When Pennsylvania Dutch go bad.
After Jim Schmidt (Douglas Barr) dies in a tractor accident – it rolls over him even though he told his wife, Martha (Maren Jensen), that he’d removed the wheels – things get weird. Since Jim was born into a religious culture called the ‘Hittites’ that are like a jerkoff branch of the Amish, they keep annoying his widow for unknown reasons. There’s a lot of talk about young Faith Stohler (Lisa Hartman) being the messenger of the incubus, or maybe it’s someone else, or maybe not….
After Jim’s death, two of Martha’s friends, Lana Marcus (Sharon Stone) and Vicky Anderson (Susan Buckner) come to see her and help her through her pain. She refuses to leave, especially after more weird things start happening, so they, like good friends, stick around too. They don’t help too much since Vicky decides to start fooling around with John Schmidt (Jeff East), the Hittite brother of Jim Schmidt and the other son of Isaiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine), the Hittite elder who seems to like caning children more than a British schoolmaster. Needless to say, Isaiah isn’t too happy that he might lose another son to the regular world, nor is John’s fiancée, Melissa (Colleen Riley) who throws a hissy fit. As usual for this sort of film, John and his father come to blows and John is kicked out of the society. There’s also the weird relationship between strange girl Faith and her mother Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton). Before much of that, there’s the incident in which man-child William Gluntz (Michael Berryman) gets killed in the ‘forbidden barn’ of the ‘evil’ Martha which upsets the Hittites quite a bit. Yeah, there’s a lot of family drama here.
This film gets a lot of mileage out of the whole creepy religious people thing. Isaiah Schmidt is a mean mother, but their beliefs really aren’t too far out there. A lot of religions have very strict rules, especially those that fall under the Anabaptist umbrella: including Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites. Their principal beliefs obvious to outsiders are their pacifism and separation from worldly affairs based on tightly-knit communities; order is sometimes enforced through shunning or otherwise avoiding the individual who broke the rules of the community, which something to be feared by those whose whole world is the community. The problem with this film is that there is a lot of bad mythology at work. The Hittites were a bronze-age culture that was on the forefront of technology and had developed ironworking – though, to be fair, they only used it for jewelry – in addition to their amazing work on chariots which made them the preeminent military force of their day. Naming a group of pacifists who eschew modern technology after the Hittites was a bad idea. Also strange is the use of an ‘incubus’ to refer to a female demon, incubi are traditionally male. The last bit of weirdness is the use of hex signs on Hittite barns, something that is not done by the Amish or others as such decorations are considered immodest.
The shock set-pieces of this film are few and relatively mild, the film draws most of its horror from a sense of palpable dread as the Hittites glare from their buggies and something stalks through the night; some of that dread could come from the fact that this is an evil alternate universe where TV movies like Summer of Fear are played in theaters or Hittites learn to drive as Rod Stewart blares from the radio. Some of the shocks include the death by John Deere tractor that shouldn’t have wheels but somehow does, the snake in the bathtub – where the actress is wearing a bathing suit but the body double isn’t – that requires fire-poker correction, the couple killed in the car and the spider dropped into Lana’s mouth dream sequence. Incidentally, that last bit upset actress Sharon Stone so much that she required the spider have its fangs removed before she’d do the scene – as if any actress hasn’t had worse things in her mouth – which had the unintended benefit of upsetting PETA. Still, the creepiest scene before the finale is the murder of avocado-head William while he watches Maren Jensen‘s body double undress; seeing him finger the knife scabbard as someone sticks the missing knife into his special back just isn’t right.
Despite being released to theaters, this film has a definite TV movie feel, which isn’t too surprising since some of the writers and producers had previously worked with Craven on Summer of Fear. There’s a certain cheapness to the effects, a certain predictability to the events, and a particular type of acting that screams “Hi! I was made for the television.” Probably the place where it’s most noticeable is in the score by James Horner, a composer – much like Danny Elfman – who seems to have one score he reuses over and over as he needs; this one sounds most like Humanoids from the Deep. Other than his fine score for 48 Hours, when I hear a James Horner score I get an intense sensation of deja vu. Still though, if this film had been released as a TV movie, it would have been a good choice, its creepiness without being explicit does help.
The finale is pretty odd. The revelation that little Faith is a hermaphrodite is random and seems out of place to say the least. Maybe it was tossed in because people are oddly afraid of the intersexed, but I have no idea, and, with three writers, maybe none of them did either. That Faith was able to kill off a number of people and then show up only to be killed by Melissa the Hittite makes even less sense, I guess we’re supposed to infer that Melissa walked the miles and miles from her home to Martha’s farm, barefoot and in her jammies? What the incubus has to do with anything and why it likes dual-organed vessels is unclear, though the scene of it bursting through the floor to snatch Martha shouldn’t surprise anyone as it’s so blatantly telegraphed that she probably had to tip the boy who brought the plot twist to her. Maybe the dialog will help? “She’s so dumb! She couldn’t pour piss from a boot if the instructions was printed on the heel.” Nope.