By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Woman haunted by voodoo.
Marianne (Kitty Winn) and Gary ( William Paul Burns) are a newlywed couple who travel to the French Quarter of New Orleans for their honeymoon. Little do they know that a secret group of people, including the owner of the hotel that they’re staying at, have decided to possess Marianne with the spirit of a dead black woman. Soon after arriving Marianne begins having frightening dreams and the reflections of someone else when she looks in the mirror. Strange occurrences happen around her including the deaths of dogs and even her husband. Eventually she gets taken to a psychiatric hospital where Dr. Godard (Peter Donat) listens to her case and agrees to try and help her.
This was the third feature film of director Noel Black. He attained the attention of film critics with his 1965 movie short Skaterdater, which lead to funding for his second project Pretty Poison, which starred Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld and garnered a cult following. Soon after he became highly in-demand, but he made the mistake of deciding it was more important to stay busy in the business than holding out for a good script. He took on directing the notorious Cover Me Babe, which features what may be the most unlikable protagonist in film history, and a movie Black later admitted “should never have been made”. He followed this up with Jennifer on My Mind, which met with equal disdain by both the critics and at the box office. By 1974, when this film was shot, Black was just trying to remain relevant as the studios that initially adored him were now no longer calling. This film was meant to showcase his visual talent, but he and the producers could never get on the same page as to what direction to take the story culminating in a muddled script that goes nowhere.
That’s not to say there aren’t things about this movie that I liked. The music score by Stephen Lawrence is haunting and the on-location shooting of the French Quarter offers a nice ambiance. I liked the point-of-view shots done when Marianne first gets wheeled into the hospital and the scenes inside an abandoned train station are spooky.
The story though lacks focus. The film opens right away with us seeing the notorious voodoo group in action, but it would’ve been more interesting had we not been given this information right away and instead made it more of a mystery for the viewer as to whether she was going insane, like the other characters in the movie think she is, or not. Winn’s performance is good. She’s better known for her part in a much more famous horror movie The Exorcist, where she appeared more youthful while here her hair is cut short and with make-up given a middle-aged demeanor. Her character though is poorly fleshed-out and shows no unique qualities and in that respect she’s quite boring, but as she becomes repeatedly terrorized by the group the viewer softens to her, mostly due to her good acting, and ultimately cares about her fate.
The story has similar themes with the cult hit Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and had it been better realized could’ve been a minor success, but the ending is too ambiguous. Winn turns to the camera in the final shot and shows a weird expression making us believe, I guess, that she’s been possessed by a spirit, but why was she chosen? There’s many people that come to New Orleans, so why does this group pick her to go through all this and not someone else? What’s the purpose, or end game of the group and what do they hope to achieve? None of this gets answered making the viewer feel afterwards that it was a big pointless waste of time. Black admitted that it didn’t work out right, but blames the fact that it was taken out of his hands and revised in a way that he didn’t approve of. All of this may be true, but in either case it’s best not to come into it with high expectations as you’ll leave gravely disappointed afterwards.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: February 8, 1978 (Filmed in May of 1974)
Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes
Director: Noel Black
Studio: First American Films
Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)