Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Unhaunting: "Haunts" (1977)

Be forewarned: this review is going to contain a lot of spoilers, but this is so necessary in discussing this wannabe complicated film.

May Britt plays Ingrid, a lonely rural woman who lives on a farm and faithfully attends church. A masked killer is terrorizing the small town and there are plenty of suspects: town bad boy Frankie, Ingrid's mysterious uncle Carl, and the new stranger guy in town.

The sheriff, played by Aldo Ray, is perplexed. He finds out his daughter was knocked up by Frankie, plus he must deal with having two Barney Fifes as deputies. Ingrid is also having many visions/hallucinations involving her mother, who killed herself after a tryst with a strange man. Ingrid, just five years old, walked in on them and mom fled into the bathroom. It is no mystery that the man in bed with mom was mom's brother, Uncle Carl. Ingrid is attacked by the masked killer but escapes. Later, the killer murders the local town lush and dumps her body in Ingrid's chicken coop. Ingrid is later raped by Frankie, and Uncle Carl almost walks in on them. Frankie threatens Ingrid if she talks, and the murders in town continue. Ingrid is a fixture at church, and is almost raped again after an attack in the cemetery.

Eventually, the masked killer turns out to be the mysterious stranger. Frankie, however, shows up at Ingrid's house, bounds Uncle Carl, but is stabbed to death by Ingrid. Carl buries Frankie, makes an incestuous pass at Ingrid, then disappears after Ingrid goes to the sheriff.

The sheriff guards Ingrid's house until the morning, when the deputies can come and dig up Frankie. Instead, Frankie pulls up very much alive, and the deputies find a grave with Ingrid's goat. Ingrid is upstairs in the bathroom, dead from suicide.

The sheriff also gets a surprise when Uncle Carl flies in from New York. He has not seen Ingrid in years, despite Ingrid's claims to the contrary. Uncle Carl visits Ingrid's house, and remembers how he slept with his sister before he drowned her in the bathtub, she did not commit suicide. The final scene, the scariest in the film, has Mitchell in the bathroom, running hot and steaming water, and turning around to see a misty figure standing in the bathtub- Ingrid.

This thumbnail sketch might make this sound very suspenseful, almost Hitchcockian, but it is far from it. May Britt, as Ingrid, tries, but she is failed by the script. Her Scandinavian accent is explained away as she spent time in "a European orphanage up the coast." Huh? Cameron Mitchell, who has never been good in anything, is not good here. The film makers give him the world's worst fake gray hair at the film's conclusion: the chalk white goop looks like it was applied with a trowel. The rest of the cast plays their routine small town characters without adding anything new.

The biggest mistake here is the convoluted script. There are at least six different places toward the end of the movie where the final credits should have started rolling. Clocking in at 97 minutes, this is fifteen minutes too long. Poor Britt spends most of her screen time either taking off her clothes (careful not to show any nudity) or hysterically running away from men, real or imagined. All the men here come off as horny and stupid. Ingrid is the repressed frigid queen who fantasizes about being attacked and raped. She is religious, and Hollywood has been telling us for years how strange and sexually repressed churchgoers are. The script never takes any chances, beating the viewer over the head with heavy handed images from Ingrid's psychotic mind. While there is some suspense here and there, for a horror film, there is not much.

The possibilities here were endless, and the film makers did not take advantage of them. This should have been very suspenseful, considering the game cast, but everyone loses to a silly script and terribly low budget. "Haunts" does not haunt. (* *) out of five stars.