Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Haunts (1977)

Part low-key psychological thriller and part over-the-top slasher picture, Haunts fails to generate or sustain much interest, despite the best efforts of director/cowriter Herb Freed to spin a complex thread of mystery and tragedy. Aside from the most fundamental problem, which is that the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, Haunts suffers from an amateurish lead performance and schlocky production values. Moreover, Freed lacks the sophistication to make his most provocative flourishes work. For instance, when the lead character, a tormented farm girl, dreams of sex while manipulating the udder of a goat, the shots of her hands covered with milk seem pornographic instead of suggestive. One gets a sense that Freed was after something a bit more than mere shock value, but he’s hamstrung by his own artistic limitations. When the story begins, heroine Ingrid (May Britt) discovers the aftermath of a brutal murder in which scissors were used as a weapon. Thereafter, Ingrid becomes a pariah among locals who suspect she was involved in the crime, and she experiences hallucinations that cause her to doubt her own innocence. So, even as an intrepid sheriff (Aldo Ray) tries to identify the real killer, Ingrid worries about the potential for violence in everyone she encounters, from lovers to neighbors to relatives. Alas, viewers are likely to be even more confused than the protogonist, because Freed creates such a jumble of delusions, fake-outs, and twists that it’s hard to follow what’s happening. (The film’s last 30 minutes feel like a succession of rough-draft endings, each of which contradicts preceding story material.) Moreover, the constant wobbling between atmospheric scenes and blunt vignettes creates tonal dissonance. The only element of the film that feels coherent is Pino Donaggio’s eerie score, which is so assertive as to become distracting. Leading lady Britt is forgettably attractive, though her Scandanavian accent lends some novelty. Besides Ray, the other notable actor in the cast is Cameron Mitchell, who normally plays villains but essays a sympathetic role in Haunts, as Ingrid’s uncle. Alas, he’s misused—since Mitchell is the wax-faced heavy whom cheap producers hire when they can’t afford Jack Palance, why not exploit his innately creepy qualities?

Haunts: LAME


Peter L. Winkler said...

May Britt is Sammy Davis Jr.'s ex-wife.

Anonymous said...

When I first saw this movie several years back it didn't make any sense to me either and its pace was off-putting, but I saw it a second time and it made much more sense and I really liked it especially the ending. Maybe give it a few years and then revisit it and you might appreciate it more.