Friday, July 3, 2009

Superstition (1982)

...aka: House of Mary, The
...aka: Witch, The

Directed by:
James W. Roberson

Another unfortunate entry in the "could have been so much better" sweepstakes. Here we have the ground work for at least a passable haunted house flick. The budget seems to be decent. The cast seems to be decent. There is a high body count and plenty of gory, creative murder sequences. The locations and art direction are good. The director, best known as a cinematographer, has the expected good eye for scene composition and detail. The film itself has three different cinematographers credited, and they do a fine job giving this film a polished and atmospheric look. So what went wrong? For starters, while the director may have a nice visual sense, he has absolutely no idea how to work with actors, and elicits one bad performance after another from dependable actors and actresses who have been brilliant in other's hands. The score is pretty schizophrenic, fluctuating from a re-mixed version of the "Rocky Mountains" tune from THE SHINING (it's pretty much the same but with a few bell chimes added) to some annoying chanting a la THE OMEN and then on to some very light sounding track that would be more at home in some buddy cop movie.

However, the film's real unraveling happens in the screenplay department. The derivative storyline basically tries to mix the first two AMITYVILLE films (troubled family moves into a new haunted house) with the aforementioned OMEN (gory supernatural death scenes), but that's not the real problem here. What is the real problem is that a good deal of the dialogue is moronic and, even worse, the character actions are so consistently idiotic, pathetic and unrealistic you'll find yourself wondering how this project even managed to leave the script stage when three or four more rewrites were obviously needed. I can usually forgive one or two lapses in logic, but when a film is completely cluttered with such obvious stupidity, it's just plain lazy writing. So while some competent folks worked on this film, their efforts sadlly were in collective vain thanks to piss poor writing. All you end up watching is 90 minutes of stupid people doing stupid things. Well, 90 minutes of stupid people doing stupid things that looks more professional than it deserves to.

After a promising opening double-murder sequence of pranksters getting killed (one is decapitated and has his head blown to bits in a microwave and the other gets split in half by a window), very friendly clergyman David (James Houghton, giving a sincere and likable performance, considering) and reverend Henry (Stacy Keach, Sr.) start making preparations to move a reverend and his family into the cursed lakeside home. Yep, despite the fact many have died in this place and the murders have gone completely unsolved, they're not quite ready to bring in the bulldozers. Not yet. About ten more people need to needlessly die first, including a couple of children. And I didn't even mention creepy old caretaker Elvira (Jacquelyn Hyde), her hulking retarded/mute son (who cops seem to want to blame for the killings) or the lil girl ghosty dressed in white who pops up out of nowhere from time to time. Red flags! Red flags!

Early on, someone states: "What about the violent history this place is supposed to have had?" Wait a minute... "supposed to have had?" Before the new family even enters through the front doors, David and the reverend are sitting in an office discussing dismembered teen corpses found in the house with a detective (Albert Salmi). And then a cop mysteriously drowns in the lake. And then the reverend himself is killed during renovations when a circular blade comes off the saw, miraculously flies across a room, hits him in the chest and then continues to saw away until it goes through his body. This being a blade that's not even attached to the saw anymore. Even stranger is that this obviously supernatural event is in full view of David and about a half dozen construction workers, who do nothing except gasp in horror. Oh well, I guess things will suddenly just change once the family gets here!
So recovering alcoholic dad (Larry Pennell), mom (Lynn Carlin, who was excellent in DEATHDREAM but seems completely lost here) and their three kids (teen daughters Heidi Bohay and Maylo McCaslin and young son Bobby Jacoby) lay the welcome matt and then it's time for more of the same. While they're still unpacking, a repairman is hung by cables in what appears to be an elevator shaft (?!) inside the home. No one even seems to notice and no one ever shows up looking for the poor feller. Both the son and the youngest of the daughters, as well as David, come into contact with the girl ghost, but no one really makes a big deal about it. I guess if you're moving into a haunted house where people are getting brutally killed right and left, it's best not to question the presence of spirit kids that may have something to do with it. Even so, when one of the daughters emerges from the lake with a severed hand clamped to her ankle, you'd figure it would be a good time to find another place to live. Nope, not yet. First wait first until your little son disappears... and then mom starts getting tossed around in the kitchen by some hooded figure with demon claws... and someone's hammering a stake into your bitchy daughter's forehead. That's the best time to try to leave. You know, when everyone's already dead or in the process of being killed. That's the best time. "Shut your BITCHY mouth!"

"Gee, what a stink!" / "That's rotting flesh!"
"Your decisions are so right. Your will is soooo strong."

Toward the end, there's a lengthy flashback to a late 17th Century witch drowning, which uses a hilarious deep possession voice-over for the sorceress as she vows to get her revenge. "You and all your generations will damn your birth! Anyone who ventures near this plaaaaaaaaace!" Yep, that's what she says. I rewound it five times to make sure I was hearing it correctly. So the drowning happened in the lake... by the house... that the family has moved into. So that's why it's cursed. Obtaining this particular knowledge is enough for David to finally realize the family needs to get out of the house (corpses piling up obviously wasn't a good enough indicator) and he decides to stop being such a passive nimrod and heads there carrying a couple of cans of gasoline. Sadly, the film doesn't even give us an adequate fiery finale, and finally just gets pulled into the lake... kicking and screaming all the way to the bottom.


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