Originally released in 1980, The Hearse is a sleepy little horror movie that took advantage of the “devil” craze, with films such as 1979’s The Amityville Horror, 1976’s The Omen, 1975’s Race with the Devil, and even 1979’s Phantasm serving as inspiration. All the usual trappings of ghost stories are used in this movie, but the end result is lackluster and a bit of a letdown, given the talent onscreen.
The movie stars Trish Van Devere (widow of the great George C. Scott, who also dabbled in horror flicks) as Jane Hardy, who has left the big city to live in the tiny town of Blackford, the home of her late aunt. Hardy has personal problems (she is seeing a psychiatrist) and hopes that a more simple life will help clear and strengthen her mind.
Although Blackford feels idyllic at first, Hardy soon learns that the place has some terrible secrets, secrets that the townspeople are unwilling to share with her. One night while driving into town, she is run off the road by a gigantic hearse. Later, Hardy notices that this hearse seems to be following her, always just out of the corner of her eye. While in town, she is brushed off by many of the townsfolk, particularly the town sheriff. And then there’s the town attorney, Walter Pritchard (played by Joseph Cotton), a bitter old codger who believes that Hardy’s house really should have come to him.
Despite the rough treatment in town, Hardy elects to stay. She begins to work on fixing up the house, and fortunately for her she makes a friend with Tom Sullivan (David Gautreaux), whose father owns the local hardware/lumber store. Tom and Hardy begin to work on the old house.
Soon, the old house begins to show its true colors. A music box played by itself. Doors slam shut without warning. Then there’s the hearse itself, which begins to prowl about at the edge of the property late at night. Hardy begins to fear for her life, particularly when one Reverend Winston (Donald Hotton) pays her a visit. The good reverend warns Hardy that there is evil about the house and that perhaps her aunt played a role in summoning such evil.
The climax of the movie has Hardy kidnapped by the hearse’s driver (Dominic Barto), a loyal minion of Hardy’s aunt. The driver then reveals a coven of devil worshipers once led by her aunt. It turns out the driver is now undead and is working somehow to bring back Hardy’s aunt, possibly by possessing Hardy herself. Will Hardy succumb or will she manage to escape the horrors of Blackford?
Filled with plenty of horror clichés, The Hearse is a sleepy little movie that really does not know where to go. The “bump-in-the-night” structure works okay, but there’s no cohesion to the plot. Consequently, the audience is left wondering what really happens at the end. Such confusion means no payoff, and that will displease many viewers.
The direction by George Bowers is pretty good, and all the actors hold their own, but it’s the script by William Bleich, with its hodgepodge of horrors, that really sinks the film. The hearse itself is a pretty good menace, but there’s no real payoff, other than the driver may be a ghost.
I can’t really recommend The Hearse except to fans of 1980s horror flicks with devil-driven plots. The Hearse is not a horrible movie, it’s just a confusing movie that attempts to mix too many horror genres, resulting in a mishmash that will leave most viewers scratching and shaking their heads.