THE HEARSE. (1980) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE HEARSE. (1980) DIRECTED BY GEORGE BOWERS. STARRING TRISH VAN DEVERE, DAVID GAUTREAUX, MED FLORY, DONALD HOTTON, PERRY LANG AND JOSEPH COTTEN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Trish Van Devere, who this very same year co-starred alongside her real-life husband George C. Scott in the classic ghost story THE CHANGELING, has the lead role in this spooky shocker.

She plays Jane Hardie, an attractive young city school-teacher maybe pushing forty who, in the same year, has suffered through the death of her mother and the break-up of her marriage.

Well, those things are enough to shake anybody up and Jane herself admits that she went ‘a little crazy for a while’ when these events came along to rock her world to its foundations.

She’s slowly getting better now though, and she’s ready for a change of scenery. She intends to drive out to the countryside and spend the summer in an old house once owned by her late Auntie, but which now belongs to Jane. She’s inherited it, in other words, lol.

Jane’s shrink- ah yeah, ya gotta have a shrink if ya live in the city…!- thinks that ‘running away’ won’t solve Jane’s problems and that they’ll still be there when she gets back.

Well, that’s certainly true enough but Jane’s adamant that she needs the peace and quiet that getting away from it all will bring. The minute she utters these famous last words, you kind of know what’s coming…

The inhabitants of Jane’s Auntie’s little country town of Blackford are unusually hostile to Jane. They don’t welcome her into the flock at all, in fact they go out of their way to make her feel like she’s got the plague. The people in the local shop don’t even want to sell her her groceries, for Chrissakes, that’s how bad it is.

Jane tries to settle down in the house that she intends to maybe be her long-term home, if the summer works out okay. But a lot of strange things are happening out at the house that give her cause for unrest.

She keeps seeing flashes of a strange woman around the place. Now that shouldn’t be, surely? The lights flicker on and off randomly in the isolated old house on the outskirts of the town and that’s just the start of it.

Jane keeps having these horrible dreams, if they are just dreams, of a huge big black scary hearse driven by a scarred man following her on the dark country roads that surround the house. Once, this ‘dream’ hearse even drives her to the local church where she sees her own body laid out in a coffin, all ready to be buried.

It might help if she’d brought some books or her knitting or a couple of good big jigsaw puzzles with her to occupy her mind. Say, a jigsaw with a picture of nothing but sky and ocean so that it’s all just blue bits and it takes you, like, five years to complete it.

As it is, all she does in her spare time is read her Auntie’s old diary (it came with the house!), which tells the story of a young woman who falls in love with a man who lures her into the rather dubious practice of Satanism…

Well, that certainly explains why the townspeople give the house and its occupants past and present such a wide berth. Obviously they think that Jane’s Auntie was sacrificing goats and babies in the house and holding Black Masses there and summoning up the devil and God knows what else.

But the house is driving Jane batty. She spends more time in her nightie driving away from the house in the middle of the night, terrified and crying after yet another scare, than she does anything else.

What the hell does this cursed dwelling want from her, and are her tormentors really supernatural or is one of the many men in her life trying to send her out of her mind…?

The town’s big sexist Sheriff sexually harasses Jane verbally and treats all her complaints about the house as the kind of hysterical nonsense you might expect from ‘city women.’ He’s a dismissive jerk.

The town’s Reverend is creepy and weird. How can Jane trust him either, any more than she can trust the Sheriff, who makes it clear that he’d like to see her naked? What a jackass.

Paul, the big blonde burly son of the town’s grocers, is madly in love with Jane even though she’s, like, a million years older than him and, frankly, too classy for the likes of him. He wants to polish apples for her every day but she has to rebuff him on the grounds of his tender years.

Paul’s raging about this and blames the painful and humiliating rejection on this strange new fella Jane’s been seeing, a chap called Tom who dresses nicely and talks posh, who literally came out of nowhere and who appears overall as just too good to be true. Well, you know what they say about things that look too good to be true. Is Jane about to learn the truth of this old adage for herself…?

Joseph Cotten (CITIZEN KANE, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, THE THIRD MAN), a true star from the Golden Age of Hollywood, is excellent here as cranky old Mr. Walter Pritchard, the town solicitor who makes no attempt to rush through the courts the papers definitively proving Jane’s ownership of the haunted house out on County Road.

This is partly because he’s a curmudgeonly, boozy old bastard who’s in league with the Sheriff and a fully-paid-up, card-carrying member of the Good Ol’ Boys Network in the town. It’s the most sickeningly sexist town I’ve ever encountered. The #metoo and #timesup movements would be wasting their time there, I’ll tell you guys that for nothing.

The other reason Pritchard drags his legal heels is that, for reasons I’m not quite sure of, he thinks that the house ought to have been his. He thinks he missed out on inheriting it when Jane’s Auntie died. That makes him the prime suspect in the mystery of who’s trying to drive Jane away from her house and out of her mind, doesn’t it…?

This is a great little horror film with lots of terrific views of the house from an intruder’s point of view. Just to mention that the whole being-stalked-by-a-hearse thing was done extremely successfully previously in horror film BURNT OFFERINGS from 1975.

Oliver Reed was the victim of the frightening ‘hearse’ hallucinations in this excellent chiller which co-starred the legendary Bette Davis and scream queen Karen Black. And the manically smiling hearse driver looked as-freaky-as-f**k, so there, lol.

THE HEARSE is nowhere near as scary as BURNT OFFERINGS or even THE CHANGELING, but it’s still well worth a watch. Trish Van Devere, who looks a lot like the sweet-faced DALLAS actress Victoria Principal, does a top-notch job of running around the countryside in the dark in her nightie screaming her lungs out. Ask not for whom the hearse comes. This time, it comes for thee…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

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