By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Family’s dark secret exposed.
Scotty (Rebecca Balding) is a student away at college who finds nearby housing at a large stately mansion owned by Mrs. Engels (Yvonne De Carlo) and her son Mason (Brad Reardon). When Scotty moves in she meets three other college students (Steve Doubet, Juli Andelman, John Widelock) who are also living there, but during the next couple of day those other students start turning up dead. Scotty fears she may be the next victim and suspects the killings may have something to do with the mysterious person that’s hiding in the attic.
In the summer of 1977 Denny Harris, who was at that time a successful commercial director who owned his own studio, decided to take a try at directing a horror movie and he put down $450,000 of his own money to do it. Unfortunately when production wrapped the footage shot was deemed unreleasable, so Jim and Ken Wheat, two brothers, were brought in to try and salvage it, but instead decided to completely rewrite the script and reshoot almost the entire film leaving only 12 minutes of the original footage in the final cut. This includes a scene where the Mason character watches what looks to be a soft core porn flick on his TV in his bedroom, but was actually a scene from the original version with Susan Backlinie, the lady who got attacked by the shark in the opening bit of Jaws, playing one of the characters.
It would be interesting if a Blu-ray could be issued that would show the version that Harris shot alongside the Wheat brother’s one because I suspect it might not have been any worse than what we end up getting here. For one thing the plot is too skimpy and the pacing slow. Too much extraneous footage of Scotty looking for an apartment and conversations she has at a bar with friends, and even her making love with Jack that doesn’t help build the tension at all and should’ve been cut out.
When the ‘scares’ do come they’re not all that great. The stabbing sequences are particularly annoying because the same Bernard Herrmann-like score that was used in Psycho gets played here making it all seem quite cliched. The blood is another issue as it conveniently collects on a hanging white sheet as the victim gets pummeled with a knife as well as a pool of it on the floor, which our protagonist somehow misses seeing when she goes to investigate. Yet I’ve watched enough true-life crime shows to know that blood splatter doesn’t work that way, but instead sprays out all over with droplets of it splattering on the walls, ceiling, and other appliances until it would be quite obvious to anyone entering a room that a murder had occurred there and unlike what happens here.
The flimsy plot gets played-out too quickly. In a matter of just two days of staying there the dark family secret and all the ugliness behind it gets completely revealed, which makes for an anti-climactic feeling when it’s over. The protagonists seem to be nothing more than dressing with have very little to do as they ultimately stand helplessly on the sidelines while the bad guys kill-off each other, which isn’t very gripping.
A better idea would’ve been to have the villainous family, which are far more interesting and better acted than any of the college kids, be the stars of the film. Then having the film show how they bring in tenants through the years to help defrays costs, but reluctantly forced to kill them when they get too noisy, only to ultimately meet their match with one of them similar to how What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? was structured.
The only riveting moment in the movie comes when a young woman, played by Tina Tyler, tries to hang herself via a noose hung from a light fixture in her bedroom. Most of the time hangings in films are either shown from the waist up or down, but here we get a bird’s eye shot where her feet clearly leave the floor with the rope around her neck and nothing else to support her making it seem like she really is hanging herself especially as her body begins to struggle, which is impressively graphic.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: November 16, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes
Director: Denny Harris
Studio: American Cinema Releasing
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video