Sunday, February 22, 2015

Till Death (1978) [copyright 1974]

Directed by:
Walter Stocker

While heading down a stretch of deserted road late at night, Paul Ryan (Keith Atkinson) is forced to pull over his car to the side because of extremely heavy fog. He hears a faint moan and then a female voice calling to him, gets out to investigate and spots a woman - who looks vaguely familiar - dressed in all-white off in the distance. Paul walks in the woman's direction, goes through an iron gate into a cemetery then down some stairs and eventually ends up in front of a crypt door... with his name on it. Inside is a casket. Paul cautiously opens it, finding the rotting corpse of a woman inside. The corpse then slowly starts to rise and comes toward him. Paul tries to flee, but finds the gate he entered through is locked tight. He turns around and the woman slowly continues to get closer and closer and closer... Though this opening sequence is all just a nightmare our protagonist is having, it also serves as a lesson to us all that you don't need a whole lot of money to create a creepy, atmospheric scene, as this does just that very simply and very cheaply with just one man, one zombie, some simple music, a fog machine and some carefully placed lights. Unfortunately, the film never quite reaches the same level of eeriness again after this first scene.

After Paul wakes up in a sweat from his awful nightmare, he gets a phone call from his fiancee Anne Martin (Belinda Balaski, in her film debut). The two are set to be married. Like today. So off to the church they go to get hitched and then they're off again toward their honeymoon destination. On the way there, the two are forced to pull over the car to the side of the road when an impenetrable bank of fogs rolls in. Paul soon spots a woman dressed in white standing off in the distance who starts calling his name. Sound familiar? Anne doesn't see or hear anything, though, and when Paul gets out to investigate he's unable to find the woman and almost falls over a cliff! The newlyweds then get to talking about their future together and she puts his mind at ease when she assures him, "I'm never gonna let you go" and then expresses excitement about "being on the threshold of a tremendous new experience." The fog rolls out, and the two take off.

Already exhausted from the trip, Paul gets distracted while he's driving, a van barrels down on them and he crashes through a guardrail. Anne is thrown from the car and dies. Paul, who was in the car when it flipped numerous times down the rocky embankment, somehow manages to survive but with serious injuries. He's rushed off to the hospital and physically recovers (aside from now having to use a cane), but it's his psychological state that worries his doctors the most. He's depressed, blames himself for the accident and sometimes even believes his wife is still alive. At the resistance of Dr. Walker (Keith Walker, who'd go on write Free Willy), who thinks Paul should remain at the hospital, chief physician Dr. Sawyer (Bert Freed) decides to release him, thinking that going back to his job and being around friends and family is just what he needs.

After leaving the hospital, Paul immediately goes to Eden Glen, the graveyard where Anne is buried. He's shown around by kooky, talkative eccentric Dr. Hilton (Jonathan Hole), who then escorts him to "Eternity;" the mausoleum where Anne's body is entombed. Dr. Hilton then takes off to attend to other business, leaving poor Paul all alone, The shock of seeing his late wife's tomb becomes too much for him. He flashes back to the good old days and then passes out. When he awakens, he discovers he's been locked inside for the night. A black cat mysteriously turns up to comfort him, but then he hears a woman crying, followed by the sound of knocking and Anne's voice pleading for him to let her out. Paul uses some tools workers left behind to break open her tomb, drags out her casket and finds Anne inside... alive. Or is she? It's best not to reveal any more of the plot so that's all you're gonna be getting from me.

This is a sincere, well-intentioned movie very much about grief and learning to accept (or not) the loss of someone you love and miss who's passed away, but it can't quite pull off what it wants to pull off as powerfully as it wants to pull it off thanks to highly uneven writing and acting. The pace drags in the mid-section, the sets are extremely cheap-looking and the 10-minute-long pre-credit nightmare sequence, while the creepiest in the entire film, is obviously there just to pad this 71-minute movie out. Not that this doesn't have its merits. It does. Some interesting things happen along the way, especially toward the end.

Filmed starting in 1972, copyrighted 1974 and not released until 1978, this long-forgotten chiller comes courtesy of former actor, college professor and WWII vet Walter Stocker, who'd previously appeared in The Madman of Mandoras (1963), which later had all new footage added and was reedited to become They Saved Hitler's Brain in 1968. This was a family project for Stocker. His son, Gregory Dana Stocker, wrote the screenplay and his daughter, Pamela Stocker, was the associate producer and in charge of wardrobe and props. Supposedly all three were heavily involved in most aspects of the film. Marshall Reed, a veteran of hundreds of westerns in the 40s and 50s, appears as the reverend who marries Paul and Anne and also produced and helped edit the movie. Bruce Kimball, under his real name Bruce Kemp, also has a small role. The special effects are by Roger George, who'd go on to work on films like Repo Man and The Terminator.

Here in America, this was never released during the video era and was only shown on TV in the early 80s (Pittsburgh's "Chiller Theatre" ran it in 1981 and 1982). I'm actually not sure if this ever even played in theaters or not. The only official VHS release I'm aware of was from Video Form Pictures in the UK circa 1984.



JMR777 said...

I remember seeing this many years ago in Philadelphia PA on Channel 61. This was either in the very late 80's or early 90's. Back then Channel 61 would show regular TV programs until 9 or ten at night, then would switch over to a version of pay-per-view TV where you had to pay to see the program otherwise the images would be distorted, like the vertical and horizontal hold on your TV needed fixing. I can't recall much of the programming shown on 61 back then but it occasionally showed horror films that were B movies to B- and maybe Z movies.

Thanks for posting this, now I know this movie really did exist.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I first learned about this via a very brief write-up in Leonard Maltin's home movie guide. I think he gave it 3 out of 4 stars. Was never able to find it anywhere until recently!

kochillt said...

I just happen to be the last person who composed a review of this film for IMDB (Feb 21 2013), and some of your information at the end you borrowed from me! I'd seen it on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater all those years ago (undoubtedly the Christmas broadcast in 1982), and only caught up with it again when I wrote my own review, after doing as much research as I could on this ultra obscure title. The bewitching Belinda Balaski herself enjoyed reading it: "what an amazing review!!! Better than the movie as I recall...! lol!" I'm flattered that I was able to provide additional material to guide you in this truly detailed writeup, probably the best that this film will ever get, and I hope you won't mind if I share it with Belinda. I'm sure she'll love it too! Great job and keep up the good work!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Sorry it took awhile to get to back to you but thank YOU for the Chiller Theater info! And of course you can share it with whomever. I often wonder why Balaski stopped acting in films. I always loved seeing her pop up in Joe Dante movies and especially liked her work in Piranha and The Howling.

kochillt said...

I add any external reviews of titles for IMDB, and Lord knows how many have come from The Bloody Pit of Horror! Another Facebook friend is Mirek Lipinksi, the guiding force behind The Latarnia Forums at Yuku.com.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I always forget to do the ext. reviews thing over on IMDb so that's a big help! Ah yes, I have been to those forums many times but only as a lurker. Those people really know their stuff!

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