Friday, July 11, 2008

The Hearse (1980)

The Hearse is a fun old spookfest from 1980 that is chock full of atmosphere (and, unfortunately, flaws) and has a killer hearse (ummm…literally!)! This little-seen gem features Trish Van Devere as Jane Hardy, a schoolteacher from the big city that’s recently been through a tough divorce and her mother’s death, leading to a near-mental breakdown. Jane has inherited her aunt’s country home and heads there for the summer, hoping for some much needed repose.

When she arrives in the tiny town late one night, she is nearly driven off the road by a hulking black hearse. She’s also receives a chilly reception by the town lawyer (played by Joseph Cotton) handling the turnover of the house as well as the rest of the townsfolk. The hardware store refuses to deliver to her home, the handyman won’t work there and locals avoid talking to her.

Driving at night, Jane has repeated run-ins with the menacing black hearse. In the house, doors start slamming of their own accord, window’s break, objects won’t stay where Jane puts them, pipes clang and she has vivid, realistic nightmares. Jane finds her aunt’s diary and is startled to find out that her aunt met a charming stranger and they made a pact with Satan for eternal life. The local reverend tells Jane that the cause of her aunt’s death was always a mystery and on the day of her funeral the hearse carrying her inexplicably blew up and her body was never found.

When a stranger named Tom (David Gautreaux) comes into her life, Jane is swept off her feet. Still, the strange occurrences keep happening and she’s not sure if the townsfolk are trying to drive her out of town or something much more sinister is at work…

Though The Hearse was, for the most part, an entertaining movie, it is definitely not without its faults. First off, the story is very shaky and predictable. Any experienced horror fan can see what’s coming from a mile away! It’s hard to build suspense when your audience already knows what’s coming. Secondly, the story wavers between a ghost story, a haunted house movie and a haunted car plotline. We never learn enough about Jane’s aunt or her pact with the Devil (or where she is now…what happened to her promised “eternal life”??). Everything is just a bit too transparent and vague throughout the entire film. It is like writer William Bleich was vacillating between all these different plotlines and couldn’t decide which one to follow. Also, no one was killed off until there was only about 30 minutes left in the film, and the kills are silly and feel like they were added in at the last minute.

On the plus side, the film has a killer hearse! With a suitably creepy driver! I was sad to see that the hearse wasn’t the sole focus of The Hearse, but when it did appear it lent some frightful dread into the film. I also liked how the film was played straight instead of campy, with a real effort put forth to give us a varied group of characters (though they did come off a little one-dimensional). The seriousness helped achieve an atmosphere of foreboding instead of just playing it goofy and going for juvenile scares.

The characters were all pretty entertaining, though most of the men were negatively represented as nasty, leering perverts (like the Sheriff, played by Med Flory), lovesick Lotharios (like Jane’s high school handyman, Paul – played by rosy-cheeked Perry Lang) or drunken old coots (the town lawyer, played by Joseph Cotton). Even Jane’s love interest, Tom (David Gautreaux) came across like a slick, seducing snake. Trish Van Devere’s portrayal of Jane was probably the strongest of the bunch, showing us a steadfast woman that was determined to stay in an unwelcoming community no matter what, when most people would have cut and run at the first sign of trouble.

If you can forgive The Hearse for its wispy plot and obvious conclusion, it’s really not a bad way to spend an eerie evening. There are several scenes that were unexpected and made me jump (watch out for unexpected people in your bed is all I’ve got to say!). If you are looking for a little-seen, atmospheric haunting movie you might want to check out The Hearse.

Available from Amazon!

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