This week’s B-Movie Enema comes from the dawn of the glorious decade known as the 1980s. It’s the focus of every soft rock radio station’s weekend format. It’s the predominating style of music on all mainstream movies’ soundtrack albums. It’s the decade I visit the most by far.
And because The Hearse is a 1980 horror movie, famed movie critic Roger Ebert called it an idiot plot movie. It’s his saying for a movie in which all the characters in the plot have to be idiots. Now, I’m not saying that Roger Ebert is a snob and grossly underestimates the average horror movie, but most horror movie fans like this movie. Probably because they are idiots and they really like idiot plots.
Which brings me to me watching The Hearse.
As your resident idiot, I bought this movie from Vinegar Syndrome sight unseen. I’ve never watched this movie. I’ve heard of Trish Van Devere, our star. I’ve heard of Joseph Cotten. And, oh, I know who David Geautreaux is because he was the dummy on the Epsilon IX station in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and got eaten by V’Ger. This was totally worth me purchasing on Blu Ray having never seen it or heard of it prior to me making a shopping list for a Black Friday sale.
Yessir… I am most definitely an idiot.
Okay, so where was I? Let’s see… The 80s. The Hearse. Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Roger Ebert calling people idiots. Welp, looks like I’ve done my job setting up this movie. Let’s watch!
Hey, I know we are in excellent hands because this is a Crown International Picture. I’ve visited their library a few times. So much so, I had Mr. Christopher Dunn use their logo as inspiration for a logo you can see on my site’s Facebook profile pic. So, Mr. Ebert… What was it you were saying about this movie being for idiots?
Anyway, we meet Jane (Van Devere). She’s recently divorced and leaving San Francisco to take over a beautiful country home willed to her by her aunt. Her shrink has doubts that she should be doing this. I’m not exactly sure what his real excuse is for feeling that way. Seemingly, his client is wanting to do what she believes will help her overcome the pain in her life. I mean, shouldn’t he be happy if this does help her heal so she doesn’t have… to… go… to… him… Oh, I see. I can only assume he is kind of against her doing what she needs to get better because he’ll probably out some divorced broad’s sweet, sweet appointment money.
In fact, he’s like “What will you tell the people in your life?” like basically trying to make her feel self-conscious and ashamed for wanting to strike out on her own. I see what you’re doing, Mr. Doctor With a Bad Bald Spot Man. I’d almost say that it’s more embarrassing to have people know she’s seeing a hack fraud shrink than admitting she’s trying to get away from it all.
Anyway, late one night, on her way to the country home, Jane has a small, but scary, fender bender with a mysterious hearse that simply drives away when she stops to talk to him. She calls a man who has the keys to her aunt’s house. There, she’s a little unnerved by a cowboy who mostly stares at her. She does eventually get let into her aunt’s house by Mr. Prichard (Cotten), a grumpy old man, who is mad that she called him so late at night. He also is more than fine with telling Jane that the house should be his and not hers because someone promised it to him or some such shit.
Is everyone an asshole to this lady?
As Jane looks around the house, spooky music box music begins playing on its own. Nah, that’s not disconcerting at all. What’s more, she had placed it on the nightstand next to the bed and the following morning, it’s back on the dresser where she found it the previous night. Nope! Nothing amiss here!
But, say… Let’s check out those gams…
While stretching to prepare for her morning run, the door slams itself shut. Again, nothing bothersome there. Nor are the catcalling redneck dummies who ask if she’d like a lift somewhere. Only I am allowed to say suggestive things to our leading lady. How dare you say untoward things to Jane!
Anyway, Jane decides to get on a ladder that is way the fuck up in the air and clean the windows way the fuck up on top of the house and holy fucking shit there’s a ghost in that bedroom!
I guess that’s kinda spooky, and it almost makes Jane shit her pants then fall over on the ladder leading to the ultimate embarrassment of being found dead from falling off a way the fuck up there ladder with shit in her pants. However, if it was made today it would probably have that droopy black eyes and gaping mouth effect all spooky ghosts have in all these fucking movies. It’d probably have that hurky jerky movement thing as it rushes toward the window and have super loud jump scare music sting play and thirteen year old girls would shit their pants before having a heart attack therefore leading to the embarrassment of being found in a movie theater having died during a stupid horror movie jump scare with shit in their pants.
Jane is soon discovering that pretty much everyone in town is a total ass fuck to her. The hardware store guy treats her like garbage when she wants to hire a handyman to help her around the place. He won’t let her pay with credit card. He won’t recommend anyone to do work for her. He won’t deliver the stuff she wants to buy after learning where she lives. In fact… Come to think of it, everyone who learns where she lives is kinda weird to her about stuff. She finds a handyman who lives just outside town and he initially accepts the offer of work – until he finds out she lives in the big ol’ creepy ass house. The only guy who isn’t a total weirdo about where she lives is the sheriff. However, he is a little bit of a pervert because he approaches her while she is bent over loading the car.
So the only two people who are halfway decent to her are the pervert sheriff, and Paul, the hardware store owner’s son. She doesn’t directly ask anyone why everyone is an asshole to her. She kinda dances around it when Paul tells her she won’t likely be able to get the materials he needs to help repair her house from his dad. Instead of demanding the truth why people are so weird around her, she just says, “Oh you can tell me later.”
And to add to it – she’s twice seen a meddlesome hearse on the dark road, Prichard is stalling her taking over the house, and she’s seeing a fucking ghost everywhere in her house.
Yet she doesn’t press the issue of what might be wrong and doesn’t second guess herself at all when she sees shit that almost makes her shit her pants and nearly fall off ladders or thinks she sees someone in her bedroom only to later find nothing. I’m all for a divorcee picking the pieces of their life up and putting it back together, but I can tell you if I moved into my apartment and I saw ghosts and people in Beech Grove started treating me like an asshole unfairly… I’d probably think twice about some choices.
After getting a particularly awkward welcome from the town’s preacher, Jane finds some old belongings of her aunt’s in the attic. She starts reading from a diary and creepy noises start happening and after the lights suddenly go out, she sees the hearse pull up outside. However, it’s not there when she goes out to confront it. The next day, a little girl tells her she’s not supposed to talk to her because she lives in the funny house that’s haunted. When visiting her aunt’s grave, she sees the scarred driver of the hearse and that night nearly has yet another run in with it.
After being stuck on the side of the road after the last encounter with the dreaded hearse, she is aided by Tom (Geautreaux) who is quite taken by the photo of Jane’s aunt in her sitting room. He’s very charming and kind to Jane and even makes a charismatic statement that he must leave before she can get him a drink as thanks because that will give him a chance to see her again. That night, Jane reads more from the diary to learn that her aunt met an interloper that caused her to not want to marry her boyfriend at the time. As she reads, an intruder enters the house and attempts to attack Jane before being scared off by her assertion that she has a gun.
The next day, Tom shows up to ask her out that evening. He’s kind of coy about sticking around when he is aware that Paul is there to help repair the smashed window from the intruder. He also declines getting a lift back to his place when Jane realizes he’s brought her car back home.
Okay, look. I’m about halfway through this movie and I already know what’s what here. Tom is a ghost. He drives an old timey car. He’s kind of weird. He doesn’t want to stick around when someone else is at Jane’s house. He’s intriguing like the man in that diary that Jane reads. He’s a fucking ghost. Mystery solved. I win the movie. I mean, he was sucked up by V’Ger. If there is one thing I know, Commander Branch is completely and totally dead.
Again, Jane reads from the diary and learns more about this secret tryst her aunt had with a mysterious man. She learns that this lover basically has her aunt all kinds of goofy. Things come to a bit of a head, though when she learns that this lover wanted her aunt to join him in a pact with Satan. The hearse shows up again and when Jane starts screaming at it and wielding an ax demanding answers, it opens up, she gets in it while her aunt watches from the bedroom window. Jane is taken to a creepy funeral services – for herself. Her own body eerily smiles at her and sits up and reaches out for her. She runs away and gets captured by the hearse driver before she wakes up back in bed.
This is a pretty spooky scene. It’s very dreamlike in how it is shot and acted and it definitely deepens the mystery. However, I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about what it means. I’m mostly used to guys in hockey masks walking around and machete-ing kids who decide to smoke pot and fuck. I’m not usually that attuned to spiritual misdirection like this. That little girl in town did say that she shouldn’t talk to Jane because she lives in the haunted house and is a ghost. There’s talk of how Tom is someone Jane feels she’s known all her life. Could it be this is some weird ghost town or she’s reincarnated or something? There’s definitely some devil shit going on. She’s wearing this locket that belonged to her aunt that has a pentagram on it.
All I know is that Jason Voorhees doesn’t have to deal with spooky devil shit – nor do his victims.
Prichard tells Jane about how her aunt died. He first explains that her aunt and the lover worshiped Satan. He then tells her that no one knows how her aunt died only that everyone knows that the hearse that was carrying her coffin had a terrible accident that caused it to burn up and leave no sign of her coffin or the driver. The aunt’s lover disappeared without a trace. She accuses Prichard of being the current driver of the hearse that is menacing her and kicks him out.
Finally, some real good scares start happening. Noises in the attic wake Jane up in the middle of the night. Since she’s scared out of her wits, she decides she’s up for the night and picks up a book to read. When she sits in bed, the hearse driver is sitting next to her. She runs to hide from him in the closet, only for him to be right behind her inside the closet. She tries to hide in the kitchen but he busts through the door and suddenly appears behind her. She escapes in her car and goes to a cafe and tries to get help from the sheriff, but he doesn’t believe her. So she decides to get back in her car to take off and that fucking hearse man is right outside the car and grabs at her!
She goes to the church for help from the priest. He finds Jane the next morning and she takes him back to her place where she wants to show where the guy busted through one of the doors to get at her, but the door is perfectly fine. The priest says that this is all in her mind from all that talk of devils and demons in the diary she’s reading. Did she tell the preacher about the diary? Hmm… (No really, I don’t remember.)
There’s a whole subplot in the movie in which Paul is sweet on Jane and keeps bragging to his friends (one of which is a young Christopher McDonald) about how they are romantically involved, but it really doesn’t go too far in the story itself. More urgently, Jane is continuing her relationship with Tom. She reads from the diary on their date. He stares at the picture of her aunt. It’s just a swell night – that ends with Commander Branch docking his shuttle in her space dock. (By that I mean he puts his penis inside Jane’s space dock.)
The next morning, Tom is gone (you know, like a man would), and Paul is asking questions. She turns him down for a movie date. Paul gets jealous, but he settles for being her silver medal. That night, Tom stands Jane up, and she tries to track down his number, but there is no listing. As Jane talks to her friend on the phone, the line goes dead. Prichard starts busting out some windows in a drunken fit causing her to run away into the night. He’s then approached by the hearse and killed. Paul comes over to apologize to Jane for his little jealous fit and he gets attacked by a bad zoom in/freeze frame. That’s… That’s the only way to describe that.
So after a relatively drama-filled slow burn for 85 minutes, the last 15 minutes pick right the fuck up hard. Prichard and Paul are attacked by who knows who. Jane finds the Sullivan house where she expects to find Tom, only to see a dilapidated shack that also has a picture of Tom with her aunt on a table. She sees a grave outside with Tom’s name and a death year of 1952. So, she goes home to see if Paul is hanging out – presumably to let Paul put his space shuttle in her vaginal cavity. He’s nowhere to be found, but that’s okay because Tom returns. While he’s making his way into the house, she finds Prichard’s dead body in her shower, the preacher gets some sort of premonition that Jane’s in trouble, and she finds poor Paul’s dead space dick that can no longer be put into her dry dock.
(Wait… That one didn’t quite work out as well as I’d like.)
Tom tries to sweet talk Jane by saying he loves her and will give her eternal life. But Captain Preacherman pulls up to Jane’s house with his bible in hand and ready to cast that demon out! Because this movie came out after The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, of course the Preacher has to bless the house and fight the devil in an epic showdown. Jane runs away only to be followed by the hearse, driven by Tom. But… Tom and the preacher was about to go to fisticuffs. How…? Wait… Huh? Did the devil beat up the preacher and take his lunch money or did he just like say, “Yo, pops, I’m just gonna get something out of my car real quick…” and then speed away to chase Jane?
Whatever. Car chase and Jane wins by bashing the shit out of that hearse and making it explode.
This movie tries to walk a really weird line that was almost only ever seen in horror movies of the late 70s and early 80s. It tries to be both a romance and a horror movie. This happened a lot back then and usually dealt with the supernatural. I mean, Jason Voorhees wasn’t getting laid in a romance that could stand the test of time or nuthin’. It’s definitely a slower movie meant to build on suspense and atmosphere of a creepy secluded house and a woman who may be potentially losing her mind. Yet… There are some odd things to discuss.
First, I’m not ready to say that Mr. Ebert is right that this movie is full of idiots, but I do think this movie went too long trying to draw Jane into the mystery of whether or not this is a devil at work or she’s just going crazy like chicks do, man. Some baffling things are here though. Like, Jane knew that something was weird about the house. Was she under a spell? Did she just so desperately need this vacation that she was going to Griswold it and make it what she needed by hook or by crook? Most people would be moving back to San Francisco in, I dunno, three hours? Did the Prichard story about how he felt the house should be his need to exist? It was clearly not a red herring because we could see the hearse driver the whole time. Also, what up with that hearse driver? Who was he? He wasn’t driving that hearse at the end when it blew up. So having the scar-faced man was a red herring for no reason. Why have Paul know about Tom without him being a hero at the end – or, at the very least, a major reason Jane wins in the end? Did Tom kill the preacher? We see Jane’s aunt at the end in the house still. Is she still going to haunt that forever? Was getting rid of the devil able to free her? What are the rules here?
I struggle to say this is a bad movie, but it ain’t gonna be for everyone. It’s only got a few really good scenes of suspense and horror. The rest is slow and tries to build on those flimsy red herrings. I’d say watch at your own risk.
Okay, this ended up being one of the longer B-Movie Enemas ever. Sorry, but next week may be just as long as we watch one of the most influential and seriously studied blaxploitation movies ever – Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song!