Saturday, September 29, 2012

Oh, Play the Ferryman: "Haunted: The Ferryman" (1986)

Jeremy Brett is Sheridan Owen, a pompous British novelist who leads a comfortable life with wife Alex (Natasha Parry). Owen has just written a horror novel entitled "The Ferryman," where the title character is a horrible villain.

The Ferryman would rape and drown young women in the past, but was finally drowned himself and then buried. An inn owner named Miles Attingham (the inn's name is The Ferryman) then battles a reincarnated ferryman over the life of his beautiful daughter.

Owen is enjoying both the success of the book, as well as the dumb questions from reporters and weird customers at book signings. Ducking out of a party, Sheridan and Alex take a drive in the country, where Sheridan makes light of his inability to father children by telling Alex to take a lover and just announce a pregnancy one day.

The couple get caught in a torrential storm. Their car's windshield wipers break, and they take refuge in an inn called The Ferryman's Rest. The similarity to Sheridan's novel's inn is noted, but then the staff also have similar names to the characters' names in the book. The inn's owner, Miles Attingham (Geoffrey Chater), greets Sheridan and Owen finds his Miles and the real Miles both have the same characteristics.

As Alex tries to explain everything away as coincidence, Miles' daughter Jill (Lesley Dunlop) comes home for a surprise visit, and Sheridan is determined to protect the young woman from the ferryman, whose arrival is only a matter of time. In the end, the ferryman does exist, and Alex finds herself wondering if a night of passion with someone she thought was her husband may have produced a child.

This is an episode of a British television series in the '80's titled "Haunted," so the running time is only fifty minutes long. Director Irvin has enjoyed some success on the big screen, and his eye here is good, too. There is a great sense of menace throughout the film that works without resulting to gore or silly jump shots, save one good one involving a hen. The ferryman himself is a creepy concoction, with weird makeup and a giant rowing staff. An American production would turn him into a fiendish serial killer right away, but Irvin plays the film for suspense, not gore.

Brett, the late quintessential Sherlock Holmes, is great as the stuffy horror writer who does not believe in ghosts. His careful analysis of his situation is fun to watch. The supporting cast all do well in small roles.

Irvin does mess up the day for night shots, however. One sequence has Owen wondering around the inn's grounds at midnight, but the lighting is obviously daylight. Also, in their quest to be extra creepy, the ending is rather muddled. We get to know the inn's characters through Owen's book, but it is not clear how his book ends, or if what happens to him in real life also occurred in the book. Julian Bond's script is confused, but I am not sure if this was the intent of Kingsley Amis' original story.

All in all, "Haunted: The Ferryman" is a good suspenser that delivers chills in the old fashioned way, by not getting smug and talking down to the audience. While the ending leaves something to be desired, I do recommend it. (* * * *) out of five stars.