By Richard Winters
My Rating: 1 out of 10
4-Word Review: A haunted movie theater.
Mitford (Peter Spitzer) is a middle-aged father of two who decides he’s had enough of being a shoe salesman. Much to the reluctance of his wife Jan (Dianne Davis) he buys an old movie theater and decides to reopen it. The theater had remained closed since the previous owner showed the movie Carnal Knowledge, which was considered too racy for the conservative citizens of the town, but Mitford promises to schedule only G-rated fare. While opening night is a sell-out it proves fatal when the projectionist (Richard Nathan) gets electrocuted and dies. Then from behind the screen it’s revealed that someone from years ago had hanged himself. No one knows for sure who it is, particularly the vulgar police detective (Joe Marmo), but the new owners begin to suspect that the weird, stuttering man (Arch Joboulian) who lives nearby and always appears in the theater at odd times may know more about what’s going on than he’s letting-on.
Regional filmmaker David Burton Morris, who has shot the majority of his films in the Twin Cities area where he’s from, has had some acclaim with his dramas, but his foray into horror is a disaster. The only redeeming quality are the quirky characters. Raymond, as a hyper nervous, geeky projectionist is funny and I hated seeing him go. The crass investigator is good for a few chuckles too and in some ways probably not all that different from a gruff policemen of that era.
The film’s downfall is the fact that there aren’t any scares. It starts out creepy enough, but that vibe soon gets lost and the soundtrack plays like something better suited for a comedy. The extraneous conversations really bog it down. Discussions about Jimmy Dean sausages and having the family singing the Oscar Meyer wiener song as they drive home has no place in this story, or any other for that matter. It also suffers from poor framing where the husband and wife are sitting on a porch to one side and the detective on the opposite end, but despite all three being involved in a conversation only the couple are seen while all we see from the detective are his legs.
The third act is where it really goes south as the brother of the crazy stuttering man (both played by Joboulian) kidnaps the couple’s teen daughter (Emily Spindler) because she reminds him of Jean Harlow his favorite movie star. However, the teen girl wasn’t in much of the movie up until then, so the viewer has no emotional connection with her and therefore no care whether she gets away, or not. Since the mother had taken up most of the screentime it really should’ve been her as the kidnap victim. Either way it’s not very tense and Jobulian, who comes-off as a cross between Angus Scrimm in Phantasm and Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is not a good enough actor to make the villain role even remotely interesting. The attempt to borrow from the ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ theme where this deformed being falls for a young beauty is both stale and contrived.
The story also has no connection with the title. We do see a man biting down on a rat at the beginning and the theater does show some documentaries of animals attacking other animals, of which we see a few snippets of, but the title leads one to believe this will be about cannibalism and there’s none. The film’s promotional poster seen above is misleading as well and far scarier than anything you’ll witness in the movie.
My Rating: 1 out of 10
Released: November 16, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes
Director: David Burton Morris
Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)