An automobile, one whose main function is to transport the recently deceased from one place to another, is turned into a symbol of pure terror in the creepy, yet languidly paced The Hearse, a surprisingly tasteful effort from a film studio renowned for its shameless celebration of all things sleazy. The only explanation I come up with as to why this film exists at all is that the producers must have seen The Changeling and Christine over the summer, and shrewdly decided to combine the two films. The similarities are kind of eerie, as both feature a ghostly mansion and a homicidal car. Hell, they even have Trish Van Devere in common (the attractive actress starred in The Changeling alongside her husband George C. Scott). However, the fact that the hearse is clearly being driven by someone (the vehicle is not possessed) pretty much nullifies any comparisons to that other killer car movie. Even though some of the shots of the menacing-looking meat wagon bearing down on our plucky heroine did remind me of the more famous John Carpenter directed flick. Human being, Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere), a recently divorced San Francisco elementary teacher stressed out by big city living, decides to spend the summer at her late aunt's house in the sleepy town of, oh, let's say, Bradford (I know it began with a 'B'). Anyway, the headstrong Jane immediately find herself at odds with the townsfolk, as they don't exactly welcome her open arms. In fact, with the exception a wide-eyed hardware store employee, the people of Bradford are downright hostile towards her. I don't want to give anything away, but I think her aunt may been a bit of mischief-maker in her day. This town wide cold-shoulder, however, is the least of problems, as she has to contend with psychotic chauffeurs and the sound of creaking wood.
The haunted house schtick is the film's main focus (the hearse is just a roadside annoyance), as it attempts to create an unsettling atmosphere via a sinister piano-laden music score, point-of-view angles, lot's of scenes that involve investigating weird noises, and plenty of cheap jump scares. I'm calling them "cheap," because the director uses that particular tactic so many times, that it became tiresome after awhile. The only scare of this sort that I appreciated was the one where someone seems to appear suddenly as Jane is washing a second floor window. In a similar vein, I liked the shot of the scar-faced chauffeur lounging in bed, but his multiple appearances after this moment were a tad excessive. The Shining ripoff (the producers of this film sure were busy watching films that year) minus the axe was also a bit much. My desire to wet myself somewhat diminished after the fifth uninvited visit from the threatening chauffeur, and the film quickly becomes bland and repetitive.
An unasked for combination of Kate Mulgrew circa her guest spot Cheers as testicle eviscerating Boston politician and an Alice era Mia Farrow, the probably smart and occasionally sexy Trish Van Devere is called upon to frolic through the wilderness in a diaphanous nightgown. And boy, does she ever frolic. Okay, maybe her frolicking wasn't that great. But it's something to cling to. I mean, how am I supposed to get excited about yet another one of her diary readings? (Her aunt left a diary of all her romantic adventures.) Or worse, suffer through another date with a drip named Tom (David Gautreaux).
I'd say Trish's best moments were the lackadaisical hearse trip and every scene that featured her wearing short-shorts. Sure, the later only appear briefly during the film's early going, but the promise that I might bask in their borderline nonexistence is what got me through the film relatively unscathed. Yeah, that's right, I mainly watch movies to see women prance around in shorter than usual shorts. Call me a mustard-less sandwich, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
Quirky casting: Donald Petrie, who plays Luke (Jane's handy helping hand), went on to direct films like, Mystic Pizza and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days; Joseph Cotton from Citizen Kane appears an old coot; and a pre-Grease 2 Christopher McDonald shows up briefly as a young person.