By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: A haunted drive-in.
In 1935, Ruby (Piper Laurie) goes out on a date with her mobster boyfriend Nicky (Sal Vecchio). While they take a walk around a swamp they are ambushed by other mobsters who shoot Rocky dead. 16 years later Ruby is living with her mute daughter Leslie (Janit Baldwin),who was born on the night of the shooting, as well as her lover Vince (Stuart Whitman) and a blind, wheelchair bound ex-mobster Jake (Fred Kohler Jr.). She makes money running a local drive-in theater where strange deaths begin to occur convincing her that Nicky’s spirit has come back from the dead and is now out to destroy her.
The film, which was directed by Curtis Harrington, starts out rocky. The period atmosphere doesn’t seem completely authentic and the editing is choppy. I also didn’t like that everything takes place at night. I wanted more of a visual layout of the drive-in, maybe even a bird’s-eye view and some idea of the town that they lived in, which you never see. The scenes of the swamp don’t look genuine either and like it was all done on an inside soundstage.
Initially I found the ghost effects to be cheesy especially when the projectionist (Eddy Donno) starts seeing things moving around on their own, which came off as too tacky. The film would’ve been better had it not giving it all away right up front that there was a ghostly presence and it instead made it more like a mystery. However, once it started to catch its stride, which happens around the second act, it gets better. I felt the atmosphere was creepy and I enjoyed the spooky visions that Ruby sees of Nicky. Some of the possession scenes that occurs with her daughter Leslie, which comes off like an The Exorcist rip-off, but I’m not going to quibble, are cool too.
The best moment though is when one of the victims, played by Jack Perkins, gets impaled by a metal pole and then hung from the pole onto the outdoor movie screen. It’s cool too the way the camera captures his dead hanging body close-up and then far away where he looks like nothing more than a small fly on a white board. However, with that said there should’ve been some scene showing how they removed the body from the screen as the movie makes it seem like they just left it there, which wouldn’t have gone over well for the paying patrons to have to gaze at a dead body while their movie is playing.
The ending has a bit of a controversial history. Originally director Harrington wanted to have Ruby and Nicky go off to the swamp hand-in-hand like they had rekindled their romance, but writer/producer Steve Krantz wanted a darker twist, so he hired Stephanie Rothman to film an extended sequence where Ruby gets attacked by Nicky underwater. None of the actors were supportive of this new scene being added on, so they refused to come back for a reshoot forcing the production crew to use a stand-in to replace Piper and a skeleton in the place of Nicky. The scene is short enough that it works and personally I liked that it got added in as ending it on a romantic note seemed too hooky especially for a horror movie.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: June 23, 1977
Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes
Director: Curtis Harrington
Studio: Dimension Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Video