Another week, another Mills Creek movie from my Fifty Chilling Classics pack.
Do not adjust your eyeballs, you’re seeing that title card correctly. It’s clear, in focus, and it doesn’t look like it was filmed through a lens made of chicken broth. This is absolutely the first picture on my Mills Creek set that I didn’t have to edit so that I could post the pictures here. I could hear everything clearly, too. It’s a bit strange, actually. The Hearse (1980) is the best-looking Crown International Pictures production that I’ve ever seen for this blog. You’re familiar with their work if you’ve read my reviews of The Devil’s Hand and Zoltan Hound of Dracula.
The movie came out in 1980 and stars Trish Van Devere as Jane Hardy, a recently divorced woman seeking some rest in the house she inherited from her aunt.
The Hearse came out in the same year as The Changeling. One of these movies was really good, one of these movies was less good, can you guess which is which? Yeah, The Hearse is kind of a hot mess but I also kind of like it.
I think what endeared this movie to me is how hard it tries. It’s as if someone mixed equal parts ghost story, with a Satanic movie and a slasher. I love all of those elements but it’s all too much when put together. I think The Hearse could have been really good if it had cut one of these elements and fifteen minutes.
As I said, Ms. Van Devere’s character, Jane, moves into her aunt’s home. She realizes fairly quickly that things are amiss. The lawyer handling the inheritance of the home (Played by Joseph Cotten) is bitter, resentful, and downright rude. The sheriff is a lech. Everyone in the town, it seems, is really hostile towards Jane, for no good reason. The only people who are kind are Paul (Perry Lang), the muscley son of the hardware store owners, and Reverend Winston (Donald Hotton.)
It turns out that Jane’s aunt wasn’t well-liked in the town. In fact, she was thought to be a witch and Jane resembles her.
Plus, a mysterious hearse has been following Jane.
Is the ghost of Jane’s aunt haunting her house? Doors open and close and there’s a scene with banging pipes that’s quite similar to the one in The Changeling.
Or, is the town conspiring to gaslight Jane?
Jane turns to Tom, a mysterious, handsome stranger who helped her when the hearse ran Jane’s car off the road.
As Jane tries to unravel the mystery of her aunt’s life, the activity in her house continues.
This movie is like a Changeling-lite. Kind of. It’s more like it emulates The Changeling but can never quite be as scary as its predecessor. First, there’s the casting of Trish Van Devere, who really carries the movie.
Secondly, there’s the attempt at a creepy house, which falls very short. It’s not that the house is small, it’s just that it looks like someone rammed the top of a Victorian house onto a red-brick house.
The music starts off as nice and creepy but quickly becomes overwhelming and distracts from any creepy moments. You know what isn’t scary? Trumpets! Unless someone’s hiding behind a curtain and plays the trumpet loudly at you when you don’t expect it. And then I’d be more concerned about why they were hiding behind the curtains. Weirdo.
The main problem is that the movie feels like it’s being pulled in three different directions. I think the filmmakers wanted the movie to be like The Changeling but they also noticed that Satanism and slashers were also popular, so they just added elements of those too, without regard to whether they made sense. So you end up with a hot mess instead of a unified vision. A hot mess that is over-long and lacks tension. There are some scares but it’s like the filmmakers only had two servings of scary that they’re trying to serve to four people. It’s not bad but it’s not really good, either. Some of it is just goofy, like how Jane’s boyfriend transforms into Hugo, the ventriloquist dummy from Devil Doll.
Plus, they missed a huge opportunity with Ms. Van Devere’s character. I wish that I could have seen Trish do something more than be scared.
The movie has its charms. I can definitely see it being the second half of a double-billing. So I’ve decided to dub the movie “Prill-iant,” after 1980’s public access sensation Sondra Prill. Like Sondra, the movie is awkward and messy but you just can’t stop watching.