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Haunting at the Beacon (2008) 

Take 2 Releasing
DVD Released: 9/13/2011

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/31/2011

For all of us who live outside of the Hollywood system, it's difficult to understand how and why actors get work. Some actors seem to appear in seemingly every movie, despite the fact that they have no discernible talent. On the other hand, there are likeable actors who seem to only show up every few years. (Are you like me, do you look at IMBD pages, and wonder what people are doing when they have hug gaps in their resume?) We brings us to Teri Polo, who is arguably best known for playing Pam in the Meet the Parents trilogy. She's worked outside of those films, but her star has never really taken off. Why wasn't she able to parlay the success of those movies into being a household name? Well, I guess that she stays busy, appearing in movies like Haunting at the Beacon.

As Haunting at the Beacon opens, Bryn (Polo) and Paul Shaw (David Rees Snell) move into The Beacon apartment building. They are starting over following the disappearance of their young son. Paul has gotten a new job teaching at a local college. Bryn's sister Christina (Marnette Patterson) helps them move in and she catches the eye of neighbor Will (Nick Sowell). They also meet tenant Vanessa (Elaine Hendrix), a former actress who is now bitter and angry. Not long after moving in, Bryn sees a young boy in the building and hears the neighbors fighting. Fearing that domestic abuse is taking place, she calls the police (Ken Howard), and learns that the little boy actually died some time ago. Bryn begins to investigate and soon sees other ghosts. She mentions this to Paul's office-mate, Simon (Jonny Cruz), who gives her some information on what could have happened in the building. As Bryn becomes more and more convinced that the place is haunted, Paul begins to grow away from her. The question is, what do the ghosts want from Bryn.

In my recent review for A Horrible Way to Die, I wrote about movies which offer style over substance. Obviously, the converse of this are movies which deliver an engrossing story with very little visual style. Haunting at the Beacon roams between these two worlds, creating an eclectic mix. Director Michael Stokes, making his feature film directorial debut here, has brought some surprisingly striking visuals to the film. The first ghost appears very early in the film (bonus points for not beating around the bush) and it comes out of nowhere, making for a somewhat jarring experience. A figure with its heads wrapped in chains pops up throughout the film, and this unique look certainly adds to the film's ominous mood. In what may be the best scene in the film, Bryn visits an apartment where the walls are adorned in unusual objects. This scenes show how far production design can take a low-budget film. When the ghosts are finally truly revealed, their look is a little hackneyed, but the special effects makeup is nicely detailed (and these day, I applaud any movie which still uses latex).

The Director in Michael Stokes has made some impressive decisions. However the writer in Michael Stokes has gone a little nuts. With most low-budget horror movies, we are left wanting in the story department, as things are usually very underwritten. We get the opposite here. As the movie progresses, the story adds more and more characters and subplots. As a writer, I can appreciate the fact that Stokes wanted things to be detailed, but the movie eventually collapses under the weight of its own script. The Shining meets The Grudge tone of the story (this is actually one of the more "Asian" American horror movies that I've seen in a while) is interesting, but Haunting at the Beacon also includes some very dated devices, such as Paul pulling away from Bryn as she appears to be breaking down. How many times have we seen this? And the ending? I'm still not sure about the ending.

In the end, Haunting at the Beacon is a flawed movie, but it's a cut above the average direct-to-video horror movie. The movie clearly has an odd history, as the final credits still contain the film's original title "The Beacon" and the copyright date is 2008. Again, the visuals are impressive and the story offers some good things before it goes for broke. The cast of familiar faces doesn't hurt, but Nick Sowell offers one of the most questionable performances that I've ever seen and I can only assume that he's friends with the Director. Haunting at the Beacon is worth a rental, especially if you're curious to see what Teri Polo has been doing in her free time.

Haunting at the Beacon has a disproportionate amount of police characters on DVD courtesy of Take 2 Releasing. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is notably soft at times though, and the level of detail is disappointing. Also, we get the "flat" look that can often accompany low-budget films. The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a DTS 5.1 track. When was the last time that we saw this? Both tracks provide clear dialogue and sound effects. Each track sounds pretty good, as they offer impressive surround and stereo effects. The subwoofer effects during the "ghost" scenes provide a nice "boom". Between the two, I would say that the DTS track is a bit clearer.

The Haunting at the Beacon DVD contains only two extras. Director Michael Stokes and Producer Sally Helppie provide an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the film. The other extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long