A Ghost Story of Dubious Origins

With Halloween around the corner, I’ve begun filling up my Netflix queue with scary movies of the haunted house variety, i.e., Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, and The Exorcist. As part of my scare fest, I recently re-watched The Haunting in Connecticut, not only because it’s of the haunted house variety, but because I grew up in the town where the house is.

In 1988, rumors about a haunted house across the street from the local hospital filled our small town of Southington, Connecticut. The house was apparently so haunted that the Hartford Archdiocese had to be called in for an exorcism. Renowned ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (who also worked on the Amityville case) were also summoned to investigate.

All of these events were documented in our local newspaper. My sister and I would collect the articles and drive by the house to try and catch a glimpse of anything sinister.

One night as my sister drove home from work on the road that took her by the house, she noticed that all the traffic lights were out. Later in the paper, eyewitnesses claimed that something uprooted a tree in the yard of the house and it fell on the electrical wires out front, cutting electricity in the surrounding area.

Twenty-one years later, people are still driving by the house, but not because of the tree, but because of a film called The Haunting in Connecticut. It’s tells of a family that once lived in the house, a family that stalked by a demonic presence.

The movie is based on a book called In a Dark Place, written by horror author, Ray Garton. When the book first came out, I snatched it up because it was written about that house.

The book chronicles the story of the Snedekers who moved into the residence. The family originally lived in New York, but once their eldest son, Matt, was diagnosed with Lymphoma, they were desperate for a home near the hospital in Connecticut where he was being treated.

The Snedekers found a rental directly across the street from the hospital, not realizing that it had once been a funeral home. After going into the cellar and finding caskets, as well as an embalming room still littered with mortuary equipment, the family felt unsettled about their surorundings, but they were not disturbed enough to pack up and rent somewhere else.

Oddly enough, Matt chose to sleep in the basement. He was soon seeing strange things including a phantom man who came to his bedside after dark. His parents ignored Matt’s claims that he had seen a ghost, feeling his illustions were but a side-effect of his cancer medications. Eventually, though, Matt wound up in a psychiatric hospital.

The story bothered me for a number of reasons. First, I couldn’t believe Matt’s parents would let their sick son sleep in a basement amongst coffins and embalming equipment. Second, I couldn’t believe they would submit their cancer-ridden child to the confines of a mental hospital. Third, the claims that the funeral home had once been the scene of necrophilia and that the family members were raped by demons was stomach-turning.

Much like in the case of The Amityville Horror, there is disagreement as to what really went on in the supposedly haunted residence. In a Dark Place received a lot of flack. According to an interview in Horror Bound Magazine Garton claimed that he was hired by the Warrens to write the book, but when he started noticing inconsistencies between the Warrens’ claims and the Snedeker’s claims, he contacted Ed Warren.

Warren told him, “You write scary books, right? That’s why we hired you. So just make it up and make it scary.” Garton goes on to say, “By then, I’d signed the contract and there was no going back. I did as Ed instructed — I used what I could, made up the rest, and tried to make it as scary as I could.”

Warren, who has now passed away, is not around to dispute Garton’s allegations. Garton also says in the interview that Carmen Snedeker was running an illegal lottery business and alludes that she made up the story to make some money. (“Author Spotlight: Ray Garton, Author of Ravenous and Bestial”, 3 February 2009)

Carmen Snedeker, now Carmen Reed, disregards the validity of the book. In a Dark Place is now out of print and available only in used format on sites like Amazon.com and Half.com — starting at around $100 for the paperback(!)

There is a very interesting Youtube clip of the now-defunct TV show A Current Affair that addresses the Snedeker haunting. Before the clip from the ’80s begins, a message from the person who posted it writes: “I recorded this because I lived in this house. I experienced no haunting.”

In the video, both Carmen and her niece Tammy (who was living in the house at the time) mention their affection for the movie The Entity, in which Barbara Hershey is raped by an invisible force much in the same way the two women describe to A Current Affair that they were abused.

Surely, this could be editing on the part of A Current Affair who’s staff clearly do not believe Snedeker’s or the Warren’s claims, but then Carmen Snedeker goes on to say some very strange things. When asked by the interviewer why she hasn’t taken the children out of the house, Snedeker says, “Children need stability… Hopefully it won’t kill them.”

The clip also features a woman who lived upstairs in the house at the time of the alleged haunting. In a very frazzled state, she told A Current Affair she experienced no evidence of a haunting in the house. She believed Snedeker was just after money.

The interviewer, who obviously sides with the skeptics, then goes on to harass Lorraine and Ed Warren. (“A Haunting in Connecticut: Originally on A Current Affair)

In any event, The Discovery Channel was interested enough to make a 2002 documentary about the case and called it A Haunting in Connecticut. Through interviews with family members and reenactments, the documentary recounts what occurred in the house. Whether it’s hogwash or not, I’ve seen the documentary several times (it’s usally aired around Halloween). It creeps me out every time.

The same can be said of the movie The Haunting in Connecticut, which was released in March 2009. The film was based not on the book, but on the Discovery Channel documentary of the same name. Unlike the television documentary, the film is glammed-up to be a scare-fest, Hollywood style.

In an NBC interview, when Lorraine Warren heard the plot she said, “It’s a case that was much, much scarier than any movie could ever be. The movie is very, very loosely based on the actual investigation.” (“A Connecticut Haunting: The Reel Deal” , by Kyle Reyes, 20 August 2009)

Director Peter Cornwall did the best he could with the material he had on hand. Screenwriters Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe changed the family name from the Snedekers to the Campbells, and removed the necrophilia and rapes, replacing them with an, ahem, ‘gentler’ act of necromancy.

They also added characters like the ghost of the evil funeral director and his son, Jonah, who serves as a spectral messenger to current resident, Matt Campbell. Jonah is the victim of the crazy ectoplasm eruption scene that you see on the film posters. In addition, Reverend Popescu, a local priest and cancer patient who befriends Matt, is added to the mix in this telling of the tale. Cornwall also added some arty sepia flashbacks to show what happened to the corpses and owners of the funeral parlor before the Campbells move in.

The actors manage the job rather well, here. Virginia Madsen plays Mrs. Campbell, the concerned mom for her pale-as-an-egg son Matt, played by Kyle Gallner. Martin Donovan does a good job playing the absent, alcoholic father who unscrews every light bulb in the house because he’s tired of his scared family sleeping with all the lights on to keep the ghosts away. Additionally, Elias Koteas is sympathetic as Reverand Popescu, and Eric J. Berg is positively eerie as the wraithlike Jonah.

Despite the decent acting, the story, like the book, leaves one scratching one’s head. Would someone really let their cancer-stricken kid sleep in an old cellar amid coffins where he claims to see demons? Somehow, Virginia Madsen convinces you it makes sense to stay.

The best part of the movie is found in the DVD extras, which include interviews with local eyewitnesses from my hometown, Lorraine Warren, and Carmen Snedeker, and her niece Tammy. Everyone claims everyone else is full of nonsense. They all agree, however, that writer Ray Garton as a big fat liar.

Carmen Snedeker was in the spotlight once again after The Haunting in Connecticut was released. She told CNN that she is writing her own account of what happened in the house; that she has always been sensitive to the paranormal and that might be why she and her family were visited by the presence in the house. She feels terrible about sending her son, Matt, off to a mental hospital, she assures us, but Matt, who is now 35, is cured of his cancer. Interestingly, Carmen says that she worked closely with the movie’s screenwriters on the film. (“Woman’s Story Inspires ‘Haunting’ Flick”, by Jessica Ravitz, 3, April 2009)

Whether or not the movie, documentary, or book are based on a true story as they all claim to be, The Haunting in Connecticut has just enough creep quotient to keep me engaged, especially since I grew up a few miles from the house and spent a day with the Warrens (who incidentally seemed like genuine, caring people).

I’m undecided as to whether the house was really haunted or not, but in the end what does it matter if, so long as one gets the thrill of a good ghost story out of it?

The A Current Affair clip

RATING 6 / 10