Sunday, 18 March 2012

Till Death

1974, US, Directed by Walter Stocker
Colour, Running Time: 71 minutes
Review Source: VHS, PAL, VideoForm; Video: 1.33:1, Audio: Mono

Wet rag Paul has dreams of driving along at night and spotting a woman in white near the roadside. Parking up to catch up with her he’s led to a tomb where he finds what may have been the woman lying in an open coffin, at which point the rotting corpse awakens to grab him. Back in reality Paul is getting married to a similarly soppy woman and the two of them set off in his car for a horny honeymoon, the comprising activities of which would make conventional sex addicts everywhere transform to dark matter in an instant. After hours of driving the dazed man almost hits a truck, swaying off the road in a horrific crash. While he sustains minimal injuries his new wife is killed instantly. Weeks or months of rehabilitation pass before Paul manages to build the strength of mind not only to leave the hospital but to visit his wife’s burial place. Arriving at the lonely cemetery he’s told by the caretaker that they close up in thirty six minutes so he should be out of the crypt by then, at which point the grief-stricken man heads down into the deathly tomb to mourn. Upon believing that he can hear a woman - his wife? - crying he collapses and knocks himself unconscious. The caretakers arrive some time later and, thinking he’s left the place to desertion, they lock up the crypt for the night before heading off home. When Paul awakens it’s a stormy night and he realises he’s stuck down there, but perhaps not alone! Certain that he can hear his wife moaning from behind the stone block between them, he grabs a pick axe and smashes it open where his wife appears to be alive…

A highly obscure, super-low-budget American film shot in the early seventies, this is something built out of modest film-making skills and ambitions that don’t step too far outside of the available finances. Because of the crew’s lack of experience there is a certain naivety about the production whereby conventions are inadvertently lost in the attempt to construct their own little chiller, for example the odd manner in which the opening credits suddenly appear around ten minutes into the film (against the soundtrack of a depressing country tune). The many scenes that take place early on in Paul’s car are merely filmed against a black background with fog drifting across the shot - the film itself probably cost more to process than paying for what’s actually captured by the camera. Mundane thespian abilities aside, once Paul gets himself locked in the strange little crypt he spends the rest of the film there - an unusual plot device, but one which builds a noticeable degree of creepiness as the storm outside kicks in and you realise that the main man really isn’t going anywhere for the duration of the night. An obvious ambiguity lies in the arrival of his ‘dead’ wife - is she a ghost, a reanimated corpse, or something inside his crazy brain? He did after all knock himself unconscious and has also been through a life-altering trauma, both of which could explain hallucination or unhinged thinking. Explanations are sensibly kept to a minimum, providing the story with a level of mystery that keeps it riding along in the manner of a Twilight Zone episode. Despite the clear limitations of the resources available at the time, Stocker managed to create a moody piece that, had he persevered, almost could have dragged him out of the first-time director pit (he never directed another film).

So obscure is this that I’m certain it’s never even received a legitimate DVD release anywhere. The review was taken from a pre-certificate videotape released in Britain some time around the early eighties and, image-wise, is a mass of speckles and scratches throughout, this somehow adding to its curiosity value. If this ever makes it to High Definition I’ll eat my hat, and my missus’ bra too (actually that last bit sounds quite appealing…).

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