johnson is his serious manager. What’s interesting is that both Bono and Gopher (Fred Grandy) would end up as Congressmen. Couldn’t their political opponents use this footage against them? Charo makes a return appearance, but now she a star of the Pacific Princess lounge. She sings the “Love Boat” theme as her show’s big highlight. Hollywood Squares‘ host Peter Marshall slinks on as a “swinger” who thinks he’s found a new lady to romance while his wife tans by the pool. Match Game host Gene Rayburn woos Fannie Flagg through her smuggled dog. Where was Charles Nelson Reilly? Abe Vigoda and Nancy Walker (director of Can’t Stop the Music) hook up. Who saw that coming? Raymond Burr stumbles aboard as a drunk high school drama teacher. Love Boat keeps up the mindless romantic fun. Don’t watch without a few Isaac (Ted Lange) level cocktails.

Parker Lewis Can’t Lose: The Complete First Season brings Corin Nemec’s dream to the shiny discs. Corin had told the Party Favors that he was working with Shout! Factory to get the series released. And now it’s here. The show has Parker Lewis as the coolest guy in school with the freshest of early ’90s fashions. He worked all the angles at a high school. He’s kinda like Damone from Fast Times At Ridgemont High except with high tech help. The pilot episode has Milla Jovovich as the girl of his dreams. Turns out she’s also in the dreams of Parker Lewis’ tight buds. Sadly enough she did not get the gig as a regular. “Operation Kubiac” lets the huge football stud (E.R.’s Abraham Benrubi) getting recruited. Parker wants a piece of the action by becoming an agent. However his math makes him college poison. “Jerry: Portrait of a Video Junkie” brings back Jerry Mathers and Barbara Billingsley from Leave It To Beaver. Kids got hooked to video games before wii. Ozzy Osbourne and Donny Osmond appeared this season, but not on the same episodes. The pacing, action and effects seems to have set the stage for Scrubs. Parker Lewis is so much better a student and pal than Ferris Bueller. Parker Lewis Can’t Lose is too smart for homeroom. The 26 episodes are spread over 4 DVDs. There’s only two more season to go.

Peyton Place: Part Two has another 33 episodes from America’s favorite tawdry small town. With the death of Farrah Fawcett, we’ve seen a lot of Ryan O’Neal on TV. Peyton Place is where he got his start as the misguided lover who has a thing for Mia Farrow. His real wife has split for Manhattan where she’s about to take up a career as a hooker. Mia’s real father has been released from prison. Except she doesn’t know that Tim O’Connor is her biological dad. He’s promised her mother to keep it a secret. But he needs to unveil the real killer who sent him to prison. A local insurance salesman goes nuts when his business fails. He plans on making a few people cash in their policy with the Colt .45 clause. It’s not a peaceful town. No matter how simple you think things are, they always get complicated on this primetime soap opera from 1965.

TRIBBLES!

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