(Obligatory SPOILERS alert. Lots and lots of them. I will totally fucking ruin this movie for you if you haven’t seen it, unless you’re one of those freaks who doesn’t like being surprised…then carry on).
So last we left off, a bunch of talented, Shakespearean-trained actors basically ruined their careers because the director not only completely destroyed the original premise, he turned out to be a terrible writer as well…and came up with the sort of meandering, nonsensical, detail-free plot a giggling stoner might develop…and occasionally forget which scene he was writing. The script is trash. That is all.
To recap: Jessica (Zohra Lampert, Exorcist 3), has just been released from a six month stint in the cracker barrel, into the arms of her congenitally condescending husband, Duncan (Barton Heyman, The Exorcist). Duncan is one of those late 60s/early 70s horror insufferable shithead husbands (eg Guy in Rosemary’s Baby, Walter, The Stepford Wives), which may or may not have accelerated the woman’s movement to warp speed. At any rate, he has decided to be her sole source of sanity and she is still too vulnerable to realize that is an excellent way to keep her docile and painfully eager to please. Yeah. Fuck you, Duncan.
And, in the manner of insufferable shitheads, Duncan’s not too fucking bright. Because his bright idea is to take his still-blinking-in-the-sun, post-institutionalized wife away from her home in New York City–where he gave up his career as a concert cellist in the New York Philharmonic, no less–to take her to this ghost-ridden house in the Outer Mongolia section of Connecticut, because it has an apple orchard (dig it, none of this trio give the impression that they’ve ever seen an apple outside of a grocery store), so they can sell apples for a living, without any indication that they have even a basic idea of how the fuck they are going to sell the apples, who might buy them and where they can find a bunch of undocumented workers to do the actual work. Apparently, Mr. Bright doesn’t get that six soft Anglo hands can’t possibly pick all the apples in a commercial orchard because, unlike vampires, helpful fairies don’t exist. But that’s okay, because even though he has invested every single dime they had in this haunted house with the magical self-picking apple orchard, Duncan is confident that between harvests, they can get by selling the old shit in the attic.
As somebody who actually once sold antiques (well…junque, at least), I was thrilled the few times I broke even. I would’ve been delirious with joy had I made money enough for a tank of gas. Pretty sure a handful of dusty old shit wouldn’t pay much more than that, so it’s probably a good thing they don’t make it until winter.
And since they will probably never be able to afford entertainment again, Duncan allows Jessica to indulge in her hobby of gravestone rubbings. As she mightily tries to pigeon-toe frolic across the graveyard, I couldn’t help but notice that Jessica is kind of a goon. She has all the makings of an attractive woman–pleasant features, good skin and teeth, tall, great legs, actually–but it doesn’t add up to pretty. Not even jolie-laide attractive. Lampert actually does an excellent job portraying a woman with such shit self-esteem that it even affects her looks–from her transparently uncertain expressions to the slumped, embarrassed-to-be-tall, premature dowager’s hump to that tragic goon-y gait.
This also sets up the first sighting of Superfluous Mute Girl in a White Shorty Nightgown Wearing a Suspicious Neck Concealing Scarf (Gretchen Corbett). Ironically, Corbett had an arguably more successful career than any of the principles, including a current gig on Hulu’s Shrill.
But before she can tell the others, Scarf Girl disappears, because OF COURSE, she does. Yeah. That trope never gets tired. Jessica, not wanting to incur the eyeroll of two patronizing men, stays mum. Together the trio circle the one-block town of disapproving mummies, driving a hearse to establish that they are authentic fortyish boho types, though the only one who could possibly pass is Woody (Kevin O’Connor, starring in not a whole helluva lot afterwards), but that’s only because he bears a passing resemblance to a young David Crosby and wears a Trump-length, aggressively colorful scarf.
Again, the conceit of the movie is the big (not) mystery of whether Jessica is crazy or if what she sees/hears is actually happening–the movie is full of Jessica’s maybe-hallucinations/delusions/reality moments, accompanied by a whispery internal monologue–sometimes the voice is Jessica’s and sometimes Emily’s. Which is why, after being whisper-greeted by a self-rocking chair, Jessica isn’t sure if the woman she sees lurking about is real or imaginary. And here we get into more heavy-duty stupid. Get this–they arrive at their new home, find a squatter and, not only do they not call the law or at least chase her off with a pitchfork, they make nice with her, apologize for scaring her and invite her to stay the night.
At dinner, after Emily the squatter works very hard to convince everybody that she is a FREE SPIRIT, (known in some quarters as unemployed and shiftless), she whips out a fucking lute (because she’s secretly really old) and, along with Duncan and his fucking enormous, coffin-sized (<FORESHADOWING>) cello, sings some folk song. It is so cringe-y that I feel embarrassed by proxy. I seriously have to fast-forward through this part, eyes averted.
Since Emily hasn’t quite sucked up all of the oxygen in the room, she suggests a sèance, pointedly asking Jessica if she’s ever seen or heard things she couldn’t explain. Instead of replying, “Is that a trick question?”, she sticks to a benign dead father story, giving both men a perfect opportunity to belittle her in the name of joke, which she takes with pathologically self-deprecating good humor. One critic pointed out that this dynamic is actually an example of societal messaging to women: admiring independent Emily as the ideal woman while using condescension and doubt to keep Jessica dependent, ie revering the idealized fantasy of an independent woman and then systematically discouraging and/or creating obstacles preventing girls and women from attaining that independence. Not sure if that is true as a society, but it’s definitely fucking true in this movie. Seriously, even by early 70s horror standards, Duncan is exactly that self-confident mediocre white man. At any rate, Emily encourages Jessica to speak to the all of the dead former owners of the house, resulting in all sorts of typical ghost-y sounds, which none of them claim to hear. Even so, Jessica cries because dead people are sad. I guess.
Duncan and Jessica retire, where she changes into the most grandma nightgown ever designed in the entire leg-locked history of spinsters. In the meantime, Woody tries to kiss Emily and demands an explanation when she pulls away. Possible answers: 1) I’ve got a boyfriend, 2) you look like David Crosby, 3) I hate your stupid scarf, 4) you’re a hippie poseur, 5) ew, or fuck all of that, because the only answer necessary is I DON’T HAVE TO GIVE YOU A REASON MOTHERFUCKER. This presumptuous fuck alone should have catapulted the Me Too movement decades in advance. But for some reason, Emily asks Woody to accompany her for a walk, then has to tell his ass NO again…but the scene is useful because it proves that Jessica is NOT imagining shit. Why? Because this and several other scenes are shot from an omniscient point of view. In order to satisfy that whole “is it real or is she imagining it?” gimmick, the uncertainty would have to be from Jessica’s viewpoint. See? Pretty simple, really.
To promote their WE ARE SO HIPPIES image, the four of them pollute the lake by frolic-washing each other with fish-killing phosphates. So they have electricity but no running water. Go with it. Next thing you know, Duncan is sensually massaging the soap into moaning-with-pleasure Emily’s neck and HELL NO. This is beyond “better get woke, Jessica”. This is more, “Bitch, Ramada Inn is just down the road”. However, not being me, Jessica swims out on her own and something definitely yanks on her foot. Quite sensibly, she freaks the fuck out of the water…and is treated like a dumb, hysterical broad. Woody even goes so far as to show her that since his 5 foot dominion of water is yank-free, there couldn’t possibly be anything else present in the rest of the entire fucking lake, like a freshwater eel, or a hungry giant catfish, maybe a water moccasin, a strong current, a cannibalistic siren, no NOTHING. So, crazy strike one.
Now they begin their illustrious side gig selling junque. And since Duncan was clearly getting off on Emily’s lute-ing skilz and eagerly soap-massaging her to the point of the first non-faked orgasm he has ever given in his life, naturally Jessica does the sensible thing and invites this shady bitch to live with them. Okay, I’m going to stretch as far as mentally possible and say that Jessica is inviting this strange bitch to stay because she is so insecure and so desperate to please Duncan that she has disassociated into an extreme state of dumbassery. Especially after this exchange:
Okay, guys, pop quiz. Your woman asks the above question. Do you say:
- Emily? Huh. Thought never occurred to me.
- Nah. She’s more like a kid sister.
- That nasty skank? Hell no. Woody can have her.
- She’s okay, but she isn’t nearly as beautiful as you (hint…this one).
Moving on. After a stupidly hostile exchange with the local geriatric thugs–one of whom does Jessica the favor of slapping Duncan’s pompous head–they find the one person who is neither over seventy nor bandaged: the hyper-friendly antique dealer, who tells them what I would tell them–that most of their fine antiques are unsellable shit EXCEPT for the solid silver frame of the family portrait including a girl who is OBVIOUSLY FUCKING EMILY. Believe me, I give this movie the courtesy of suspending the shit out of disbelief, but NO. Stevie fucking Wonder would say, “Yeah, uh huh, bitch is clearly dead”. Especially when good-guy antique dealer tries to tell a story about the Bishop girl who drowned on her wedding day 100+ years prior. Tries, because Duncan decides that Jessica is not quite emotionally on par with a brain-damaged four year old and can’t handle hearing the story.
But since they are both apparently really stupid as well as legally blind, they remain happily oblivious. And now we finally get to see why Woody is even in this movie, other than to sexually harass a dead woman and become auxiliary Victim #1–to spray entire mega-clouds of DDT on their distinctly NOT organic apples.
Presumably upwind of the orchard of cancer-apples, Duncan catches a mouse for Jessica, which for some reason the movie insists on calling a mole. While Duncan leaves to find a container for the hapless not-mole, Superfluous Scarf Girl appears, limp-waves for Jessica to follow and for some reason, she does, which apparently is to show her bloody corpse of the antique dealer aka the only townsman who doesn’t hate them, in the stream below. But the corpse disappears upon Duncan’s return, because OF COURSE it does. Luckily, Duncan catches Superfluous Scarf Girl for interrogation, but naturally, she’s an obnoxious mute (is that why she’s wearing a scarf? To hide an over-enthusiastic chomp?), and before it dawns on them that maybe there are other forms of communication, Emily approaches—munching on a radioactive apple—and she escapes. This is probably a good time to point out that the trees behind them are FULL of fucking apples.Which calls into question–why are they obsessively spraying ripe apples they don’t even bother picking? But then…city folk.
Anyway, crazy strike two.
Come dinner time, poor Jessica is trying mightily to keep her shit together, what with flashbacks of dead antique dealer, Emily getting touchy with her husband and Duncan laughing too hard at Emily’s jokes. Finally, she gives up and goes to bed. After a painfully extended moment of repulsive sexual tension, Duncan slimes away from Emily and goes to Jessica…then tells her that maybe, probably, she should go back to the hospital. WOW. That was fast. So…48 hours and one redhead later and it’s, “I’m afraid this isn’t working out. But hey–good luck, and I really mean that.”
(When my Baby Boy was a kid, he thought the bizarre, squawk-y way Jessica yells, “LEAVE ME” was so hilarious that he would rewind the scene again…and again…and again…) Of course, telling Duncan “leave me” at this point translates to “Kindly fuck Emily behind my back”. Girl, have him. And no goddamn take backs, neither.
But that brings up something that bothers me–if she’s a vampire, how can she have sex? Or eat, drink, walk blithely into the sunlight? And why does that gang of old men all have cuts instead of the usual fang wounds? Technically, this would rule out vampire, ghost or zombie. If she weren’t in a 100 year old portrait and played the fucking lute, I would suspect that she’s one of those silly pseudo-vampire goths. In life, Mariclaire Costello is none of these things, because not-so-fun fact: Hancock told her she had to actually kill the fucking mouse, no seriously. She hid in a car for hours until they gave up, and to this day (she’s 84) she doesn’t know if they used a fake mouse or if they actually killed it. Which is another reason for fuck you, John D. Hancock, because you probably did.
Either way, poor mole-mouse has been murdered and now Jessica is a twitchy, trembling mess…and can’t convince others that she didn’t do it. Crazy…strike three. Woody wanders off to gas the stratosphere, Duncan goes who-cares-where and Jessica hides out in the attic where she FINALLY notices fucking Emily’s doppelgänger is in that portrait they strangely didn’t sell…just in time for Emily to come creep up on her like a sneaky ass vampire. In a series of twitches, trembles, clicks and whistles, Jessica remarks on the resemblance. Emily agrees “well, I’ll be. So anyway, swim?” NO. No, Jessica. Best case scenario—you trip balls that you are swimming with a hundred year old dead woman. Worst case—you are swimming with a hundred year old dead woman. Girl, just NO.
She does. It does not go well.
I’ve read a lot of Carmella comparisons about LSJTD and, wrong. For so many reasons, but in this scene in particular. There is nothing erotic about this scene and if there is a lesbian subtext at all, then it is too deeply sub to count. If you want to see a Carmella-esque movie, I recommend the beautiful and yet dreary Styria. Either way, this scene is creepy as hell…partly because of the eerie soundtrack/effects and partly because Mariclaire Costello just does creepy well. It’s such a simple scene–Emily pushes unsuspecting Jessica into the water, just-kidding tries to drown her, no-really tries to drown her (in an impressive gator death-roll, no less)…and then comes the big reveal: Emily was ABIGAIL BISHOP all along. Emily-Abigail, wearing the same wedding dress as in the portrait,emerges from the water, slowly walks up to Jessica (oh my god, RUN BITCH), who is clearly both terrified but so mesmerized by Abigail-Emily’s telepathic whispery voice, that she is seemingly paralyzed. Just as neck bite is imminent, Jessica snaps to and books it the way all women in horror should.
The scene sounds so simple–and it is–but it is still highly effective. No matter how many times I watch it, this bit still gives me the creeps…as does the following scene.
With no Duncan or Woody in sight, Jessica makes it to her room, blocks the door with every heavy piece of furniture available and spends the rest of the day hearing whispers–though it’s difficult to distinguish whether they’re Emily’s or Jessica’s whispers–telling her basically, hey, it’s not that bad, really. This is your home. You belong here. It only hurts the first time. Your other options equally suck blah blah blah. Again–it is so simple, but still so creepy. Which is exactly what separates LSJTD from other bad movies–there are still some genuinely scary, memorable, possibly even iconic moments that makes this B-movie shit glorious.
Jessica finally summons the courage to bolt out of the house and hitches a ride into a mostly filler scene, in which all members of the Gray Gang are now bandaged or visibly sliced, including the now resurrected antique dealer.
Meanwhile, after putting in an exhausting shift ensuring that every baby born within a five mile radius will have horns and at least one extra eye, Woody arrives. Emily convinces him that he might actually score and doesn’t even want him to wash off the poison, but–hey–if that’s her kink, he’s definitely down. Of course she bites him, and now I can’t stop thinking about what a great origin story this would be for a poisonous vampire comic. Excuse me, poisonous vampire graphic novel.
Jessica turns tail, runs until exhausted, collapses face-first in a field and passes out. By the time she awakens, it’s already dark and Duncan is calling. Since even a condescending cheating asshole is preferable to a gang of sliced-up old folks, she runs to him and falls into his arms. He holds her tightly and soothes her…which should have been her first clue that something was wrong.
Duncan tenderly walks Jessica upstairs to their bedroom, where she dons her Evangelical designer negligee and they begin to grotesquely, I mean, tepidly, I mean, gently make love. All is well until she touches something nasty on his neck and finds a particularly squidgy-looking vampire slice, which of course proves the bastard cheated on her with that trifling vampire, but still tries to whisper-coax herself back into blissful denial.
But Jessica’s internal whispery monologue is replaced by Emily’s whispery commentary, though she might as well just say it out loud, because she is suddenly right the fuck there, holding a great big knife and WHY. At the lake, she tried to bite Jessica. She did bite Woody…yet the entire population of 12 ancient mariners are bandaged up or visibly sliced–superficial slices, mind you, nothing even remotely suck-worthy–and now she’s crawling into a bed, ostensibly for a threesome, but really to slice into Jessica’s neck, which would make her a vampire HOW?
Details, John D. Hancock. The plot could’ve used some.
Whilst Jessica is inches away from an immortal superficial cut, the Gang of Gray have appeared in the bedroom, leering and approaching the bed…slightly reminiscent of The Sentinel, another Glorious Shit selection I’ll do eventually. But Jessica easily breaks Emily’s hold, which is another vampire characteristic Emily lacks–preternatural strength. Jessica makes it down the stairs, where the coffin-like cello case (/<FORESHADOWING>) is inexplicably blocking the entrance. Jessica pushes it aside and it pops open to reveal Superfluous Scarf Girl’s actual purpose: being superfluous victim #2…though I can’t tell if her throat has been cut or bitten. Either way, she’s dead-dead, as opposed to living dead.
Which leads to truly the most horrifying scene in the entire movie: Jessica running through a churning, billowing cloud of pesticide to warn Woody. Personally, I’d rather get sliced by Emily than become a walking carcinoma. Something to notice: when she begins running through the cloud it’s nighttime…but by the time she reaches dead Woody, it’s daybreak, because fuck continuity. Again, Woody is dead-dead, WHY. I know he skeeved her out, but it still doesn’t make sense why Emily chose to straight up murder these two, as opposed to cutting or whatever the hell it is she is doing to the other ones. And lacking preternatural strength, I’d also like to know how she managed to drag Woody from the house, lift him up onto the tractor seat, prop him up–oh never mind.
Jessica gives up on the whole orchard idea and tries to escape, but the ferryman has become sliced and rude, so he won’t take her. Another question: if these old guys are all vampires, then why don’t they just bite her or cut her or whatever the vampires in this movie do? I mean, if the worst they can do is slap damn hippies on the head and be aggressively rude, then they’re the most useless vampires I’ve ever seen.
Obviously, the ferryman had no reason to chase Jessica, but she runs to a rowboat anyway (Zohra Lampert must’ve been in hella good shape by end of shoot, what with all that running) to make it across to the other side and that is when I noticed just how short a distance it is…so why the fuck do they need a ferry anyway? You could practically dog paddle across; rowing would be a breeze. But a hand emerges from the water and…
Jessica is fucking done. She picks up this long wooden thing with a nasty-looking hook (sorry, I have no idea what the fuck that thing is) and absolutely beats the shit out of whatever it is trying to tip her boat over…
Well, these things happen. Besides, how could she kill him if he’s already…oh my god, fuck it. Besides, how hard can it be to replace a patronizing asshole husband? The world is infected with them. In the meantime, Jessica will just float in her extremely unrevealing nightie. Better that than live the most pointless eternal life ever.
Vampire things are on one shore; certain involuntary commitment on the other. If only they could’ve rolled credits with “Stuck in the Middle with You”, I could forgive everything else (and yes, music scholar…I know the song wasn’t even written until 1973).
And that’s pretty much it. Even after decades and god knows how many viewings, I still don’t know what the hell this is supposed to be about, what kind of entity Emily-Abigail was, the inanity of the dialogue and the alternately contrived yet nonsensical plot still makes me roll my eyes in exasperation. It is undeniably a piece of shit but it’s an exceptional piece of shit…and, taking all of these caveats into account, I highly recommend it.