10/12/10

The Evictors (1979): 10 Days to Vacate or Die!

Browsing Netflix last night, I came across a listing with a stunningly terrible name, The Evictors (1979). I would have passed it on by, but then the cast list caught my eye. The leads were Michael Parks (Kill Bill, Twin Peaks, etc) Jessica Harper (Susperia, The Phantom of the Paradise), and Vic Morrow (Combat!, Crazy Mary, Dirty Larry). all actors who I enjoy seeing. After the stars got me over the turd of a title, there was still one more thing holding me back from watching it, director Charles B. Pierce. I know there are lots of folks who like The Town the Dreaded Sundown and The Legend of Boggy Creek, but neither film did anything for me at all. Both of those films featured the documentary type style that Piece favored, and while the films contained good ideas, efficiently convincing period settings, and some striking imagery, they play with a technical coldness. In The Evictors, he would utilize some of those styles again, but playing it against a myriad of camera techniques to create an intense tale of tragedy.

It’s 1942, and Ben and Ruth Watkins (Parks and Harper) are looking for a house in rural Louisiana where Ben landed a promising job at the cotton mill. After seeing a few houses, the young couple decides on the old Monroe Place, but the realtor (Vic Morrow) didn’t give them all the details of the home. Along with selling them on the spacious accommodations, he forgot to mention every person who ever lived in the house met with a tragic fate. Some were shot, some were electrocuted, and a few were even burned alive. Unknowingly, the couple move in, but strange things start happening around the house almost immediately when Ruth begins to receive threatening notes. With Ben gone to work for long hours at the mill, it leaves Ruth on her own. Slowly from different people in the town, she starts piecing together the events that transpired in her new home, but with each discovery, the danger seems to grow. A tall man in a dark hat begins to stalk her, and he seems to have only one goal, to get everyone out of that house.

First things first, on Netflix has The Evictors listed as a supernatural horror film, and it could be taken that way or it could be taken as a slasher film. Personally, I saw it as more of the latter though the cursed house element is surely implied several times. That being said, for my money, this is the best example of all the things that Charles Piece liked to put in his horror films. The period settings that range from the late 20’s through the early 40’s look very solid, and while I’m sure a nitpicker could turn up a few anachronisms, the sets and costuming appear very timely and add great flavor to the film. Piece spent most of the film with a standard narrative style that occasionally would switch to a point of view shot, but the flashback sequences as townsfolk recalled the tragedy’s of Ruth’s house to her were all filmed in a black and white tone that bordered on sepia. These breaks really fit that style best and added much more to the film than I had seen in his other efforts. The only weak point of Pierce’s film was his bad guy. While Ruth claims not to be able to see his face, his identity is known from pretty early on in the film (and should have easily been seen by her, she faces him in daylight and still nothing). I would have liked some more tension built up around his identity, but Pierce made up for it with long periods of stillness in the film.

During the quiet times in The Evictors (and there are plenty, no real action gets underway until nearly forty minutes into the film), the production is kept afloat by Parks and Harper. With Parks’ character being the husband who is never there when his wife needs him, most of the weight of the film rests on the shoulders of Jessica Harper. As Harper showed in Susperia, she can be freaked out really, really well. She actually keeps it understated in The Evictors, and manages to both be the damsel in distress and a smart cookie at the same time. As for Parks, I would have really liked to see more of him. No matter where he appears there is always an affable charm about the man. It’s turned up to eleven here, as the fact that he is such a great guy heavily impacts the gut punch of the final scenes. Vic Morrow, though third billed, only appears in a handful of scenes, but he brings a sliminess that should have been used for greater misdirection of the culprits. There was some kind of reveal about his character in the end, but either it was unclear or I was too tired because it totally went over my head.

For some people, The Evictors will be more than a movie with an ill fitting name. It will be a long dreadfully slow film that doesn’t play off the way they will want. The flick has a PG rating, and even for 1979, that means little blood (though there is some) and no nudity. That kind of made me enjoy it more. It was a simple story that relied on suspense and good acting over shock and splatter. Now, anyone who knows me can tell you that I don’t have any problem with shock and splatter, but sometimes it’s just nice to sit back with a film that doesn’t try too hard. It remains subtle and effective. Of Pierce’s catalog, The Evictors seems to be the neglected gem. I definitely encourage people to check it out as it gave me a new outlook on a director who I had entirely written off. Plus, it made me glad that if I ever go home shopping I can Google the address before I buy. Better safe than chopped in the back with an axe while splitting wood, I’m just sayin’.

Bugg Rating

I should have probably mentioned this in the review, but this was one of the last films that came out of American International Pictures.

3 comments:

  1. I saw this theatrically in 1979 - the only time I ever saw it - and a lot of the movie has stuck with me in the ensuing 30 years, especially that gut punch of an ending. High time for a re-visit.

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  2. I have to give some sincere thanks for this post, T.L. because I have been racking my brain for YEARS trying to remember the name of this one. I think I caught it on HBO when I was a wee lad along with stuff like The Hearse and The Boogens.

    Thank you!

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  3. Yeah, I just watched this a few days ago and Netflix streaming. Didn't realize at the time it was directed by Charles Pierce, the same guy who did the Boggy Creek horror movies. No wonder it was set in the South. Overall, I enjoyed it although I think they tried too hard to accomplish a surprise ending that just seemed convoluted and forced. I think it is terrible that Michael Parks didn't get many roles when he was younger. I enjoy his acting.

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