By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Evil house menaces family.
Marian and Ben (Karen Black, Oliver Reed) are a couple who takeover for the summer as caretakers for an old gothic-like mansion. They bring along their son Davey (Lee Montgomery) and Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis). Soon there are strange occurrences as well as a transformation of their personalities, which makes them believe that the place is haunted.
The attempt at going back to an old-fashioned type of horror movie doesn’t work. Dan Curtis’s direction is too restrained and most likely will be a turn-off to even those that like these types of films. The pace is slow and the film takes way too much time telling a story that in the end adds up to nothing. The scares are non-existent and I didn’t even find it to be the slightest bit creepy. The only impressive scene involves a body flying out of an upstairs window and crashing head first into the windshield of a car, but that doesn’t occur until the very end. There is also a potentially interesting subplot involving Ben’s reoccurring nightmares about a traumatic childhood experience with a chauffeur, but it is never fully explained what this is about, which ultimately makes this more frustrating instead.
The soft lighting approach is another mistake as it makes the whole thing look like a shampoo commercial and adds nothing to the atmosphere. There is also the backyard pool that was clearly shot at another location from the summer house one that they reside.
Probably the only fun element of this otherwise blah film is the eclectic cast. Burgess Meredith, who shows up at the beginning, should’ve won an award for campy performance of the decade. Black plays another one of her flaky characters with her usual flaky style and Montgomery is good as the no-nonsense kid. Reed is outstanding as he ends up showing the widest array of emotions.
However, it is Davis whose latter day presence gives the film its broadest appeal. She spent a career playing strong-willed women with electrifying performances and yet here her character is downright ordinary. The change of pace is interesting especially the scene where she gets shouted down by Black. She also has a pretty good deathbed sequence and there is even a moment where Reed pats her on her rear. Depending on one’s point-of-view you will either find this to be amazing, amusing, or really gross.
On the whole though I found this to be a pretty hopeless excuse for a horror film with the most horrifying thing about it being having to sit through it.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: October 18, 1976
Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes
Director: Dan Curtis
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD