On THE HEARSE

In defense of George Bowers’ effective and classy 1980 haunted house thriller

1980 served as the dawn of a sort of American horror film and the last stop of another. With Friday the 13th‘s graphic gore, quickie and punishable-by-death sex and mechanical body count plotting baiting the box-office and birthing the unyielding, blood-spattered slasher sub-genre, the comparatively quaint ghost story was on the way out; 1979’s The Amityville Horror and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining – with their reliance on adult themes and dread as opposed to ultraviolence – serving as the final “big” blockbuster haunted house movies of the era.

Nestled among those terrifying titans was director George Bowers’s modestly-budgeted, PG-rated Crown International potboiler The Hearse. At the time, Roger Ebert famously called the movie a “garage sale” horror film, as it shamelessly cobbles and cribs its identity from those aforementioned hits as well as other notable spook shows as Dan Curtis’ Burnt Offerings and Peter Medak’s The Changeling. After a theatrical run, the film was well-rented on home video and became a staple on late night television throughout the ’80s and has since faded into obscurity, a chiller devoid of any serious respect and lacking any kind of cult that I’m aware of.

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