Thoughts on “The Hearse”

One of the things that the late 70s and very early 80s horror movies did was realize that they weren’t really going to be able to pull off, with the special effects at the time, really scary supernatural horror.  Attempts to show the monsters were going to look cheesy, but if they weren’t able to do that then it was going to be difficult to really make people afraid of a monster.  So they had to do things differently.  Some of them went the slasher route and decided that killing people in horrible and gory ways would have to suffice, an attitude that has carried on to this day.  But some of them, like “The Changeling”, decided that the way to go was to make the horror personal.  Instead of scaring us by showing us monsters to scare us, they decided instead to let us get to know the main characters and so have us be afraid not of the horrors, but instead for the main characters as they faced strange occurrences.  This, then, could allow them to not even have to show the horrors, as once we trusted and liked the characters we would take them at their word — or, rather, their reaction — when they saw what was happening and were scared by it.

“The Hearse” is a movie in that vein.  It follows a young woman who after a bad divorce decides to go away for the summer to her aunt’s home that she inherited to try to recover from it all.  Even as she arrives, she has a run-in with a strange hearse, and it is made clear that the big power brokers of the town really wanted her aunt’s house for themselves, so she doesn’t really get a friendly reception (in fact, no one except the son of the hardware store owner, even wants to help her fix the place up).  But she meets a man who starts trying to romance her, and she finds a journal of her aunt’s suggesting that she herself had a paramour.  As the movie progresses, we find that there are evil forces involved here, leading to perhaps a ritual that would allow her to live forever, but as the bride of the Devil himself.

And all of that roughly works.  The main character is nice, pretty and sympathetic, and while we may not be able to relate to her specific circumstances it’s clear that she’s terribly affected by what has happened and would really like to take the time to recover.  Following her through the story as she discovers what’s going on and people around her are killed does work well to make us feel empathetic towards her and want to see her escape this with her life and sanity intact.  So for most of the movie, the plan is working:  we care about her and are scared for her.

And then the ending kills all of that.

She has another run-in with the hearse, and then with her purported beau.  He gets killed.  The movie then focuses on the house where I guess he lived and on a woman standing in the window, who we’ve seen before but who the movie never focuses on.  And then … the movie ends.  We don’t find out if she found a new strength of will and purpose through the events, or if they broke her entirely.  We don’t even find out if she went back to where she used to live or decided to stay here.  All we have at the end is a vague hint that the horror story isn’t over, and her being cut out of the ending pretty much entirely.

This would probably be a disappointing ending for any horror movie.  But it’s much worse here.  The movie spent so much time and so much focus on her that cutting her out at the end left a bitter taste in my mouth.  As I said above, I was scared for her, and the main point of interest in the movie was her.  For the movie to leave her issues unresolved at the end, then, left the movie feeling incomplete.  And this is only made worse by the fact that the horror story itself isn’t all that interesting.  So at the end the movie makes a sharp turn away from what made it work towards the thing that it didn’t spend much time on and wasn’t all that interesting.  That … was not a good move.

Up until the ending, this was a movie that I could have watched again.  But the ending left such a bitter taste in my mouth that I have no interest in watching it again.  It boggles my mind that they could have spent so much time focusing on the main character only to completely ditch her at the end.


One Response to “Thoughts on “The Hearse””

  1. Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside: Inside the Closet” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] that it keeps doing this.  This sort of ambiguity about the sympathetic protagonist is what ruined “The Hearse” for me.  I don’t mind a tragic ending for such a heroine, but I really, really want to know […]

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