Haunting in Connecticut, The: Horror Tale Starring Virginia Madsen

The making of THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT began in 2003, when producer Andrew Trapani viewed a televised documentary about the unimaginable horrors withstood by Carmen Reed and her family.

Trapani sat riveted, and once it was over, set out to find Reed so he could speak with her firsthand. After hearing her account, Trapani and producer Paul Brooks were stunned. Her story was unprecedented and demanded to be told. Remarked Brooks, “The fact that all these paranormal attacks occurred in a span of months to different members of that family is incredible.”

Director Peter Cornwell also found this particular story very compelling. “It only makes the things that happen to them more terrifying,” says Cornwell, “when you can genuinely relate to them as real people and not just characters in a film.”

For writers Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT was the perfect opportunity to put their life-long fascination with the supernatural to good use. Explains Metcalfe, “Our mutual interest in the occult as represented in literature, film and history really helped shape the story.” Avid students of Victorian horror and the Spiritualist movement, the writing partners skillfully wove their knowledge of the era into the script’s backstory, which features instances of horrific mutilation, séances and the macabre.

Following the release of his award-winning animated short film, “Ward 13,” director Peter Cornwell attracted considerable attention among Hollywood producers.  “Peter’s short film was genuinely scary and it had so much soul,” recalls Brooks. “I thought he had a genuinely original point of view. And he agreed that HAUNTING should be rooted in reality and essentially faithful to the family’s story.”

Cornwell himself was eager to explore live-action filmmaking on a feature-length scale. “In animation, you really have to see the scenes very clearly in your head before you can shoot them,” explains the director. “In live action, you collaborate with the actors, who have their own ideas. It is great collaborating and creating with the involvement of other people in the scene.”

Casting Virginia Madsen

Oscar-nominated actress Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”), who earned cult status among horror fans for her compelling performance in Bernard Rose’s CANDYMAN, had been looking for a script in the horror genre for about three years.  But the twenty-five or more screenplays she had read mostly resorted to cheap scare tactics involving torture and excessive gore. “Then I got this script with a great story and a complex female character in Sara Campbell…and it scared me to death,” she says. Like Carmen Reed, Campbell is a strong, religious woman who struggles to hold her family together while experiencing a crisis of faith at the hands of the evil in her very own home.

While Madsen admits that she hasn’t always had satisfying experiences working with first-time directors, Cornwell’s thorough preparation and clear vision for the film won her over.  “When I met Peter, it’s like we were kinda like two big kids.  I love movies, I love scary movies and so does he.  And I wanted to find out all about the short film that he made.  So we just hit it off right away, I think, in a very childlike way.  But there’s also a side of Peter that I also found to be very, very focused and very, very sure of the kind film he was going to make.”

“Virginia was truly a dream to work with,” says Cornwell. “She’s someone with amazing caliber, experience and presence.”

Amidst the dark atmosphere of the project, Madsen was protective of the young actors who play her children on screen and offered her full support to them throughout the production, earning the moniker ‘Mama V.’ Amanda Crew, who plays Sara’s niece Wendy, says “Virginia recognized that we needed her support to get through this difficult story. Like the mother in the film, she was the guiding light for us on set.”

Madsen, who is the mother of a thirteen-year-old, appreciated the complexities of the mother/son relationship depicted in the script. As Matt experiences increasingly terrifying visions, he grapples with how much to reveal to his mother, whom he doesn’t want to further upset. “Most films portray teens as dysfunctional, messed up and hating their parents.  Teens are much more complex than that,” offers Madsen. “I found the Sara-Matt relationship to be a very truthful representation of parents and teenagers.”

Perhaps the most pivotal role in the film, however, is that of the house itself.   Says Screenwriter Adam Simon, “The house has to be a major character, arguably THE major character.  And you then are dealing with the real burden of history too, you know.  For example, Hill House from The Haunting of Hill House, the Overlook Hotel from The Shining.  It’s very daunting to attempt to create in that sense a haunted house.  On the other hand, we had some things really going for us here which was this idea, the reality, the truth that this house had been a mortuary.”

Cornwell, working with production designer Alicia Keywan, searched extensively for the perfect location, eventually finding the ideal Victorian home in the town of Teulon, about 30 minutes outside of downtown Winnipeg, Canada. “On most productions, you’re traveling around so often to different locations you don’t really get very familiar with one particular place. I like the intimacy of getting to know the house as a character,” Cornwell explains.

Remarks Madsen, “The house almost had a face.  It just felt scary being in it.”

Carmen Reed herself was stunned by the experience of watching her own story on the screen. “I was cringing in my seat I was so terrified. It brought me back to those moments when I was just sure I was going to die, that we were all going to die,” she says. “Seeing it all up there again, I don’t know how we survived it.”

But she wanted her story told.  “I want people to know that this does happen,” Reed explains. “Just because people see unexplainable things or hear voices doesn’t mean they’re crazy. We have to understand we don’t have all the answers. I didn’t believe in ghosts.  I didn’t believe this could happen. And I rolled my eyes at people who claimed they existed, where every creak that’s in the house is ghost. But there are times when there actually is a monster under the bed.”