Available from Arrow Video on DVD and Blu-ray 4th December 2017
There are a lot of ways to discuss a strange, eerie and rather unpredictable thriller like this. Are the surprising twists and turns an effective way of keeping the suspense levels high? Or are all the odd forks in the road just too weird to keep things from becoming muddled? There’s a lot to break down here in a film which is part kidnap plot, part telepathy story, and at least partially a tale of mentally unstable outcasts on the run from the law. There are a few false starts along the way before the narrative gets going and the interesting moments start to arrive. They even throw in some intriguing thematic ideas about loss and parenthood. But like a lot of storylines that seem to lack focus or a solid central idea, some of these inclusions work better than others.
The initial setup involves a theme park photographer and clown performer Jude (Richard Lynch) who you can tell might not have all his marbles. Maybe it’s the occupational choice, or just the type casting at work. He soon meets up with his girlfriend Andrea (Ellen Barber). She’s a troubled young woman who just spent five years in a ‘stinking pit’ for reasons that are unclear to begin with. But after a little research it looks like things are about to improve, as they have a new lead on her lost daughter Janey. The only problem is that Janey is living with her new adoptive parents, and it turns out Andrea checked herself out early from a psychiatric hospital. Her initially romantic endeavour is far more sinister than it first appears.
Meanwhile an entirely different story seems to be taking place involving astrophysicist Dr. Bennett (Edward Bell) and his wife Sheri, (Sharon Farrell) the couple who adopted Janey all those years ago. Miles has taken an interest in the work of his new colleague Dr. Kingsley (Chitra Neogy) who has just arrived to teach ‘para-physics’. Or is it para-psychology? It’s not clear. The nonsensical discussions they have about invisible realms and non-physical perception aren’t very convincing, and the way she keeps rambling on about things like the ‘clairvoyant reality’ doesn’t help. Of course this is all conveniently going to link back around to the kidnappers when Sheri becomes to develop signs of precognition in the form of strange dreams; something that lets her sense that foul play is afoot.
As a supernatural thriller things are pretty atmospheric. The scenes where Andrea breaks into the Bennett family home are very unsettling with a lot of point-of-view camera work. Ellen Barber’s performance is particularly memorable, as she drifts in and out of different states of mind. Sometimes she’s distant and melancholy, and then later without warning she becomes a raging lunatic. There are moments of clarity and planning mixed in with more irrational behaviour. The main issue here is that beyond the child in peril story she doesn’t get enough screen time outside the first half of the movie, though there are some interesting visions and mental flashes as Sheri gets closer to the couple’s scheme.
Sharon Farrell is unfortunately less believable, and spends too much time panicking or lying in a state of shock, sometimes stopping to declare out of the blue that Andrea has put a ‘hex’ on the family. It’s not explained where she got this idea from, but maybe hallucinations of bloody intruders and iced up mirrors will do that to a person. These sequences are the other notable part of the feature, as glass becomes opaque and the sun is blotted out. Outside the obvious parental anxiety themes, there are some engaging ideas about the guilt of adopting someone else’s child as your own. It’s just a shame these are not the core elements in a story that often gets sidetracked.
If Sheri was doing all the detective work it would be a lot stronger – a troubled parent trying to track down her child using the supernatural. However they branch off firstly to spend time with her husband and his new best friend, and then later to introduce an actual detective to the proceedings. By the time things come to a head in the third act it’s way too messy, and the finale is just kind of absurd and comes out of nowhere. Jude’s motivations also become far too vague by the end. The changes Richard Lynch’s fairground loner goes through are pretty unpredictable and sinister, but it’s never really written well enough to explain his involvement. In the middle of this Janey doesn’t even behave like a character at all after the opening scenes. While this may be intentional given everything that happens, it’s not a great choice to push forward a logical series of events when she’s at the centre of them.
It’s not just that this isn’t Carrie which came out the same year, but that it fails to use ideas that had been established in fiction much earlier. Dreams about the future, bad omens, and telepathy were not untested ingredients. That being said, this isn’t a terrible venture into the paranormal, even if it’s anticlimactic and inconsistent. There’s a lot of period mood building, and the use of creepy amusement parks and darkened 1970s apartments is effective. It has a typically dour tone for its time, which is complemented by Henry Mollicone’s despondent theme music. With a few tweaks it could have been more iconic, but as it stands it’s more of a curiosity. One for those looking for something less well known in the occult and supernatural genres, even if it can’t quite decide which it belongs to.