“The Hearse” is no horror classic like John Carpenter’s “Halloween” or Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. It isn’t even as good as some obscure outings like ‘The Asphyx” or “The Devil’s Hand”, but something about the low budget chiller stays with you. Starring Trish Van Devere (The Changeling), Perry Lang, Joseph Cotten (The Third Man) and David Gautreaux (Star Trek: The Motion Picture), the movie hearkens back to the classic ghost story, and in that regard, its core spirit resonates in today’s ghost haunted entertainment landscape.
Van Devere plays Jane Hardy – a teacher who’s been left her aunt’s old, broken down house located in the rural hamlet of Blackford. The little out of the way town’s residents need some etiquette lessons, as they treat Jane, as she calls it, ‘as if she has the plague.’ Jane wants to get away from her old life, because as she tells her psychiatrist, the past year saw her go to the edge and come back. Aside from a divorce, and her Mom dying, we aren’t exactly clued into why that’s the case or how she made it back in one mental piece. I guess such a dual emotional trauma is enough for anybody, but that’s not really all important. What is central for our need to know is that Jane Hardy is being haunted.
Unlike most haunted house stories – and ‘The Hearse’ definitely qualifies in that category – the movie plays on the chilling notion that our leading lady is being pursued by ghosts. They are up to no good business in her aunt’s house, but also follow her around on the road. Actually, it’s one ghostly funeral car, being driven by a mangled and maimed chauffeur. Jane is bothered by floating music boxes, slamming doors, rattling pipes and other ghostly tricks. One ghost even stalks her in the shower in a scene that’s like a cross bred hybrid of the shower scene from ‘Psycho’ and the opening murder scene from ‘Halloween’.
David Gautreaux, best know to genre fans as the Starfleet starbase officer from the opener of ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ plays Tom Sullivan – a weirdly enigmatic suitor who Jane falls for hard. Tom shows up for their dates in decades old formal clothing, then he sports a snazzy modern outfit when he comes calling in the afternoon. Veteran actor – and Hitchcock alumni from “Shadow Of A Doubt” – Joseph Cotten plays Pritchard, a boozy, scheming real estate lawyer who isn’t happy when Jane may take up permanent residence in the house her aunt left her in her will, since he feels it belongs to him.
“The Hearse” boasts a creepy charm that should appeal to old school horror movie lovers and fans of Gothic tales of doomed romance. Despite a low budget, the movie’s production values impress, especially the excellent cinematography. The film score is memorably spooky music. Above all, the actors serve the broad tale well. Van Devere, Cotten, Gautreaux and the goofy, puppy dog loving Perry Lang all rise to the challenge of making the film something more than just a dimly remembered 80’s low rent chiller.