This new ad on YouTube is horribly deceptive.

First off, I want to object to the first thing I see when I go to YouTube being a kid puking out a hideous poop tendril. Used to be the first thing I saw when I loaded up YouTube was a list of all my subscriptions which had updated, which is great. Last week it was an ad for the new Fast & Furious movie, which is less great but still tolerable considering it was just cars and Vin Diesel. But this? This is just gag-inducing. I don’t mind this kind of image when I hunker down to watch a scary movie or play a freaky game. That’s fine. I don’t want to see it when I go to check my YouTube messages or find out if Deceased Crab’s new video is up.

That’s not the most offensive thing about the image, though. I’m not even going to launch into a tirade about how ads on the internet is some kind of unspeakable evil, either. (Got to pay for all that bandwidth somehow.) What I find particularly distasteful is that this stupid movie is being marketed as “based on a true story”. How the hell can you claim your movie is based on a true story when the biggest image you’re using to sell it is a kid with a doo-doo plant coming out of his throat?

Okay, okay, I understand there is a distinction between “factual documentary” and “based on a true story”. If you’re just basing something on a true story, that leaves you free to take some creative liberties in order to increase the entertainment value of the product. Make the characters more attractive, for example, or tighten up the conflict, or offer a resolution where there wasn’t one in reality. But come on, there has to be a limitation on this type of thing. Anyway, let’s not pretend that’s the intention of the phrase. The people who made this movie don’t want potential viewers to see it and think, “This movie has a kernel of truth at its core but is still mostly a work of fiction.” They want people to think “Holy crap this actually happened.

And people will. Poking around the Internet, it’s easy to turn up message boards and blogs where people already do.

Really though, how true is the story? Some shallow research reveals a woman named Carmen Snedeker, the real-life version of the mother from the film. She claims that the former funeral home her family lived in was haunted by demons, that her niece was assaulted by dark forces, and that the water in her pipes turned to foul-smelling blood. Curiously there doesn’t seem to be testimonial from any of the other Snedeker family members, at least none that were turned up on the first few pages of Google results. Whatever happened, none of the Snedekers were harmed and they eventually moved out. Nobody has experienced any funky paranormal activity in the house since.

Snedeker’s story is corroborated by John Zaffis, a well-known scientist whose findings have been printed in peer-reviewed publications. Whoops, I meant to say he’s a paranormal investigator looking to sell books and lecture tours. Zaffis recounts things such as disappearing crucifixes, shattering rosaries and a hand-to-god real-life demon sitting down in the dining room. He had to call in a Catholic priest to sanctify the place. He performed an exorcism and everything! Wow!

Only… the priest is never named and as far as anyone knows none of that ever happened. Not that Snedeker and Zaffis would have any reason to make any of this up, of course. I mean, outside of their story getting them a book deal and a documentary and a feature film and then another book deal. Outside of that there’s no incentive.

So that’s the big issue, here. When you make a movie about an implausible romance that occured on the Titanic as it sank, you’re allowed to say “based on a true story” because we know that there really was a boat called the Titanic and that it really did sink. You can say Pearl Harbor was “based on a true story” because as ridiculous as that movie was, Pearl Harbor really was bombed. When it comes to The Haunting in Connecticut, you can’t say “based on a true story”. At best you can say “based on what a couple of people said happened”. I’d also like to point out that neither Titanic nor Pearl Harbor were actually marketed as “based on a true story”; they were both just accepted as historical fiction. Which, regardless of what my opinion of those films might be, puts them in a class somewhere above The Haunting.

Regardless of whether or not these events happened, I also have to consider whether they’re even plausible. For example, you might have seen the movie Walking Tall. Walking Tall is a “based on a true story” where The Rock comes home to his small town, gets his butt kicked by some thugs, then runs for sheriff and personally beats up the thugs with a 2×4. I’m aware that the events in the film probably didn’t happen. (A grappling match in a saw mill? A guy half the size of The Rock manages to put up more of a fight than the steroid apes from the second act? Really?) But they could have happened. Two guys really could have fought in a saw mill. A hick-town sheriff really could have mounted a homemade bat in his truck. There really could have been a shoot-out in a trailer park police station. I know that guys and guns and saw mills are real things, so when I see them in movies my disbelief can be safely suspended without being snapped in half. That’s not what The Haunting is doing, though; it’s first asking me to believe that ghosts and demons are real, and then saying “…and assuming they are real, here’s a story about some.” That hurdle’s too high to jump over.

As for the actual quality of the movie, it’s impossible to say. If not for the true story tagline I might have been able to see it and appreciate it. I find though that this kind of thing will unfairly bias me against a film. It’s like, remember when Tom Cruise freaked out and said psychiatry was bullshit? I haven’t been able to watch and enjoy a Tom Cruise movie since then, regardless of the value or subject matter. Maybe that’s petty, but it’s not like there’s any shortage of movies to see. Sorry, The Haunting guys, but you aren’t getting my eight dollars.

The damn movie wasn’t even filmed in Connecticut! It was filmed in Manitoba! There are just layers upon layers of deception here!

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