SIGHTINGS: HEARTLAND GHOST
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Produced by Roee Sharon
Written by Phil Penningroth
Director of Photograpy Bert Dunk
Music by Peter Bernstein
Cast: Beau Bridges, Nia Long, Miguel Ferrer, Thea Gill & Gabriel Olds
2002/92 mins/Color/Dolby Surround
1.33:1/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Paramount Home Entertainment DVD
When DVDs first appeared in 1997, users were simply excited to have some of their favorite movies on DVD. Today, we expect a slew of extras along with movie. And while most DVD special features are simply fluff, many are entertaining and informative. But, to me, I rarely get the information that I'm really looking for these extras. The DVD for the made-for-TV movie SIGHTINGS: HEARTLAND GHOST is a shining example of this phenomenon.
SIGHTINGS: HEARTLAND GHOST is a dramatization of events which allegedly occurred in real-life and were broadcast on the TV show SIGHTINGS in late 1994 and early 1995. Jeff and Pam Mason (Gabriel Olds & Thea Gill) are a young couple who live in High River, Kansas, with their young son. They have recently purchased a very old house and are in the process of renovating it. They begin to notice unusual events, such as oddly arranged stuffed animals (which return to that odd arrangement even after they are moved), and Jeff begins to have very vivid nightmares about a woman whom he's never met. When they (and their friends) witness a stuffed animal moving on its own, Pam contacts the SIGHTINGS TV show, who sends a crew to High River -- Derek (Beau Bridges) is a skeptic who loves debunking those shown on SIGHTINGS; Lou (Nia Long), is relatively new to the show, and dislikes Derke's attitude. They also bring in Allen (Miguel Ferrer), a psychic, who attempts to contact the spirits.
Obviously, there is a difference of opinions amongst the SIGHTINGS crew, but once they begin to investigate the Mason's house, things change. They begin to witness bizarre things, and Jeff's dreams become more intense -- to the point that they are affecting him physically. Derek decides that he needs scientific proof of a true haunting, but will the Mason's be able to survive the torment?
SIGHTINGS: HEARTLAND GHOST has all the trappings to be a classic ghost-story, especially since it is based on a series of actual events, but it never fulfills its promise. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (who helmed NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2, one of my favorite low-budget guilty pleasures) shoots the film in a very flat, lifeless style, and is never able create, let alone maintain, any suspense. Oddly, the POV of the ghosts is presented with EVIL DEAD-style camera movements which rush through the house. However, the director isn't wholly to blame here, as the script doesn't give him much to work with. The movie is simply too vague and leaves the viewer with too many questions. Perhaps this was done intentionally in order to emulate the style of the SIGHTINGS program, but we aren't told enough to fully invest in the story. Instead, the movie puts too much emphasis on Derek and Lou. Does the incident convert Derek? Who cares?! We want to see poltergeist in action. Speaking of which, you're better off re-watching POLTERGEIST as opposed to this dud. I haven't seen the original "Heartland Ghost" segments from SIGHTINGS, but it's my understanding that they were quite convincing and disturbing, two things that can't be used to describe this dramatization.
SIGHTINGS: HEARTLAND GHOST spooks its way onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. As the film was originally produced for TV, it is shown in its 4:3 aspect ratio. I'm assuming that the movie was shot on film, but this transfer is all about muddy video effects. The picture is sharp and clear at times, but for the most part, the image is clouded with distortion and video noise. Ironically, the ghosting on this transfer is scarier than that in the film. The colors are good, and the image is never too dark, but even a layman videophile will notice the defects here. The audio end doesn't fare any better. The Dolby Surround track has a wildly unbalanced dynamic range, as the dialogue is far too soft to comprehend at times, and the ghostly sound effects and musical cues are very, very loud. There is also some mild distortion at times. Overall, this is a disappointing A/V package from the usually reliable Paramount.
But, nothing is quite as disappointing as the lack of extras on this DVD, as it contains no special features whatsoever. At most, I'd hoped for the original episodes of SIGHTINGS, so as to compare them to the movie. But, it's understandable if they weren't available due to licensing or perhaps the original family didn't want them available on home video. But, at the very least, give us a text overview of the original case so that we know what is fact and what is fiction in the movie.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©