April 23: Regional Horror — A regional horror movie. Here’s a list if you need an idea.
Back before he and his wife Linda made Designing Women and were a major part of the Clinton political machine, Harry Thomason was just a high school science teacher and football coach who started making movies.
His first movie that got noticed was Encounter with the Unknown, an uneven — and I like the movie, so keep that in mind — anthology film that combines horror with urban legend before people really discussed what urban legend was. He also made The Great Lester Boggs, Revenge of Bigfoot and The Day It Cane to Earth. And oh yeah — this movie.
It starts with Frederick (Dean Jagger, whose career started in 1929 with The Woman from Hell and ended in 1987 with Evil Town) picking up his niece Gloria (Lori Saunders, Bobbie Jo Bradley from Petticoat Junction; she also made Frasier, the Sensuous Lion the same year) from a sanitarium. She’s been there since watching her father die. Now, she’s ready to assume his estate and become a pampered rich girl just in time to quickly meet, marry and move into a mansion with Chris (Robert Ginnaven, White Lightning), a writer who doesn’t seem to care that this place once housed a series of axe murders nor that his young wife has tripped out reveries where she is haunted by something. You know, the rich.
Written by Marshall Riggen (who was also the writer of the bizarre Six Hundred and Sixty-Six and Cry for Poor Wally) from a story by Thomson, producer Joe Glass and Mike Varner, this was shot at the same time as Encounter with the Unknown with much of the same crew and was originally called Visions of Evil and Visions of Doom. It was this vibe that fits into a lot of early 70s exploitation cinema, movies in which young women come of sexual age while also experiencing trauma or believing they that they are a murderer. Like, well, Axe, a film this feels so much like, but that has to be an accident, because Axe is one of many pieces and parts edited into a film, a miracle that barely happened. And, well, this. came out a year before and that was made in California and this in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas, so the collective unconsciousness connected two disparate film productions in the wilds of regional exploitation.
This was sold with the tagline of “The romance of Love Story — the terror of Psycho!” and you know how much I simply am obsessed with movies referencing other movies in their ads. When it played around Little Rock, it had a local phone number you could call on the ads and when the phone picked up, all you heard was Gloria screaming and then the line went dead. Again, I am all for that.
A killer in a Tor Johnson mask, strange repressed memories and not just one but two twist endings — along with long stretches of nothing happening and extended cute dating montages (oh yeah, that Love Story reference) — make this a movie that may test those that don’t partake of the deep well of regional filmmaking. But for those that get high off this supply, drink deep.
You can watch this on YouTube.