Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Haunts (1977) Review

Haunts opens to a run of the mill throwaway kill, just like any schlocky slasher flick would. After all, the supposed plot is “a woman is stalked by a mysterious killer wielding a pair of sewing scissors”. It’s predictable, straightforward, and yet, how could you go wrong with it?

But at about the five minute mark the film’s tone switches drastically. It becomes a slow drama told in a lot of flashbacks and shots of the protagonist staring out rainy windows. More kills are still thrown in about every ten or so minutes, but they only distract from the slow melodrama that takes center stage.

The plot is all over the place, but from what I gather, a woman's dealing with some trauma from her past. She goes to church every day to cope, but one night, on the walk home, she's attacked by a mysterious man who tries to stab her with a pair of large scissors. She gets away, and this raises some questions: why was he after her? Who was it? She becomes convinced it's her uncle, whom she's currently living with. But perhaps it's someone else.

This film is hard to judge because overall it's an inconsistent mess-- like I said, dull drama one minute, nasty slasher the next-- but at the same time, it has moments where it teeters on brilliance. For example, there's a totally bizarre goat milking scene near the beginning that, to me, bumps the film's score up a whole extra star. Same thing goes for a remarkably-shot death scene outside a bar, about halfway through.

But unfortunately, solid death scenes like this didn't seem to belong with the rest of the film. It's a psychological drama, first and foremost. The brutal killing doesn't ring true. It stands out, like it's not meant to be there. It’s almost like the exec at the production company told the filmmakers they needed to make it more marketable. Obviously this means adding some good ol’ hacking and slashing. It’s happened before.

Which, if this was true, would explain a lot. The film is for the most part a quiet drama, but every ten or so minutes an ugly, oftentimes unimaginative kill scene is thrown in. These scenes barely ever effect the plot, and stand out most of the time as things that were thrown in as an afterthought.

Overall it's a slow, kind of boring film with a lot of extra padding to fill its 90 minute runtime. But it does have some good ideas, and it wants to be better than it is. It's an ambitious film made by people who weren't exactly sure what they were doing. That's made clear by the ending, which attempts to pull a huge plot twist but fails and just gets plain confusing.

I think this proves that having a unique idea is one of the most important things about writing. A bad movie with a unique vision, and something to say is interesting, more so than an average by-the-books Hollywood movie that has no idea behind it. You can hit all the bases-- proper format, good dialogue, neat story structure-- but it doesn't matter unless your story has something to say.

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