Need a Ride? Looking Back at “The Hearse”

Not every fright flick is a classic, as Jim Brymer details in his review of The Hearse:

Remember when horror movies actually made some sort of sense? Well, it was probably well before this one came out. This movie contains just about every cliche ever done in a horror movie, including the dim-witted heroine who continues to stick by her plans when all hell seems to be trying to knock down her door. The haunted house has been done numerous times over, and sometimes they have been done with pretty good effect. Check out Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead series for pretty good horror. But this one baffles the senses on more than one occasion.

The heroine of the story is a teacher, Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere), who is taking a summer vacation to spend in the house of her dead aunt. The woman has been dead and gone for years, and the home has remained vacant during that time. Although someone has taken great effort to keep the property in good order, likely the attorney, Walter Pritchard (Joseph Cotten), even though he doesn’t seem to be the kind of person that would go to such effort. Especially since, as he claims, Jane’s aunt had promised him the house after she died, but the family held on to it.

Things start off on an ominous note as right off the bat, a mysterious hearse forces Jane off the road and then drives off. Once in town, everyone and his mother is rude and obnoxious to her. The dry goods store owner refuses to deliver to her house and insists that she pay in cash for the purchases. A local kid (played by the director’s daughter) says that she, Jane, is a ghost. Nobody seems to like her, except the dry goods store owner’s son, who seems to have an infatuation with her.

The local pastor (Donald Hotton) pays her a visit to extend the greetings of the religious community, but even he is a little weird. Jane starts to dig a little deeper into the mystery surrounding her aunt and finds out that the hearse that was taking her to the cemetery crashed. But both her aunt’s body and the hearse driver disappeared. Only to show up now and then to scare Jane. And yet she doesn’t think it serious enough to say “forget it” and go back to her own place.

Not only that but it turns out, while delving into her aunt’s past, she discovers that he aunt was mixed up in some serious occult practices. Can you say Satan? Which may explain the recurring appearances of the hearse, as well as some of the standard cliches of horror movies like music boxes that play by themselves, doors that slam shut when no one is near them, and of course the obligatory appearances of Jane’s aunt’s ghost in mirrors and windows.

Is this movie a great horror movie? Hardly. Is it entertaining enough for at least one view? I would vote yes, especially if you are connoisseur of trashy horror movies. Even if you just want to catch a decent performance by Joseph Cotten in the twilight of his years, it can be OK. But be forewarned, some of it is pretty much telegraphed from the beginning, and some of it may annoy you if you have seen it all before and know exactly what the director is going to toss at you next But it does have one very good sequence (although, to be fair, not exactly original) in which Jane finds herself trapped in the ominous hearse.

Pair this one with another cheesy classic horror movie, The Car, and you will probably think twice before crossing a deserted parking lot in the dead of night. Then again, you may laugh yourself silly while doing it.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.