Friday, September 28, 2012

Stumble and Fall: "Ghosts That Still Walk" (1977)

The first noticeable problem about this awkwardly titled film is its casting. Ann Nelson plays the grandma here. Three years after this, she would star in "Airplane!" as the woman who hangs herself while listening to Robert Hays pine for Julie Hagerty. I could not get that image out of my head.

Matt Boston is a fifteen year old with problems. He has headaches. His mother had a nervous breakdown. His grandfather had a massive heart attack. A chain smoking psychiatrist decides to find out what the devil is going on with this family. First she hypnotizes Grandma Nelson. Nelson tells a tale in flashback that fills the entire first half of the film.

She and Grandpa bought an RV, cheap, and drive it around to all the tourist traps in desert California. The RV soon has a mind of its own, going off the road and such. Then, large boulders begin hurling themselves at it. The elderly couple are appropriately afraid, but stay in the vehicle in order to move the plot along.

Eventually, Grandpa has a heart attack after being stranded on the RV roof when it goes for another unplanned ride.

Boston's mom begins talking to some Native American mummies she has lying around the house. She fancies herself an author, and makes copious notes about the musty corpses. The psychiatrist reads the detailed notes, and uses her imagination to fill in the blanks. We see the mother semi-flip out, but her mental breakdown occurs offscreen, much like Gramps' heart attack.

Finally, the patient de resistance, little Matt. Matt goes under the hypnosis gun and tells his own tale. He thinks mom is wigging out (this was made in 1977). Apparently, mom is making the astral bodies of the Native American mummies sort of fly through the air. One hits Matt like a bee hits a windshield, and Matt begins acting all crazy.

The psychiatrist takes Grandma and Matt into the desert. Matt is inexplicably in a wheelchair now, and the trio confront the unseen (and unexplained) forces.

Flocker has no sense of scene construction. The one pro here involves the RV stranded on a salt flat in the desert. In the distance, the couple notice some boulders rolling toward the RV. This is a pretty creepy little scene that is eventually overplayed. As the boulders begin hurling themselves toward the vehicle, the special effects become obvious.

The scenes where the RV runs off the highway, then back on again, take forever. The scenes where Grandpa is trapped on the RV roof as it careens down a dirt road takes forever. Mom's conversations with the mummy take forever. Matt's out of body experiences take forever. This film takes forever.

I was tempted to hit the fast forward button at least a dozen times. As scenes dragged on, it was obvious Flocker was padding. Cut the fat here, and this would have clocked in at an hour. The final "explanation," that the mummies' spirits were trying to kill those close to Matt never holds water. Did they inhabit the RV? The film maker never brings up the fact that the spirits are no good at their murderous ways, they never kill anybody!

As I kept thinking of Nelson in "Airplane!," I also thought of other movies. Anything to keep me from falling asleep during this one. Boston is terrible as the kid, playing a fifteen year old as a cute ten year old who has a smart alecky line for all these adults who fall over themselves loving him.

In the end, Flocker has written and directed a mess. The title is just the beginning of this exercise in making the audience feel ill at ease. This is not scary, and like the ghosts, you too can still walk...away from this tape at the video store. (*) out of five stars.