The Film (4/5)
Freshly divorced Jane (Trish Van Devere) decides to get away from it all and head out to a small town called Blackford to live in her aunt’s house which she inherited. She immediately regrets this decision since the entire town is populated by doucheknuckles and the house is friggin’ haunted. Walter Prichard (Joseph Cotten), the local attorney, is the biggest jerk in town though, as he has had designs on getting the house for himself until Jane showed up. On top of that, it seems that her aunt was quite a character with the local yokels claiming that she was a Satanist. Jane begins an affair with a real dreamboat named Tom (David Gautreaux) while her teenage handyman Luke (Donald Petrie) pines for her. All the while, a mysterious hearse keeps popping up at inopportune times and scaring the hell out of Jane.
Well, I’ll be damned or darned, I really dig The Hearse. My first impression of this film was terrible about a decade ago. I once said that I would “rather throw myself down a flight of stairs rather than watch The Hearse again” in a review. And to that I say, bring on the stairs! Everything about this rubbed me the wrong way at the time but my tastes have certainly changed. I suppose that I was expecting something different from the film and got all bent out of shape when I didn’t get it.
Trish Van Devere is so gosh darn alluring in The Hearse that I can barely believe it. She just lights up the screen as Jane who’s a pretty tough cookie that can handle the cold shoulders and thinly veiled threats of the townspeople. But when it comes to mysterious sexy dudes, she melts like butter. I’m the same way. Donald Petrie turns in a rather likeable performance as the not-so-innocent Luke. Never one to pass up an opportunity to chew the scenery, Joseph Cotten is always great during his B movie slumming and this is no exception.
I’m not sure where it comes from but The Hearse feels like a really good TV movie through much of its running time. An editor by trade, director George Bowers really knows how to keep things moving. The scares start out small with some minor spooky incidents (a misplaced music box and a door slamming for no reason) and then they escalate into a full-blown nightmare. The score by composer Webster Lewis certainly contributes to the TV feel. It’s a classy bit of generic and old-fashioned horror movie music that is way too maudlin at times.
Vinegar Syndrome gives The Hearse a helluva a tune-up with this presentation. The film looks outstanding. This gorgeous release might have something to do with my newfound appreciation for the film. Seeing Cotten acting drunk in HD is a splendiferous thing. Audio is also top notch and I can’t find a thing to complain about there.
There’s a long and strangely detailed interview with actor David Gautreaux who fondly looks back on working on The Hearse. He’s an odd duder who keeps harping on how he didn’t get the lead role in Omen III: The Final Conflict. It’s an interesting fact but he brings up at least three times. It’s a fun interview but I’d like to have heard from other members of the cast and crew. There’s also a trailer, TV spot, and a still gallery for the film.
I’m so glad that my tastes have changed so that I can appreciate things that Roger Ebert hated. It’s just like Orson Welles (probably) said, “No wine before it’s time.” He very likely said that while drinking a $2.99 jug of port. What was I talking about? Oh yes, The Hearse! This ghostly romp with a splash of Satanism and an even bigger splash (or a flood) of Me Generation soul-searching thrown into the mix is entertaining as hell or heck. I highly recommend this one for folks who like 1970s schlock horror that feels a little like an episode of “Night Gallery” and don’t mind some goreless fun.