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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Superstition (1982) review


James Houghton (Reverend David Thompson), Albert Salmi (Inspector Sturgess), Lynn Carlin (Melinda), Larry Pennell (George Leahy), Jacquelyn Hyde (Elvira Sharack), Billy Jacoby (Justin Leahy)

Directed by James Roberson

***WARNING! This review contains several pics of gruesome violence***

"They have doomed us all took that from the pond...a compassionate priest would not purify her with fire. The ritual was not completed. As long as that was in the pond, she could only move about at night. Now she returns in the early hours of the dawn...unless you repeat the ritual...with fire...She will seek you out. You must understand!"

Elandra Sharack, a witch executed by drowning in 1692 returns to kill anyone who enters the old Sharack house or its grounds. When a series of gruesome deaths occur, believed to be the work of a cult, a young priest moves in to help repair the spooky old house for use as a rental property for the church. An old woman and her handicapped son hold the key to the legend of the witch and what lies beneath nearby Black Pond, the site of the demonic necromancer's burial place.

This gory little obscure gem contains elements of numerous 'Devil' movies from the 70's such as THE OMEN (1976), THE EVIL (1978) and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). The seemingly "accidental" deaths such as a bloody casualty by runaway circular saw blade recalls similar deaths in the classic OMEN films. The removal of a sacred cross from the bottom of Black Pond which unleashes the vengeful witch during the daytime hours recalls a similar story conceit in the little seen THE EVIL (1978) wherein the Devil himself is released after a cross is removed from a basement cellar door. And the background story of another family that previously inhabitated the house with violent consequences is straight out of the box office hit, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979).

For a low budget movie, the special effects and music are quite good. There's even a lengthy flashback sequence when the priest goes to a church archive to learn about the history of the house which shows the execution of the witch some 300 years prior. This scene is excellent and very well acted. It recalls similar scenes in such Gothic classics as BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) among them.

Even if the rest of the film was no good, this one sequence is well worth the rental. The witch becomes possessed, speaks in a demonic tone and her face contorts and bubbles laughing maniacally as she curses anyone who trespasses on the grounds of her house. When she's put into the lake tied to a gigantic wooden post, a nearby church is razed.

The special effects are plentiful and judiciously gruesome. There's the aforementioned saw blade that enters a mans chest and rips its way out his back, a victim is nailed to the floor with a huge spike, a man is crushed to death in a wine press, a head explodes inside a microwave, a victim is cut in half trying to escape through a window and an exploding mirror sends shards of glass into a persons face are among the nastiness found herein. Also, there's the presence of the witch herself just appearing out of nowhere grabbing victims with her reptilian hands and dragging them into the darkness to their doom.

The ambitious effects are the work of several individuals--Steve LaPorte, Kelly McGowan, David Miller and William Munns. While the second and fourth artist only did a scant few films, the other two went on to prolific careers. Such pictures as THE BEASTMASTER (1982), SWAMP THING (1982), THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), DREAMSCAPE (1984), NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986) and TERMINATOR 2 (1992) among them. The producers later went on to handle the RAMBO films, TOTAL RECALL and TERMINATOR 2.

The score is also very good and adds to several suspenseful sequences such as the scene where Albert Salmi remains in a hidden room found in the basement of the house. He finds dead bodies then the shadow of something ominous is seen in the hallway. The score has a European feel to it and would be just as at home in an Italian horror picture as it is here. During the last 15 minutes the film goes to Hell as the cruel witch goes about eliminating everyone in the house. The film is also littered with 'jump' moments a la FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). The music gets quiet then a sharp chord heralds a false scare just moments before the real shock takes place.

About the only real negative (and it's not much of a negative) towards the film is the appearance of a mysterious little girl dressed in white named Mary. It's revealed during the final moments who she is, but her appearances are few and far between and little is done with the character. When you see her at the end, you almost forget the character was even in the movie. Speaking of the ending, if you're familiar with a plethora of 'Devil' cinema, you can probably guess how this one will end up as well.

Albert Salmi is the most recognizable actor in the film as he appeared in dozens of television shows such as the original TWILIGHT ZONE and numerous cop and western shows. Some of his movies include EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) and DRAGONSLAYER (1981). Billy Jacoby is another very recognizable face especially if you remember a lot of tv programs from the 1980's. He was also in THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and CUJO (1983).

Apparently, Heather Locklear was originally part of the film during the start of the production, but her scenes were cut from the finished movie. When SUPERSTITION made its way to video in the late 80's, it was a somewhat dark print, but this was intentional on the part of the DP. However, when the film was released to disc a few years ago courtesy of Anchor Bay, they brightened all the dark scenes much to the chagrin of the original cinematographer. Over half the film was completed in a week before the production was shut down only resuming six weeks later.

SUPERSTITION (1982) is a little known, yet entertaining horror movie from the early 80's. Even now that it's gotten its long deserved DVD release from Anchor Bay, it still hasn't garnered the attention it truly deserves. I first saw the film during its initial VHS release and was fascinated by it then and even more so now considering its lingering unknown status as one of the better unsung horror movies of the last few decades. With its loyal, yet small fanbase, hopefully more people will see the film and enjoy it for its creative energy on a small budget during a time that will, in all likelihood, never happen again.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD


Jocke Andersson said...

When I was 11 or 12, a friend an I managed to persuade his mom to rent Superstition on vhs for us(a slightly cut version as well). Halfway through I was so scared I made up some bogus excuse that I had to go home... but I came crawling back the next day because I hade to finish watching it. It all ended with me not being able to sleep, and I dragged my matress to my parents bedroom and slept on their floor for at least a week. I have not been so scared after a movie ever.. and somehow I miss that feeling. :)

venoms5 said...

I had a similar experience after watching a double feature of both ZOMBIE and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET for the first time back in 1985. I refused to lie down and sat up in the middle of the bed the entire night. And ZOMBIE still manages to give me chills during certain scenes as does the original HALLOWEEN.

Thanks for commenting, Jocke Andersson and sharing your story.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Excellent review and I am so happy to see one up for Superstition, made my morning!! I just ordered it on Sunday of last week, and I am hoping to rewatch it and get a review up within the week. I was blown away by this one, not because it is great filmmaking, but because of the sweet special FX and the fact that I had never EVER heard of it prior to dow-- renting it. I will do my part to help expand the viewership as well, an overlooked 80s classic for sure.

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Carl for your comments and stopping by. You're right, it is an over looked gem. I actually don't mind the brightened up picture quality and the print is beautiful. It's definitely worth the purchase.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Just rewatched and although I liked it better on the first watch through, I can still appreciate the awesome gore! The final scene still offers the best atmosphere and FX, and I'll stand behind the flick even if it isnt the most original or masterfully made film

Lost River Drive-In said...

These are the types of releases that made the pre-Starz owned Anchor Bay the go-to source of horror collectors. It's a damn shame that they were bought out. Ever since then, the title base has shrunk.

venoms5 said...

Anchor Bay got off to a rocky start, but eventually became a mostly reliable label. They had a ton of movies on their release slate before they were taken over. Now it seems anything horror related is either newer films or just product they already released several times over.

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