Herb Freed's Haunts (1977) begins with a fizzle with a masked intruder's off-screen act of murder. It continues as a tepid psycho killer film without enough gore to justify itself as exploitation, incorporating scenes of rape that may delight a few unpleasant souls.
And yet forbearance almost pays off as the film becomes more psychological in nature, & the central character of Ingrid develops, however slowly, into something odder & less tiresome than just another pretty victim.
May Britt as Ingrid gets first billing in the credits & she dominates the story. Ingrid's a blonde bombshell getting a bit long in the tooth & lonely, & a Jesus freak to boot.
She has apparently become the target of the unwanted affections from a violent local stud (William Gray Espy) as well as from her own horny uncle (Cameron Mitchell), one or the other of whom she suspects is the sexual psychopath burdening this rural community.
The sheriff (Aldo Ray) is slow to take Ingrid seriously, but eventually realizes there's certainly something amiss down on the farm, & has his own reasons to mistrust the above-mentioned local stud.
Though there's not a whole lot praiseworthy in this film, it does have its merits. Britt is subtly creepy well before the "surprise" revelations about her character. She resembles the fearful paranoic in Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965), though of course not on the same level of art. Yet even an hallucinating paranoid can be assaulted & raped, & whether Ingrid is threatened or a threat becomes increasingly the puzzle to be worked out.
A long epilog muddies the film's meaning & intent, but provides Cameron Mitchell with a little something for his character. This second ending lends the film two strange & lowkey climaxes that in retrospect give a stronger gothic tone & intent than came across as stuff was happening.
The main players do well considering how the flawed script waits so long to get interesting. If a viewer is patient enough to make it through the tedious bits & cliches to the end, it does drum up some authentic dread & mystery.
[It sometimes happens that I completely forget I not only already saw a given film, but even reviewed it. A few years after writing the above review, I wrote another. So here's the revisit, composed a decade later in different mood.]
A nice small-town nuclear family encounters a psycho killer & a young woman screams. So begins Haunts (1977) with a dull thud, showing nothing but the local police response to an off-screen killing & the whole neighborhood turning out to gawp. Oh, & there are intimations Sheriff Peterson (Aldo Ray) is a drunk, which will, as the film, have no impact on the story.
We're done with that disposable family, so cut to Swedish beauty May Britt, cast as Ingrid the goat farmer, whose act of milking a goat seemingly has symbolic weightiness never to be fathomed.
We're forced to get to know a lot about the insufferable little town & everyone's pushy interest in Ingrid as a single woman. Oddly enough it's not badly written nor particularly badly acted; it's just not interesting.
The direction always seems blandly workmanlike, but that's deceptive. It's too bad it doesn't work better, as the idea was good enough, to keep Ingrid's point of view not just languid on the edge of panic, but emotionally flatlined as if from lithium while on the verge of madness. A more artful director with a finer cast could've made a lot of that.
It won't be so obvious on a single viewing, but there's a subtle tone of menace from just about every encounter Ingrid has, whether in church or a niteclub. But a lot of this menace may be largely her perspective, not evidence the whole town is crazy.
Town "bad boy" & hunk Frankie (William Gray Espy) drives around in a red pick-up drinking Budweiser & oggling Ingrid until she's disgusted. Then she's attacked walking on a dark road but manages to beat the crap out of the guy & runs home.
Ingrid's unsympathetic Uncle Carl (Cameron Mitchell) treats her like a hysterical loony, with intimations she may have been off her nut in the past.
It seems Ingrid was abused as a child & has grown up paranoid about men. She is quick to assume the worst, & her worst expectations are generally reinforced by the lasciviousness of townsmen, not to mention an actual killer on the loose.
The character of Carl is so far in the background he has almost no value to the story. As no one else interacts with him, he soon seems to be a ghost or fragment of Ingrid's imagination. When another killing occurs, again off-screen so of no visual interest, a viewer can't help but wonder just how crazy Ingrid is.
But then her paranoia seems not so crazy after all when we see her attacked in the shower & dragged at knife-point to her bed. This is the first on-screen brutality. It's Frankie & he's obviously a rapist. But is he also the maniac killer?
Without any mystery development the film just decides to show us that the most obvious candidate for badness is indeed bad. Then Ingrid takes a knife to him in self-defense. Uncle Carl then turns up to encourage her paranoia about having killed. She sets out to cover up what she has done rather than inform the police.
Then her uncle reveals his desire to screw her. So she runs to the police after all, telling them everything. The unfolding of the reality behind her uncle is very, very odd, played out in a low-key manner.
The film ends with so many loose ends that it's not really satisfying. There's a long coda which tries to explain what it was all about, but it just gets more muddled. In all, Haunts is like the dimestore version of Roman Polanski's brilliant Repulsion (1965), & that's a decent film to be emulating.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl