The 1970s had a feel all of it’s own; the music, the cars, and certainly the films. We horror fanatics can rattle off a good-sized list of great flicks from that decade, from a plethora of Italian giallo films to such classics as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Black Christmas, The Exorcist, and Halloween, just to name a few. Some of us Fellow Fans delve even deeper, plumbing the depths of lesser-known but still relevant fright flicks of the era, those grindhouse/cultish little movies that not everyone has heard of…you know, flicks like The Sentinel, Shivers, or Alice, Sweet Alice, again, just hitting the high spots. Each of these films (and the many others like them we could add) has a certain panache, a vibe that not only stamped them as films of the 1970s, but also as horror classics that should be more widely appreciated.
One of my favorites of these less-mainstream flicks is a very unheralded little low-budgeter from 1974, the Larry Yust film Homebodies.
Progress, as is it’s nature, is moving forward in urban Cincinnati, and a big corporate developer has it’s eye on building some high-rise commercial and residential properties over a stretch where now stand some turn-of-the-century tenement buildings and apartments. No problem; just buy up the property and relocate the residents; with big money and friends at city hall, you can accomplish wonders. In one of the old, decaying (but obviously, once quite charming) structures, six senior citizens reside quietly, living out their twilight years in what in many cases is the only home they’ve ever known; poor old Miss Emily (Frances Fuller), in her fading mentality, still sits and has dinner with the long-dead husband she shared many years in the apartment with.
Septuagenarian Mattie (Paula Trueman, in a standout performance) takes care of Emily, and the rest of the buildings aging occupants all support the two of them and each other as the years roll by; Mr. and Mrs. Loomis (veteran actor Ian Wolfe and Ruth McDevitt, whom I remember most as Miss Emily on Kolchak: The Night Stalker), building superintendent and his wife, have known an entire life without leaving the building for reasons other than shopping and family…blind Mr. Blakely (Peter Rocco), a resident for so long he can navigate every nook and cranny despite his handicap…and finally, Mr. Sandy (William Hansen), his life’s work deeply entrenched in his small apartment, determined to finish his book before he dies. This group of seniors are strongly attached to the old brownstone, and they have no intention of any corporation, city employee, or callous social workers to remand them to some sterile rest home; no sir, this is their home, and they aim to keep it. Of course, the big developers have other ideas, and whilst legal actions are pending, demolition of surrounding buildings begins, as well as new construction on lots where some have already fallen to the wrecking ball. As fate would have it, Mattie is witness to an accident where an unfortunate construction worker is killed, and an idea blooms in her cold mind…enlisting the other determined old people, the decision is made that they will fight to keep what they see as theirs, whatever the cost; the big business with it’s lawyers and the city with its prissy social workers will soon learn a deadly lesson: aged treachery trumps youthful vigor, every time.
I was most impressed by the duality in this movie; here you have these cute little old folks, milling about their daily routines like I often watched my grandparents. Harmless, in some cases even dotty seniors looking for that Social Security check to go play bingo or sit and watch their game shows.
These same venerable people, finding their home threatened, suddenly turn; facing the prospect of the last vestiges of their individuality and dignity being taken from them, the cuddly facades drop away to reveal the primal beasts that all of us humans carry somewhere underneath. The cast of experienced character actors made this all the more gripping with their staunchly convincing portrayals of the embattled tenants; the anguish and helplessness of being confronted with eviction was heart-wrenching, but that wrenching quickly turns to chills when you witness the cold, clinical relentlessness that they demonstrate when dealing with those that seek to drive them out. Old school savvy plays out creatively in the manners of execution they choose for their tormentors, including explosive sabotage, inventive and homicidal use of a wrecking ball, and even the good old staples of a butcher knife and a fire ax get some use. Of particular note is a scene of a concrete entombment; the scene plays out slowly, methodically, as a man is completely encased…while he’s conscious. The assembled senior citizens are either holding the hose that inexorably conducts the cement into place or simply staring with contempt as the container fills; most chilling, however, is that kindly Mrs. Loomis constantly dabs the sweat from the doomed man’s face during his burial; a grandmotherly gesture that makes the horror of the act all the more astonishing. Along with its sinister underpinnings, the film has a thread of black humor running through it, taking the concept of aging into darkly comedic situations; unfortunately, at times Yust went a tad overboard with this, and the resulting slapstick silliness on these occasions breaks the general tone of the film. However, such moments are few, and overall the movie comes across as an entertainingly dark melodrama examining the loneliness of aging and society’s treatment of the old, done with a dark turn of the macabre and sometimes with tongue in cheek.
Nostalgic 70s cinema fans and/or black-humored horror junkies, you should really see this one; however, if you find a way to see a good print, PLEASE drop me a line here in the comments and let me know where you found it! You’ll note that I haven’t placed any options to purchase this film below as I usually do; this rarely-seen gem has never received a proper DVD release, and is notoriously difficult to find a decent copy of…I hope that somewhere out there in Cyber-Land, some distribution house will obtain the rights and do this one up as it should be…turn this baby loose! Give us old-timers this movie back, and give a new generation a chance to see it! It’s a sad state of affairs for horror fans when we can pick up a copy of GingerDead Man or Skulls 3 at every bargain bin in existence, but to enjoy a flick with the charm and cultish appeal that this one has, we have to rely on either YouTube or an old and fuzzy VHS copy taped off of HBO some thirty-plus years ago….c’mon, guys!
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