The Evictors (Charles B. Pierce, 1979)
There are a whole lot of directors at work in America today who should be sat down—with as much force as necessary—and made to watch The Evictors, which is an excellent example of how to make a stylish, effective thriller on a basement budget. But since that’s not going to happen, I can distill what they need to learn from this movie into a single sentence: look backward, not forward. Look, if you dare, at the plague of Asylum pictures and Syfy Original Movies and all that sort of dreck, and one thing you will likely notice is that everyone’s waving around CGI like it’s a brand-new toy they can’t get enough of. It’s a very loud, flashy toy, and it annoys the hell out of mom and dad five minutes after the box is opened. Now watch the opening sequence of The Evictors, which is filmed in sepia-tone; the sequence takes place in the thirties, and Pierce was going for that kind of look. It’s very well-shot, it’s obviously out of place, and it does what it sets out to do. If this movie was made in 2013, that sequence would probably be CGIed to death, and the movie would be the worse for it. This is not to say that The Evictors is a perfect film, not by any stretch of the imagination, but for what it is, it is a very good one.
Ben and Ruth Watkins (Kill Bill‘s Michael Parks and Suspiria‘s Jessica Harper) are a newly-married couple who get transferred to a little town in the sticks for Ben’s job. They’re still not rolling in cash, so the local realtor, Jake Rudd (The Bad News Bears‘ Vic Morrow), shows them a cheap house not far outside of town. You’ve seen this movie before. As soon as they move in, the townsfolk start treating them oddly, and soon they begin hearing rumors that awful things have happened in that house. With most of the town unwilling to help them, can they figure out what’s going on with their erstwhile dream home before they end up being another story the locals tell their kids to keep them from going out at night?
A number of reviews I’ve read of the movie have as their main criticism that it isn’t actually a horror movie. Compared to most of today’s horror films, especially in America, it’s easy to understand why people might raise this as an issue. Even something like the first half of The Descent, which has as its main fear-inducer simple claustrophobia, has a grittier, scarier feel to it than The Evictors. This is much more an exercise in atmosphere, tension, and suspense than it is horror. I do not in any way consider that a bad thing; quite the opposite. This is a horror film for people who appreciate Bèla Tarr and Krzyzstof Kieslowski movies. Better, then, to bring up some wooden acting—the more I see of Jessica Harper, the more I wonder why she continued getting roles in movies—and some set decoration that was kind of silly even for a zero-budget movie. (Just wait till you get a load of the neighbor’s sitting room.) Still, despite problems, there is a great deal about The Evictors to like. ***