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  Haunts Troubled Minds
Year: 1977
Director: Herb Freed
Stars: May Britt, Cameron Mitchell, Aldo Ray, William Gray Espy, Ben Hammer, E.J. André, Kendall Jackson, Susan Nohr, Robert Hippard, Don Dolan, Lette Rehnolds, Jim McKeny, Warren Peters, Judy Franks
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: A family in this rural Californian smalltown have settled down to eat their evening meal, and amongst the usual hubbub the daughter of the house is told to go and fetch something from the pantry outside. However, when she does she is horrified to find a dead body, and is lucky to be avoided by a masked figure running away from the scene. The police are swiftly called, and the sheriff (Aldo Ray) is dismayed to see the deceased is a young girl who lived locally; now there is a killer on the loose suspicions are raised about who exactly in this community it could be...

As a horror movie, for the most part Haunts veered closely to being an austere drama with its Ingmar Bergman-esque heroine, Ingrid (ex-Mrs Sammy Davis Jr May Britt in her final movie role), moping about her isolated farm and being one of the most terrorised characters around the area. Yet there was also a sense that the script, by director Herb Freed and Anne Marisse, had been informed by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in that we were being misdirected, though the extent of that games-playing with the audience's expectations was muddled even at the end, with a final shot that has left more than one viewer going "Huh?"

If anything, Haunts resembled more one of those Hammer imitations of the Hitchcock style which were released during the previous decade, only with a far less confident grasp of what it was trying to convey, unless what it was trying to convey was confusion, in which case it succeeded with flying colours. Ingrid lives out in her farmhouse with her uncle (Cameron Mitchell), but he keeps himself to himself, so much that nobody else seems to see him, but this gives the killer the opportunity to put pressure on the woman, by say, dumping the body of one of his other victims in her back yard, an act which may well unhinge her fragile mind.

We can tell she has a fragile mind because every time she has a quiet moment to herself she goes off into a reverie of memory, but not a particularly pleasant one as the bits and pieces we see appear to include child abuse and suicide: is this Ingrid's own past we are viewing? It's difficult to make out frankly, as after a while we catch on that she is an unreliable character who may be fantasising some of what the film shows us; if that's not problematic enough, we cannot be sure how much or how little of what is depicted is the actual truth. Certainly there's a murderer on the loose, but their identity is something of a mystery even after the credits have rolled.

That in spite of the police unmasking one character who would appear to be the villain about two thirds of the way through. In the meantime Ingrid is apparently raped by a local ne'erdowell, Frankie (William Gray Espy), who assaults her not once but twice, and to further complicate matters he is the boyfriend of the sheriff's daughter, but again, is this all in Ingrid's haywire mind? If this sounds quite eventful, then be warned, the larger part of it is taken up with a Peyton Place type of drama, and a lot of talk comes with that. Haunts could easily irritate the casual viewer, true, but even the more dedicated party could be thrown off by its twists and turns, and for a lot of the time not much happens, then when something does, you're not entirely clear what it has been. The Psycho-imitating final ten minutes, where we get what is ostensibly an explanation, demystifies very little when you analyse it. Music by Pino Donaggio.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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