Cheap License Theater: The Hearse (1980)
A clumsy, but genuine, attempt at a feminist horror film, though ultimately unremarkable.
Published on November 29, 2013 | Filed under Cheap License Theater

The lure of the impulse buy is a hard one for the film geek to resist. We’ve all fallen prey to those cheap box sets filled with forgotten Spaghetti Westerns, Kung Fu Films, Horror or whatever 35mm print someone found in their garage and was able to license for 3.97. Most of the time these films sit unviewed on the shelf still in their shrink wrap. Cheap License Theater is a weekly trip dedicated to exploring these cinematic backwaters of the not-quite-public-domain.

The Hearse

What’s The Film The Hearse (1980).
Who Licensed It On The Cheap? Drive In Cult Classics Vol. 2
Snazzy Trailer? It’s alright.

Worth Watching? To quote Reverend Lovejoy, “Short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but..” The Hearse is one of those annoying films that has a lot of interesting elements but can’t quite cross the goal line. The story of Jane, an emotionally fragile woman who in the wake of nervous breakdown decides to spend a summer in the rural home she inherited from her aunt. As is the way with these things she finds she’s moved to a town filled with unfriendly, close mouthed locals and a house filled with dark secrets and various occult goings on. She also finds herself harassed by a huge ominous hearse and its sinister scar faced driver. Is it a genuine supernatural attack? Her mind cracking up again? Or just Scooby Doo style shenanigans?

All fairly standard pages from the horror playbook, but what makes The Hearse a fairly interesting little film is its perspective and tone. The film shares more in common with the likes of late seventies surrealist horror like Messiah Of Evil and Lets Scare Jessica To Death than it does the exploitative eighties style we all know and tolerate. It also shares a fair amount of seventies horror’s social concern.

The Hearse

The Hearse is a clumsy, but genuine, attempt at a feminist horror film. Jane finds herself patronized and harassed by just about every male figure in the town, from the reverend, to the sheriff and especially her aunt’s lawyer who handles her estate (the lawyer is played by a somewhat wasted Joseph Cotton whose contempt for the material is laughably apparent). The figures of authority aren’t just useless the way they are in most horror films but are actively malignant, all determined to “keep her in her place”. If they’re not complicit with what’s happening to Jane that’s not to say they’re particularly sorry to see it happen. The sinister ghost driver is just another jackass male determined to keep Jane down.

At its best this all combines to genuine eerie effect, as in a funerary dream sequence set at that owes more to “Young Goodman Brown” than it does to The Car. Unfortunately, The Hearse isn’t often at its best, clumsy but genuine serves as a pretty accurate description of the movie as a whole. There’s not much creativity in the staging of its horror, aside from the fore mentioned funeral scene. There are several, well let’s be extremely generous and call them direct quotations, from Halloween. The film telegraphs its plot developments pretty damn loudly and unlike Lets Scare Jessica To Death, the questions as to the heroine’s sanity never seem genuine. While none of the actors can quite match Joseph Cotton’s level of disconnect, he looks as though he is actively angry to be in the movie, there are plenty of phoned in performances. In short, The Hearse is ultimately unremarkable, despite flashes of innovation. It’s a film worth watching for the horror fan seeking something with a different texture, whether that’s enough to merit watching is up to you.

Bryce's book, Son Of Danse Macabre is currently available for the Kindle.