CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: The Hearse (1980)

I feel bad that I’ve forced Jennifer Upton to watch some really bad movies this month, but I do appreciate everything she wrote for Chilling Classics Month. An American living in London, she is a freelance writer for International publishers Story Terrace and others. In addition, she has a blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi called Womanycom.

At the beginning of The Hearse, Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere) has just gone through a tough divorce and decides to move from metropolitan San Francisco to a small town in the countryside. On her way, she is nearly driven off the road by a mysterious hearse with a front grill that resembles a grimace. The chauffeur is clearly evil too. His pencil-thin mustache says it all.

After moving into her deceased Aunt’s home, she soon finds herself plagued by ghosts and suspicious townsfolk. She finds her Aunt’s diary, which chronicles her love affair with a charismatic Satanist and her indoctrination into the faith. Suddenly, the townspeople’s contentiousness makes sense. They fear that she will continue her Aunt’s legacy and bring the devil into their midst.

Soon, Jane meets a man named Tom (David Gautreaux) who later turns out to be the ghost of the original man who seduced her Aunt. It’s presented as a plot twist, but anyone who has seen more than 3 horror films could have guessed it from the outset.

Overall, the film is well executed. All of the performances are good. Particularly noteworthy are the scenes involving the various hostile men in the village who see her as little more than a potential new conquest and there are a few good creepy scenes where Jane questions her own sanity. The problem lies not in with the production or the actors. It’s in the script.

The film works fine as a haunted house movie, with the obligatory slamming doors, flickering lights and dodgy windows. But, to call it The Hearse made no sense. The scenes with the car are never explained and have little to do with the rest of the story. It is never made entirely clear who the chauffeur is or why he is following her on dark country roads. It’s almost as if the film were written as a straightforward ghost story but then someone decided they needed an evil-looking car to make it more exciting and pad out the running time.  

The conclusion finds Jane escaping the house and Tom, who is now pursuing in said hearse. What happened to the chauffeur? Was it Tom all along? There are no answers. The car careens over a cliff in a fiery explosion and the credits roll leaving the audience wondering what the hell just happened.

In terms of visual quality, The Hearse is one of the better selections on the Mill Creek set. A pity it isn’t a better movie.  It has a lot going for it. Just not enough for a solid recommendation.

NOTE:  Thanks, Jennifer! If you want to see what I thought about this movie, here it is!

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