Director: Michael A. Gaetano
Code Red Releasing

In Arizona during the Civil War, Apache girl Abanaki (Ann Michelle, PSYCHOMANIA) is sentenced by an unsympathetic French missionary priest (Paul Vincenzo) to be sent into the desert on horseback to die of exposure for stealing a soldier’s (Aldo Ray) horse and for witchcraft. Abanaki, who discovered that the soldier and the priest were in cahoots to steal gold, curses the responsible parties and vows to follow them until the truth is revealed. In the present day, English actress Jennifer Baines (Michelle again) is on her way back to California after a visit home when her car breaks down at the abandoned Apacheland Movie Ranch. That same day, two workmen install a telephone booth in the cemetery (the film was originally called THE GLASS CAGE) next to the ranch. The ranch is owned by Michelle (Virginia Mayo, CASTLE OF EVIL), her sons Patrick (Jim Negele, FRATERNITY ROW) and Russ (Brad Reardon, SILENT SCREAM), and gruff caretaker Andrew (Ray again). Michelle suffers from hysterical blindness after a fiery stock footage car crash – attributed to Abanaki’s spirit – that killed her husband. Michelle’s doctor (Vincenzo again) tells Patrick that Michelle needs psychological treatment and suggests that she go to a sanitarium. Patrick decides to commit her, sell the ranch, and take Patrick with him to Milwaukee against the objections of Andrew, who has been in love with Michelle and resents her memories of her husband. The next day, Patrick drives his mother to the sanitarium and drives Jennifer to town to see about her car. The mechanic tells her that it needs more work so Patrick invites Jennifer to stay on at the ranch as they pack up to leave. While Jennifer and Patrick carry on a casual dalliance – more casual to Jennifer – Andrew answers a call from the cemetery phone booth from Abanaki telling him that “the old hag” is waiting for him. He takes a boat across the nearby lake to a cave where Rosarita, an old witch, tells him that Abanaki has reincarnated herself in Jennifer and that he must kill her in order to find the gold. When the witch requests a cut of the gold, Andrew kills her. When Patrick goes to town to check on Jennifer’s car, Andrew abducts Jennifer and plans to kill her.

HAUNTED is an extremely redundant horror film. First, a barely scrolling text screen tells us about as yet unintroduced Abanaki’s fate and her possible possession of the as yet unintroduced Jennifer Baines. Then we get a pre-credits flashback depicting what we’ve already been told (only in the flashback, we’ve got to listen to Vincenzo’s horrible line delivery and Ray’s abrasive, gravelly voice). Then we get the title sequence scored with the awful Billy Vera song “Indian Woman” which explains the entire story yet again. Finally, as Patrick shows Jennifer around the movie ranch, he tells her the story of Abanaki, the priest, the soldier, and the stolen gold which should have dispelled her presence since the wrongdoing seems to be common knowledge now. The film also scuttles basic horror expectations. After a prominent part in the flashback, Vincenzo turns up again in the beginning of the modern day sequence as the family doctor (seen only in long shot that suggests a lack of coverage) before disappearing from the rest of the picture and not getting his just desserts from Abanaki (in his interview, Negele says that a large chunk of footage was ruined by a fault in the film gate, which may have included the doctor’s fate).The military soldier in the flashback who reads the sentence also shows up in the present day as a bartender (Fred Carroll), but nothing happens to him. The hidden gold is never found or even searched for by any of the characters (even though Jennifer finds a map that the witch gave Andrew years before to find the treasure). Worst of all, Jennifer never shows any sign of possession by Abanaki as the opening text suggests. As such, about a third of what is described in the opening text screen – as well as the theme song – never happens in the film. The whole love triangle bit with Andrew, Michelle and her dead husband adds to the muddle (Andrew is really Gordon, who was Michelle’s husband’s brother, but since the brother was sterile, he’s also Patrick’s and Russell’s father, but who cares?). Its payoff is the sight of Virginia Mayo getting felt up by a shirtless, muscular, blonde guy (intercut with her getting groped by Ray, who should have had his back waxed before shooting). The surprise appearance of Abanaki at the end seems less like the typical 1970s/1980s “resurgence of the supernatural after the logical explanation” surprise ending, and more like the punch line appearances of real ghosts at the end of much older horror comedies like THE GHOST BREAKERS, CARED STIFF and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN but has no impact, humorous or otherwise.

The film is otherwise padded with bits of local color, like Patrick and Jennifer’s visit to a pizza parlor whose chief entertainment is music played on a giant pipe organ (the camera wanders all over the details of the instrument’s inner workings) or characters swimming at the lake or walking around the admittedly atmospheric ghost town. William Hines’ photography is occasionally attractive – especially when capturing the characters against the vast expanses of the ghost town and the surrounding desert – but the night scenes are underlit and the day-for-night is just as bad (Hines went on to a prolific TV career with stints on T.J. HOOKER, CHEERS, THE A-TEAM, MACGUYVER and MURPHY BROWN among others). Lor Crane’s score – which includes the energetic underscoring of the theme song – only really comes to life during Andrew’s visit to the old witch with drums and atmospheric chanting (Lor Crane’s soundtrack actually had an LP release, and “Indian Woman” is heard in its entirety on the Code Red disc’s main menu screen). Crane’s only other scoring credit was HAUNTED director Michael DeGaetano’s sex comedy SCORING. De Gaetano’s only film prior to HAUNTED was a sci-film called UFO: TARGET EARTH (available on Retromedia’s MAD MONSTER RALLY set), and his only credit after HAUNTED is the Troma pick-up BLOODBATH IN PSYCHOTOWN co-directed with one Alessandrao DeGaetano (PROJECT: METALBEAST).

Ray had given some throwaway performances in other late 1970s and 1980s low-budget fare such as the awful slasher/alien invasion film EVILS OF THE NIGHT (with John Carradine, Neville Brand, Julie Newmar and Tina Marie) – in which he really seemed to be drunk throughout – and STRAIT-JACKET/DARK SANITY as a superfluous detective. Here he seems committed, but that does not result in a better performance. His distinctive voice grates on the nerves the more he goes off the rails (HAUNTED is not to be confused with the 1977 thriller HAUNTS which also starred Ray along with Cameron Mitchell). Mayo is also poor as the blind mother trapped in the past. Saddled with ridiculously soapy dialogue, the actress’ delivery seems downright amateurish. Raised by a German au pair girl who herself went on to film fame as actress Elke Sommer, Ann Michelle only appeared in one film together with her twin sister Vicki: THE VIRGIN WITCH. Of the two sisters, Ann has the more impressive CV of sexploitation appearances with LOVE IN OUR TIME, HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, CRUEL PASSION (the adaptation of De Sade’s “Justine” with Koo Stark), MISTRESS PAMELA, YOUNG LADY CHATTERLEY and THE FRENCH QUARTER (also with Mayo). In HAUNTED, Michelle is rather uneven, starting the film off with a very emphatic “classy” British accent before sliding into a more casual one while spouting dated “free love” philosophy to Patrick. Negele is a bit bland and Rearden is whiny; neither of their characters adds much to the story anyway.

First released on tape in the U.S. by VCII – the short-lived non-porn sub-label of adult video distributor VCX (Code Red has also licensed the VCII titles NIGHT OF THE DEMON and MARDI GRAS MASSACRE) – the dark and grainy fullscreen transfer (exacerbated by the bad day-for-night, a lack of bounced light on faces in the sunny exteriors, and impenetrable night scenes) was slightly windowboxed to accommodate a VCII watermark at the bottom of the frame (it was likely not visible due to overscan). The film was re-issued on an LP tape by Video Treasures, presumably from the same old master. Code Red’s new 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is certainly an improvement over the older video master (the widescreen framing also makes it seem less like a TV movie, despite the fade-outs). Since the transfer was made in the early 1980s that should go without saying, but the improvements are notable. The night scenes are still pitch black, but that’s the original cinematography. The colors are also more attractive. Several scenes that seemed to be poorly graded with reddish flesh tones on tape are revealed to be lit with red gels, which are now distinct form the flesh tones. While only the awful theme song (and the awful “love theme” by Freya Crane) stood out on the tape release, the Dolby Digital mono audio reveals some interesting touches in the music score. The tune that Michelle repeatedly plays on the harmonium early in the film is now recognizable as a version of the “Lifetimes” sung by the film’s assistant director Ronald A. Romano, which is later played on the organ later at the pizza parlor.

Actor Jim Negele appears in a video interview titled “The Making of THE HAUNTED” (9:59). He calls the film, his first film role, an unrewarding learning experience. He believes that the producers took advantage of Ray’s drinking problem to get him to do more work for less money and tells us that he and Ann Michelle were outcasts at first from the mostly gay crew (who thought he was just stuck up rather than straight) and that Brad Rearden really was as obnoxious as his character. He mentions that a chunk of footage was ruined because the Hollywood contact who was supposed to check the shipped rushes daily, checked them on a Moviola instead of a large screen and did not notice the fluttering of the faulty film gate, and that his kids have never been able to make it through the entire film.

One of the inaugural titles in Code Red’s “Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem” line, the film features an introduction and closing remarks by WWE wrestler Maria Kanellis, who has expanded her interests into modeling, acting and singing. The bits here feature Kanellis in busty Native American garb green-screened in front of a desert background talking about the film (and reacting to it afterwards). Both segments are short and shouldn’t detract from one’s “enjoyment” of the feature – in the case of HAUNTED, they could only enhance it – and there is an option to view the film without the book-ending segments. Kanellis’ music video “Fantasy” (5:33) appears as an extra (the song is also used to score the “Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem” opening and closing credits). Kanellis also introduces the trailer reel which includes LOVE ME DEADLY, THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CAMPUS CORPSE (these two will be on a forthcoming “Maria” double bill), Byron Quisenberry’s SCREAM (which will be reissued on a double bill with NIGHTMARE CIRCUS), BLOOD MANIA, THE HEARSE, I’M GOING TO GET YOU ELLIOT BOY, THE BABYSITTER and THE BLACK GESTAPO. (Eric Cotenas)