Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Evictors (1979)

Sadly one of the last of the great American International pictures, The Evictors was a later effort from carny filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, following the drive-in success of his The Town That Dreaded Sundown and The Legend of Boggy Creek.  We open fast and furiously with an awesome stop-start, sepia-toned gunfight flashback that unfolds between credits.  In 1928, a banker from Shreveport tries to foreclose on the residents of a northern Louisiana house.  They retort with sneering and bullets.  This is all allegedly "based on a true story".

Then it's 1945 and a new couple is moving into the house.  They are Vic Morrow and Suspiria's Jessica Harper, because Charles B. Pierce had enough clout to attract real stars at this point.  In a technique that Pierce perfected with Boggy Creek, our story gets fleshed out with flashbacks to past murders.  It seems the house has been the site of several deaths and is haunted by a hulking guy in a Billy Jack hat.  Whether this is a literal or figurative haunting, time will tell.

Pierce flipped genres all the time, so it's not too surprising that his resume would include a crime/thriller.  But the Pierce hallmarks are all present—the Ark.-La.-Tex. setting, the shaky acting from probable locals, the establishing shots of swamps.  What's notably different is that The Evictors often looks beautiful.  From a technical standpoint, in pure terms of lighting and camerawork and arrangement of objects, this is probably the best Pierce film.

But hell's teeth, it's so boring!  The Evictors really takes its time getting to any point and the shocks of Boggy Creek and Sundown are here dulled into a slow languor.  We get lengthy shots of Jessica Harper walking several miles to town in high heels, and Vic Morrow having discussions with co-workers at the cotton gin.  I'm just speculating, but it's definitely possible that the film was padded to get to a 90+-minute running time.  Even with more stringent editing, though, I think it would be tough to turn this into a nail-biter.  Its loping pace is a good mirror for the real-life boredom of the South.

As momentarily fun as it is to see Suzy Bannion talking about rasslin' dogs with the star of L'Ultimo Squalo, this is ultimately a pretty skippable piece of work. 


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