By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Nailed to the cross.
Willis and Fanny Pierce (Alex Nicol, Jeanne Crain) are an older, spiritual couple who drive along the national highways with a giant cross stuck to the top of their car. They come to a small town where Willis decides to start up a church. Unfortunately they get the unwanted attention of Billy Joe (Michael Sugich) who runs a Manson-like religious cult filled with drugged-out hippies. He feels Willis is potential competition, so late one night he and his cohorts sneak into the church and nail Willis to the cross all to the horror of Fanny who is so frightened she doesn’t do anything and instead hides in a closet. Billy Joe is later convicted of the crime and sent to prison, but his followers are not happy and seek revenge. When Fanny is hired to ‘babysit’ a group of older teens they go on the attack creating one long night of terror for Fanny and the teens.
Clearly this is a rip-off of the Charles Manson crimes, but for all of the films from that period that tried to capitalize on the fear that those crimes brought this has to be one of the better ones. The electronic music score, camera angles and shadowy lighting create an effective eerie feeling. The movie moves at a decent pace and the shot of Willis crucified to the cross is shocking and edgier than most other films from that period. The second half, which features Crain and the teens trapped in a house with the hooligans harassing them from outside manages to build up some decent tension.
Crain looks and behaves as if she were snatched directly out of the 1940’s and seems completely out-of-place with the period or other characters and yet the extreme contrast actually makes it more interesting. Sugich is great as the cult leader and it’s unfortunate he wasn’t on for the entire duration. I did think it was unrealistic though that he is seen at his trial without handcuffs, or a prison suit or even having his hair cut, which in reality I think would have happened and probably made him look even creepier.
Although the film is low budget and terribly dated I did think is was entertaining enough to be passable especially for fans of 70’s schlock. My biggest complaint comes with the twist ending, which although surprising isn’t completely plausible and leaves open too many loose ends. It reminded me too much of those ghost stories kids like to tell around a campfire that would always hinge on some unexpected ending and made this entire production seem more like a cutesy concept than an actual story.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: June 4, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes
Director: Lee Madden
Studio: Cinemation Industries
Available: VHS, YouTube