Friday, September 23, 2011

'Haunts' is an interesting misfire

Haunts (aka "The Veil") (1977)
Starring: May Britt, Cameron Mitchell, and Aldo Ray
Director: Herb Free
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A young woman (Britt) haunted by dark memories is stalked by a murdering rapist. Or is she? The town sheriff (Aldo) thinks she's being hysterical and possibly even losing her mind... but just what is it her slovenly uncle (Mitchell) doing with his nights?

"Haunts" is a thriller that attempts to use a mentally unbalanced character to provide the narrative Point of View for the film. It's a clever and laudable idea, but it's not one that the director and writer (one and the same, at least with a co-writing credit on the script) were up to pulling off. The film is a bit too slow in unfolding, and what could have been a truly powerful ending (with some chilling realizations dawning on the part of the attentive viewers) is weakened by it likewise going on for a tad too long and by a last-minute attempt at throwing a possibility of something supernatural into a straight thriller. Once again, we have an ending that's ruined by filmmakers who just didn't know when to quit.

Along the way, though, we are treated to some great, creepy imagery that captures the loneliness and isolation of the main character, and which manages to make the setting into a character in the film almost as important as the leads.

With some judicious editing, this film could actually be quite good, and it's one I wish I liked more. There's alot of misspent potential here, and all the three leads do such a good job that the void of talent embodied by some of the supporting cast is almost not noticeable. In fact, a scene in a bar featuring two of these talentless actors could be cut almost entirely, and the film would immediately get stronger in several ways--the mystery of the killer's ID would be heightened, and we'd have lost some of the more noxious flab dangling from the work's body.

Seriously flawed, the film still has just enough good parts to make it worth checking out if you have an interest in the development of the slasher flim--this is one of those almost-formed slashers that pre-date "Halloween"--or if you're a filmmaker interested in an object lesson of how just one or two bad choices can ruin an otherwise decent picture.

Note: "Arbogast" just posted a nice write-up of this film, which is what cause me to reach into the archives over at Watching the Detectives and repost this review here (with a couple of tweaks). Click here to see what he had to say.

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