Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Haunting of Marsten Manor

2007
Dir. Dave Sapp

Jill, a young woman angry about being blind and struggling with her faith, unexpectedly inherits an old mansion from her estranged aunt. When she arrives at the house, she experiences a number of unnerving events and begins "seeing things". She soon discovers a secret tragedy about her past and her aunt that will force her to face her greatest fears, changing her forever…

The Haunting of Marsten Manor is a quiet melodrama that could have benefited from an injection of suspense. A mild spook-fest, it is perfect afternoon viewing for fans of gentle TV mystery dramas such as Murder, She Wrote – it certainly exhibits the look and feel of a TV movie. Beginning as many haunted house movies begin, a perky young thing (Brianne Davis) and her (would-be) sweetheart (Ken Luckey) learn that she’s been left an old dark house in the will of a dead relative she was vaguely aware of but never actually met. The fact that this perky young thing is blind adds an interesting element to the mix, evoking memories of Wait Until Dark and The Spiral Staircase, in which similarly visually impaired lovelies were imperilled. Because of her only recent blindness, Jill has become bitter and began to question her faith in God. Also as a result, her other senses have become heightened, conveniently enabling her to pick up on the weird aura of the house when she, her (would-be) beau Rob and their spunky pal Erika (Christine Woods) go to stay at the house.


Marsten Manor unfolds much like a low budget soap-opera, as various sub-plots featuring issues of unrequited love, unresolved relationships and trust issues ensure the ‘haunting’ is relegated to the background for much of the running time. Unfortunately, we never really get a sense of the house itself. Most great haunted house movies feature habitations that are characters in their right (The Overlook Hotel, 108 Ocean Avenue and Hill House, for example). Obviously budget constraints prevent us from seeing too much of this house (a collection of rooms and various exterior shots).

Marsten Manor is more character driven than most recent low budget horror fare; indeed, as mentioned, the ‘horror’ aspect of the tale feels rather forced, tacked on even, at least to begin with. Writers Dave and Julie Sapp are more concerned with exploring Jill’s crisis of faith, attempts to accept her blindness and her various trust issues with her friends, as they attempt to prevent her from becoming the bitter, twisted mess she seems destined to become. The trust issues are lathered up well when Erika begins to suspect sweet natured Rob of foul play; his behaviour, and the way he is filmed at times indicates that he knows something the other’s don’t. The spunky young cast display vibrant chemistry and equip themselves adequately.


The discovery of an old diary and various hidden doors and rooms within the house sheds more dark light on the situation. The ghostly events are revealed to have their roots in the Civil War and a tragic encounter between Jill’s aunt and a soldier she fell for – cue flashbacks and a small, but pivotal role courtesy of C. Thomas Howell – results in a dip into an unexpected pool of pathos.

Perhaps too quiet and gentle for some, this should go down well with admirers of spooky mysteries, a la Jessica Fletcher.

Starring Christine Woods (Flashforward) and Thomas C. Howell (The Hitcher, Red Dawn), The Haunting of Marston Manor was released on DVD (£12.99) by MVM Entertainment on 2nd August 2010.

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