The rest of the things I remembered about The Hearse weren't scenes from The Hearse at all, but were actually scenes from The Car, a similar "Killer Car" horror flick that predates The Hearse by about three years.
WHOA! DEJA VU!
I also vividly recall telling my maternal grandfather all about it, prefacing the whole thing with the words "Do you know what a 'Hearse' is?" (which should give you an idea how old I was)! Well, my confusion between The Hearse and The Car aside, they are very similar films about killer cars, are both rated PG and both deal with some bizarre haunting mysteries.
However, The Hearse is not quite The Car or Christine or Killdozer! While the whole "Killer Car" aspect is certainly central to the plot, this story goes beyond the standard K.I.T.T. and Herbie gone horribly wrong. Instead, The Hearse, is a bit of a Haunted House flick with the ghostly denizens willingly extending their Haunted Home-Owners' Insurance out to their Haunted Car Policy! Convenient, no?
Well, I guess it all depends on which end of the Hearse you're on!
Which side is our main character Jane Hardy on? Ask her after she moves. Jane (Trish Van Devere) has recently decided to move into a big old house she has just inherited from her mother's estate. The house hasn't actually been lived in since the strange events of the death of her aunt several years before. So into her bright red Chevy Nova she climbs and leaves the bitter city of San Francisco behind. The problem is that this new town is none too friendly and rather makes the place she came from seem a lot like "The Paris of the West"!
Which... Which it is! That's, like, San Francisco's nickname. It... it is. Look it up. It is. I know it kind of seems like it ought to be "The City of Brotherly Love", but no, that's Philadelphia. They also used to call San Francisco "Frisco", "The City by the Bay" and "The City that Knows How". I'm not sure if there was something else behind that last one... but maybe. Okay, though, you wanna hear what my favorite former nickname for San Fran is? Seriously? Wait for it... Wait for it... They used to call it "Baghdad by the Bay". I'm not even kidding you! That's what they called it. I'm fascinated by that, man! I mean, I'm not even slightly surprised that they stopped calling it that, but dudes, whose idea was that in the first place? Yeah, I know, I know, it was the cradle of civilization once upon a time and the first known writing took place where the Tigress and Euphrates met and all, but what's that got to do with San Francisco before or after the Hussein years, man?
Huh? Huh, what's that? Oh, yeah... the Review. Sorry. Man, I really belabored that lame joke, didn't I? I mean, technically they're only in San Francisco for like three minutes of screen time. I'd better get back to the review... I can't remember the name of that town, though, man!
The... um... townsfolk range from the rude and indifferent (like Joseph Cotten's attorney Walter Pritchard, who thinks the house should rightly be his) to the simple and frightened (like the Gordons [Fred Franklyn and Olive Dunbar] and Bo Renquist [Al Hansen) who think she's a witch to the goo-goo-eyed kids and dirty old men (like Med Flory's Sheriff Denton, Donald Petrie's Luke, and [really] Christopher McDonald's Pete) who can't help but notice how fantastic she happens to look in her jogging shorts (and she does)! And then there's Reverend Winston (Donald Hotton), who is neither a man of superstition, nor lust but still has very little idea what to think!
While Jane may be having trouble getting her life together in this new place (I still can't remember the name), she's having even more trouble driving around it! Almost immediately an ornate, classically designed Packard smashes into her on the highway and then drives off. Damned drunk Death Coach Drivers! Unfortunately this is neither the first, nor the last time she runs into the evil car or its creepy chauffeur (Dominic Barto). Lucky for her, she's about to get some help around the house from young Paul Gordon (Perry Lang), who is more interested in how good looking Jane is than the fact that his parents firmly believe that she's pure evil. She's also about to meet a very eligible bachelor in the form of Mr. Tom Sullivan (David Gautreaux) who is ready to both woo her and possibly mind-meld with her (Star Trek fans will get that joke).
The problem is that Jane isn't only facing off with aroused teenagers, angry townsfolk and mysterious suitors. As she slowly starts to uncover the mysteries surrounding her deceased aunt, strange and fascinating things start to happen in Jane's creaky old house. Scary-ass things that result in some subtle creepiness. Her aunt's face begins to appear in the windows, things begin to go bump in the night (literally) and she starts to get strange visitations from The Hearse and its driver. She's shown frightening things that might be visions of the past, the future or possibly nothing more than nightmares.
All she knows for sure is that her aunt was most assuredly into something nefarious before she died and the night she died was marred by events that were even more bizarre (events that have deepened the town legends about her family). If anyone else knows more, they're barely speaking. Except Pritchard. You can't shut that goober up, man!
In all honesty, The Hearse is not a great film. The script by William Bleich (from an idea by Mark Tenser) is interesting, but not the most original thing in the world, nor is the direction by George Bowers inept by any means, but is also not mindblowing-as-Cernobyl on its own either. The truth is, most of these ideas have been done before, including (but not limited to) the mix of Horror and Romance that makes up the second act. To top it all off, as I said, the score by Webster Lewis borrows more than a little from The Twilight Zone!
That said, The Hearse is refreshing in its use of much more subtle scares and suggestive supernature as opposed to illegitimate startles and scenes that amount to little more than the boogey-man jumping out and yelling "BOO!" The Hearse does have its scary moments but never resorts to such cheap thrills to force the audience into that discomfort zone. Instead the film works hard to build a creepiness without blood or gore that touches on the Satanic while still remaining firmly planted in that "PG" Domain.
Admittedly, The Hearse never quite lives up to its suspenseful potential. This, coupled with its more subtle delivery may make the final result feel a lot more like a TV Movie than... well than the truly scary Duel, which actually WAS a TV Movie! Many horror fans might call it "Boring", but the right people will watch The Hearse and appreciate it for the surprises, the fun and... Trish Van Devere in her running shorts.
Yeah, it could use an overhaul and yeah, the occasional moments let the air out of The Hearse's tires. For those who thought that lame-ass remakes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th were quality pictures or thought that anything from Slob Zombie constitutes the future of Horror, The Hearse is not for you. But if you're willing to give it a shot, you might find it's worth around Three Stars out of Five! Like The Car before it, I was tempted to give this one 2.5 stars and maybe I should, but on this lazy holiday weekend during the 2009 Summer of Horror maybe I'm feeling a bit generous. Okay, who am I kidding? I'm not really The REAL World's Greatest Critic... but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!
You'll see the real guy in the next reel! He's on Vacation! In... in... "Baghdad by the Bay".
To qualify for this ride, you must be dead!
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Oh, and I'm not in San Fran... And I did write this.
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