By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Teen is buried alive.
Jessie (Tiffany Bolling), her brother Alan (Brad David) and their mutual friend Eddy (Vince Martorano) kidnap 16 year-old Candy (Susan Sennett) on her way home from school and then bury her alive inside a coffin that is connected with a pipe for air. They then call what they think is her father Avery (Ben Piazza), who’s a jeweler, and demand he deliver them jewelry in exchange for her safe return. The problem is that Avery is only her stepfather and has been looking for a way out of his hapless marriage to Candy’s alcoholic mother (Dolores Dorn) for some time. Candy’s set to inherit quite a bit of money once she turns 21, but in the event of her death Avery will receive half of that, so her early demise is something he relishes and therefore he refuses to pay the ransom. To further the complications a toddler named Sean (Christopher Trueblood) secretly sees the three bury Candy and tries his best to get her out and find her help.
This is the rare horror movie where it’s the writing that makes it interesting. Most horror films rely on atmosphere, scares, and gore to make it work, but here it’s the constantly winding scenario that keeps it intriguing. Writer/director Guerdon Trueblood had a background in writing scripts for TV-shows, such as ‘Adam-12′, before he broke into movies and his ability to come-up with clever and unexpected twists is fully evident and if anything it never gets boring.
The story was inspired by the real-life case that occurred on December 17, 1968 when Barbara Jane Mackle, the 20 year-old daughter of a wealthy real estate magnate, was kidnapped by a couple near Duluth, Georgia, who put her inside a fiberglass coffin that had an air pump, a battery powered lamp, and some food and water. They then buried the coffin in a shallow grave and held her for a $500,000 ransom. While there are many differences to the real-life event and the movie the one similarity is that there were unforeseen complications in retrieving the ransom money. The two were eventually caught and Barbara was found alive and freed. She went on to write a book about her experience that was made into a TV-movie entitled ’83 Hours Til Dawn’. Her kidnapper, Gary Steven Krist; also wrote a book about it ‘Life: The Man who Kidnapped Barbara Jane Mackle’.
While the plot is captivating the characters and their backgrounds are quite poor. I did enjoy the casting of Martarano, who got the part because he was a college buddy of Trueblood’s and who looks like the spitting image of Ernest Borgnine and could’ve easily been either his son, or younger brother. A backstory though to their motives was needed. When did they come-up with this plan and who in the group though it up? Why did they choose this young lady to kidnap as there were hundreds of other kids of rich folks to apprehend, so why this one? Their nervous looking reactions and expressions doesn’t help the tension either because they come-off looking like amateurs in way-over-their-heads that are just waiting to screw-up versus cunning, cold-blooded killers who are a legitimate threat.
I will give actress Susan Sennett, who later went on to marry musician Graham Nash, credit for allowing herself to be put into a tiny box and then allowing dirt to be thrown over it, but her Candy character is too much of a sweet and innocent caricature. She should’ve been well aware that her step father didn’t love her and might not pay the ransom and alluded this to her captors. It’s also hard to believe that living in such a broken-home environment that she’d be so prim and proper. Most teens that come from a bad home-life become rebellious, angry and sometimes even anti-social, which is what she should’ve been more like.
Ben Piazza, who was married to Dolores Dorn in real-life, which is probably why he got the part, is completely miscast. He’s a competent character actor in his other roles, but here he looks too young and with his constantly pouty expression more like a spoiled rich kid straight out of college than a jaded, middle-aged adult. The part should’ve been played by someone looking well into his 50’s with a receding hairline, wrinkled, worn face that could visually give-off the impression of a man run over by the rat race and suburban life and searching for any way out.
Christopher Trueblood, who was the real-life son of the director, gives an amazing performance when you factor in that he was only 2 when it was shot. However, his inability to say anything, or show any emotion is problem, which keeps the viewer from fully being able to bond with him. The abusive things that his mother, played by Bonnie Boland, says to him is unsettling and the fact that he witnesses a rape is disturbing. I presume that his reaction shots were edited in later and he wasn’t really in the room when the sexual assault was played-out, but still having a kid see that, as the movie implies that his character does, would be very traumatic and make most kids scream and cry, which this one doesn’t. There’s also the issue that his parents both have brown hair while he’s a blonde making it look like he’s not really their kid.
The constantly shifting script goes a bit overboard to the point that it writes itself, no pun intended, into a hole with a ending twist that while being offbeat isn’t very satisfying. The majority of the characters are unlikable and the few that are sympathetic are seen too little. It’s basically a mean movie for the sake of meanness with no other point, or message to it. The ending is a bit confusing as well as we hear a gunshot go off, but don’t know what that represents. If it’s meant to intimate that the kid killed his mother then that’s something we need to see especially since she was such a nasty lady witnessing her going down would’ve been a dark payoff.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: June 16, 1973
Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes
Director: Guerdon Trueblood
Studio: General Film Corporation
Available: DVD, Blu-ray