By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Trapped in an orphanage.
Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) finds herself an orphan after her mother, who worked as a prostitute, is found in bed with a john both dead via bludgeoning by a hammer. Since she’s still a minor she’s required to move into an orphanage run by the corrupt Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame) who treats the children as slaves and when any one of them tries to escape they’re met with stern justice from resident handyman Kredge (Len Lesser) who’s in complete charge of all disciplinary functions.
The film was written by Gil Lansky who wrote some interesting cult film-like stuff in the early 70’s including The Night God Screamed, which had some offbeat touches and worth checking out. This one too has potential, but unfortunately the production values are so bad it gets virtually ruins before it even has a chance. The chief complaint is the music. Since it was produced on a budge of only $200,000 the producers decided, in an effort to save money, that they’d use music from the free library and thus the soundtrack sounds more like something out of an old monster movie from the 40’s and ends up giving the whole thing a very tacky quality. It also gets overplayed making me genuinely consider watching it with the sound turned down especially during the chase or action sequences. Had I been in charge of production I would’ve gladly spent the money to hire a composer who could’ve given it a more appropriately modern sound, which was much needed, and would’ve felt that any money spent to get it would’ve been worth it.
The scenes in the orphanage don’t elicit much tension either and this is mainly because it looks like it would be very easy to escape from it and not as much of a prison-like atmosphere as you’d expect. The kids are able to walk freely about and not locked in their rooms or chained to their beds, which would’ve made more sense. Kredge looks too middle-aged, Lesser was 48 when it was filmed, and not necessarily in good enough shape to physically bully the kids the way he does. There needed to be more guards present who had guns and knives to keep the kids in line. Grahame also looks to thin and frail and I felt Melody, who appears much older than 18, could’ve easily overpowered her and was quite frankly frustrated that she didn’t. Her character is sassy and worldly-wise for the most part, but then also a bit too pathetically complaint to Grahame’s authority when she really didn’t have to be.
I did though like Patterson’s performance overall, she’s best known for playing Wrangler Jane in the 60’s TV-show ‘F-Troop’, but here shows an edgier side and coupled with her cute face could’ve gone on acting in many more movies, but instead after filming this she married actor James MacArthur and put her career on hold in order to move to Hawaii to be closer to him and this ultimately ended up being the last movie she did. I was also impressed with Lesser. It’s always interesting to see which actors remain professional and put in a strong acting effort even when the production is of a low grade level and in that regard he deserves accolades. I was not however as impressed with Grahame as she comes off a bit too one-note and the part would’ve been better served had it been played by a bigger bodied actress such as Shelley Winters, who would’ve been better able to convey a more imposing presence.
The film has become most famous for its opening bit, which shows a mystery assailant holding a hammer and killing their victim’s with it, but all done from his point-of-view similar to the opening bit from Halloween, which came out 7 years later. For the most part I liked how it gets done here, it’s the best part of the whole movie, and in some ways enjoyed this version better. My only caveat would be that I wished it hadn’t shown the hammer striking the victims as too much stop action camera work and fake blood gets used, which makes it look amateurish. The camera should’ve simply focused solely on the hammer going up-and-down and only cutting briefly to the blood-soaked victims for a brief shot after they had already been dead.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: March 17, 1971
Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes
Director: Philip S. Gilbert
Studio: American International Pictures
Available: Amazon Video