September 17, 2012

The Haunted Airman (2006)

"An injured RAF pilot, confined to a wheelchair is committed to an eerie hospital where he starts to lose his mind"

Based so loosely on "The Haunting of Toby Jugg" by Dennis Wheatley" that it turned out to be another story entirely, "The Haunted Airman" has become a minor curiosity for "Twilight" fans who want to see more of Robert Pattinson before he was famous for being Edward.

I originally saw this when the BBC Four showed it on Hallowe'en way back in 2006, but I wasn't exactly impressed by any of it. In fact, I found it extremely boring and, short though it was, I still didn't make it to the end. There wasn't a lot of attention payed to Hallowe'en by any of the main channels that year, and I have a feeling that I just went to bed rather than look for anything else to watch at the time.

I had actually enjoyed reading the novel many years before and always felt that it represented the best of Dennis Wheatley's work. In comparison, "The Haunted Airman" did little more than use the names of the main characters and Toby's hallucinations of spiders. The rest of the plot involving Satanists who were attempting to drive him insane and cheat him of his inheritance was completely ignored. Toby still was in a wheelchair after being injured in the war, had his letters intercepted, and went mad, but the location had changed and everything was done for different reasons.

Having now rewatched "The Haunted Airman" on the DVD released in 2009 which was designed for Twihards (but one of them must have got fed-up with since I found it in my local pawn shop), I have to say that it was slightly better than I remembered. At least I made it to the end this time.

Robert Pattinson's Toby Jugg was extremely laconic and spent most of his time between being massaged by lighting and smoking cigarettes until he ran out of matches, but he wasn't exactly horrible in the role. As a traumatised and crippled World War II airman, he fitted the part. Maybe he could have added a bit more emotion to his rather blank expression other than occasionally glowering in anger, but he did enough.

Julian Sands as the renamed character of "Dr. Hal Burns" (instead of "Helmuth Lisicky") wasn't quite so credible as a psychiatrist or Julia Jugg's new love interest, but, to give credit where it's due, I don't think anyone else other than maybe Richard E. Grant would have been better. After being in "Arachnophobia" (1990), there was too much of an in-joke when he played with a spider, and I couldn't take him seriously after that.

The story started off okay, it was nicely filmed with only occasional lapses into obviously handheld territory, and it was getting increasingly creepy until Julia Jugg (played by Rachael Stirling) turned up. Then, in spite of the opportunity to ogle a very sexy example of wartime female beauty, everything got really confusing. I couldn't tell which parts of the story were dreams and which were reality. I'd guess that the intention was to convey that Toby Jugg couldn't tell the difference either, but it didn't work so well. This was the point at which I gave up on the film six years ago.

The ending, such as it was, made hardly any sense except to confirm that Toby Jugg had indeed lost his mind completely. The jury is still out on whether that was Hal Burns' intention all along or if it was the accidental result of his inept therapy. Without the bigger occult/communist plot of the novel, Hal Burns' motivation wasn't clear. He had nothing to gain from sending Toby Jugg right over the edge unless he was just some kind of psychopath himself.

At just over an hour, "The Haunted Airman" almost worked within its made-for-TV limitations and internal logic. It definitely succeeded as a standalone movie in its own right, but it was hardly Dennis Wheatley's "The Haunting of Toby Jugg". For a BBC Hallowe'en special, it was more of a wartime drama which dealt with post traumatic stress disorder than the ghost story which a lot of people were expecting from the title.

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