Unwanted Tenants – Rediscovering ‘The Evictors’ (US 1979 – 92 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - April 13, 2015
Unwanted Tenants – Rediscovering ‘The Evictors’ (US 1979 – 92 mins)

A diverting little sleeper supposedly based on a true incident, ‘The Evictors’ is a moody rural thriller that perfectly captures the era and builds to an exciting climax (or two).

Louisiana 1942. Soon after moving into an old rented property with a dodgy history, Ruth and Ben Watkins (Jessica Harper and Michael Parks) receive a mysterious hand-written note saying “I want you to leave”. When they learn that all the previous occupants have met with mysterious deaths, Ruth becomes convinced that they’ll be next, especially after seeing a strange figure at the window one night.

Although ‘The Evictors’ is leisurely paced, it did have some wonderfully eerie moments, including the first time Ruth sees the killer outside the window, and the later one where she realizes that the he’s inside the house waiting for her.

The film was bolstered somewhat by the talented cult leads who worked well together here. Pretty Jessica Harper is always watchable and easily carries the movie as the terrified young housewife. Harper is best remembered for her lead role in Dario Argento’s stunning mystery ‘Suspiria’ (’77) and would have a good role the following year in the Woody Allen dramedy ‘Stardust Memories’ (’80). The busy and reliable Michael Parks is an under-rated actor who always gives solid support, later working with Quentin Tarantino on his ‘Kill Bill’ movies and ‘Django Unchained’ (2012). Vic Morrow was perfect as a shifty looking realtor, though why he would go 20 years with the same pair of broken glasses is baffling. Still, it did provide the ending with another (if unnecessary) twist. Sixties bombshell Sue Ane Langdon has a strong role, and was almost unrecognisable as a wheelchair-bound neighbour who may know more than she’s letting on.

Some of the various characters southern drawl was hard to understand at times, but I suppose it added to the authenticity of the picture’s locale. The sepia-toned flashback scenes were well shot and helped to tie up the backstory in the movies climax. I’m not too sure about the very end which sees a strange change of gear for Harper’s character, though perhaps she is now possessed by this tragedy-laden house. There’s also a nice bit of narration at the end which notches up the creep factor and winds-up the story nicely.

‘The Evictors’ was lovingly shot with authentic period detail by independent filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, who often showed considerable talent behind the lens. Pierce also directed the similar cult movie ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ (’76), although I actually prefer this movie, as I thought ‘Sundown’ was injected with some needless comedic moments which ruined for me the genuinely creepy atmosphere of the often compelling story. The rural scenery and photography by Chuck Bryant was excellent, especially in the early scenes which were quite stunning, showing sunsets and shadows in a glorious glow. The melodic soundtrack by frequent collaborator Jaime Mendoza-Nava also deserves a mention, and works well in the early scenes against the beautiful scenery.

While ‘The Evictors’ is flawed and sloppy in places, overall it’s a very good picture, and certainly worthy of discovery for obscure movie completists.

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