cast: Lori Saunders, Bob Ginnaven, Dean Jagger, Seymour Treitman, and Lou Hoffman
producer and director: Harry Thomason
88 minutes (PG) 1973
Retroflicks NTSC DVD-R Region 0 retail
reviewed by Donald Morefield
Billed as Love Story meets Psycho, this standard B-movie has sufficient visual quirks and an interesting, if sometimes very OTT, sound design that elevates it far above the usual 1970s’ mystery-thriller fodder.
Visions Of Evil (aka: So Sad About Gloria) stars former US TV actress Lori Saunders as wealthy heiress Gloria Wellman, just released from a mental hospital into the care of her Uncle Rick (screen veteran Dean Jagger). At the Wellman family’s Arkansas mansion, 29-year-old Gloria struggles to find happiness until she meets eccentric novelist, Chris (Bob Ginnaven). The proverbial whirlwind romance ensues (picnic, boating, horse-riding, kiting, zoo trip; the works… Does Tolkien fanboy Chris know how to spoil a lady?), and the newlyweds move into a supposedly haunted house, vacant ever since a horrifying, and still unsolved, murder claimed the previous owner. After one dark and stormy night’s power outage, Gloria finds the house’s atmosphere increasingly disturbing. She keeps hearing a music box tune playing and repeatedly suffers from eerie visions of a theatrically attired Death, who takes his shiny two-bladed axe to the chains and woodwork of a coffin-shaped crate on a railway station platform.
“Why are you always looking at me, and sneaking around?”
When hubby goes away to New York on business, Gloria’s paranoia takes a firm grip, prompted by the nocturnal visits of incompetent estate agent and belligerent local handyman Ballinger (Seymour Treitman), her sanity begins to unravel, once again, and the whole “diabolical, sadistic” conspiracy to steal her personal fortune is eventually revealed. Perhaps it’s less important that Visions Of Evil is a haunted house movie (with a mad axe man!), predating Stephen King’s The Shining, and rather more to the point that Harry Thomason’s compelling subgenre offering is a contemporised variation (here, our unsuspecting heroine is tragically reduced to catatonia and sent back to the sanatorium), of that peculiarly old fashioned sort of Hitchcockian melodrama – about a fragile woman in peril – which harks all the way back to Gaslight (1939), if not further.
Despite generally substandard picture quality (understandable, considering the probable source, and age, of this material), the agreeably cheesy entertainment value of Visions Of Evil is boosted by its hilariously overwhelming music score, which unerringly cranks into heightened suspense mode during the night stalking scenes, yet becomes surprisingly effective during the violent and quite bloody axe-attacks (honestly, I doubt this seemingly un-rated film would actually get a PG certificate, as Retroflicks’ DVD-R edition suggests). If you’re interested in stocking-masked criminal intent, and low-key hysteria is your favourite choice of slasher movie thrills, there are plenty of amusing and chilling moments here.