The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: HOMEBODIES (1974)
After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
Ah, old people. How we all love you. When we’re young, we cherish and love our grandmothers and grandfathers, they are second only to our parents. But as we get older, we love them for other reasons and tend to laugh at the expense of the elderly. Instead of sweet, lovable fonts of knowledge they become crazy and something to scream at while driving down the road.
If there is anything to take away from this week’s film HOMEBODIES, it’s not to underestimate the elderly.
A small neighborhood of apartment buildings in the city are being torn down to make way for new construction. Now all the residents are forced to vacate and find new homes. But these renters are not just anyone, in fact everyone on the block is way past their prime. The construction company says they have to go and what choice do they have but uproot and lose the home they’ve known for so long? Well one building of six senior citizens decide they have had enough bullying and decide to do something about it - by any means necessary. Soon accidents begin happening at one of the nearby construction sites and people begin dying. This crew of grey hairs have a lot more fight than everyone has given them credit for.
This is the kind of film we need more of in the world. I’m not saying that I’ve never made a snide comment at the expense of an older person, or stared daggers into the back of the white head barely over the steering wheel of the weaving, slow moving vehicle in front of me, but I like to see the old getting their payback. One of the more frightening things in life is the thought of growing old and becoming the punching bag of anyone younger. You’re slower, tired and a bit weaker than you’ve always been. Will there be much fight left? I’d like to think so and films like this give me hope. This spry old folks flick is pretty much one-of-a-kind and even came eleven years before the Wilford Brimley heavy COCOON. I don’t think there has ever been another film like it to date.
The cast is full of some wonderful actors and performances that really help to sell the story. The main six member cast of elderly actors is beyond cool and they do a damn fine job of having you feel for their dire situation. It would take forever to count the number of roles between them, a couple have around 200 credits (each) to their names, and many of them have roles dating back to the 30s! Miss Emily (Frances Fuller) is the crazy lone woman on the top floor who never leaves, while Mr. Sandy (William Hansen) fills his apartment with papers and books aiding in the writing of his and his late wife’s memoirs. Mr. Blakely (Peter Brocco) is a single blind man who is helped around by his friends including the building’s longtime super Mr. Loomis (Ian Wolfe) and his wife (Ruth McDevitt). But the real ringleader of the group is Mattie (Paula Trueman). This small woman is not as frail as she appears and orchestrates many of the groups most devious acts and even attacks some herself. This is when she’s not sitting around eating prunes, of course.
One thing this film does well is bring a high creep factor to the table. Soon after the first death of a construction worker, around eight minutes in, Mattie is talking to Emily about how wonderful the quiet is now that the workers have stopped. There is a look on her face that just sends shivers up your back and this is all before you know for certain there’s something weird going on in this building and with Mattie in particular. Many other scenes involve the old slowly gathering around people and being carted off to a new cold, sterile looking retirement/nursing home after leaving their comfortable, warm old home. But one of the creepiest things in the film has to be the Loomis’ referring to each other as “mother” and “father”. I can’t be the only one who thinks this is a weird thing. I wonder if this practice will soon die out or maybe some rural families will keep it alive. I’m sure they will, just to annoy me.
There is not much in the way of blood or gore in HOMEBODIES but there are some pretty interesting death scenes, like the electrocuting elevator, but there is one demise in particular which elevates this movie beyond what you may already be enjoying. The group from the lone holding out tenement building get their hands on the bigwig behind the construction, Mr. Crawford, and take him captive in a wheelchair up to a high level of his nearby new building. He is wheeled close to the edge of the floor and you just know he’s about to take a dive - but that’s not what these seniors have in mind. Instead they put him in a box built and reinforced for cement the next day and they fill it a little early as he struggles to get his bound and gagged self free. It’s quite frightening and really shows how dark these people are willing to go to keep their home.
Speaking of Crawford and his job site management, I have a few bones to pick with the man. You know, if he wasn’t taking a cement bath. What the hell kind of place is he running? After having four people die on the site you not only continue on as if nothing happened but you take all the workers up a few floors and throw them a party with free alcohol? Yeah, just what everyone there needs, impaired judgement. Then there’s the crack security team he’s hired. They do not seem to hear anything that goes on in that place and when they finally do they let the trespassers loose! They see Mattie trying to strangle one of the other elderly friends with their own eyes and then hear them talking about killing others but they just shoo them off the property. I know they’re old and sweet looking but... damn.
This film is not completely serious by any means and actually has some pretty humorous moments. The whole thing starts off with a chipper, upbeat song that makes it seem like you are in for a fun filled romp with Mattie as she pulls her cart through the neighborhood. It’s kind of funny that the craziest woman of the bunch is also the source of most of the laughs. Later she has to get rid of a car so she goes on a hilarious ride, her first behind the wheel in some 40 years. She’s lucky there were not any cops around because she broke a lot of laws. Not to mention at the climax of the film a foot chase leads to none other than a paddle boat chase! Pretty sure this is the only film with a serious paddle boat chase. And yes, it’s as awesome as you think.
This was picked by my Dallas cohort in HMN madness, ReelDistraction, and he is a huge fan of this film. With good reason, of course! He has a website called ReelDistraction.com where he will do film write-ups, read his awesome account of HOMEBODIES from a few years ago RIGHT HERE, but he also specialized in old film ads from newspapers and he found a whopper of one for this film. Talk about an ad! That above graphic has three great gimmicks involved. Not only does it ask where your grandmother is, in a zany tagline, but if you do know and bring her along she will get in free. On top of that everyone gets a free prune! Score!
This film has a mix of comedy and creepy that is hard to decipher at times. Depending on the person you will find it more on the funny or dark side. It’s just great to have a movie like this with an interesting story that has yet to be copied and do it so well. I really hope someone will someday give this film a DVD release with an improved transfer and maybe a commentary track or some behind-the-scenes stuff. Although the director is already 80 so they better hurry. In the meantime someone needs to make another film in this vein. Maybe even more graphic, but that’s just the gorehound in me. It’s fun and something great for anyone who never wants to see their grandparents/parents/selves pushed around in old age.
Until next week - don’t fuck with old folks!
Body Count: 9
Best Death: Crawford’s Cement Bath
Time to First Prune: 2:33
Number of Traffic Violations Made by Mattie: 9 (at the least)
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-5/25/11: THE SPIDER LABYRINTH (1988)
-6/1/11: AEROBICIDE (1987) aka KILLER WORKOUT
-6/8/11: SYNGENOR (1990)
-6/15/11: LA CASA 5 (1990) aka BEYOND DARKNESS
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