When common sense isn’t one of your neighbors.
When Julia Trent’s (Lee Purcell) parents are killed in an accident, she comes to live with her aunt Leslie Bryant (Carol Lawrence) and uncle Tom (Jeremy Slate). At first daughter Rachel (Linda Blair) accepts Julia as a new friend while her older brother Peter (Jeff East) lusts after Julia and her younger brother Bobby (James Jarnigan) doesn’t seem to notice. When Rachel’s horse hates Julia and steals Rachel’s boyfriend Mike Gallagher (Jeff McCracken) and her best friend Carolyn Baker (Fran Drescher), Rachel starts to suspect that her cousin is more than just a bitch….
Ultimately, this is a film about an evil witch who joins up with a family to wreck some destruction for some inadequately explored reason. As is common in the “evil person moves in” genre, only Rachel sees that Julia is less than completely nice, everyone else is completely on Julia’s side. It seems that Julia exists purely to cause as much harm as possible, and she uses old-school ritual sympathetic magic for her purposes. This is one of the films that would drive the fundies nuts if it was better known as it shows the talismans – shouldn’t that really be “talismen?” – that work perfectly well to do evil in a fantasy world. The odd thing about the whole series of events is that, for some reason, Rachel is not affected by Julia’s spell of innocence and / or seduction. Why would a witch, capable of surviving a fiery car crash, be impotent in the face of a teenager? If there’s one place I’d never be impotent … never mind.
Indeed, the real horror of this film is the idea of two different girls getting along. In my experience, young women are as close to legitimate evil as average people are likely to see. They seem to take an almost obscene delight in destroying one another until they grow out of their evil – actually they just learn to be more subtle – for fun and profit. This sort of film is really the ultimate nightmare for a privileged teenage girl, that someone would come into your life that would make everyone else abandon you while no one cares that said person sucks. Or maybe the boys like her because she sucks, either way. Uncle Tom sure seems to have a special affection for young Julia, despite her bad perm, but all women in the late 70s early 80s sported hair that would have looked ridiculous in blaxploitation.
As always present in possession / witchcraft films that need filler, there is a handy occult expert in the form of Professor Jarvis (Macdonald Carey). This poor man is used ruthlessly as a plot point. First he refuses to be as helpful as Rachel needs him to be – he’s also pretty clueless as when she starts asking him technical questions about witchcraft he seems to have no interest – and then Rachel is stupid enough to use his expertise to taunt Julia. His subsequent collapse and hospitalization should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen a movie. When he comes to, he serves once again as handy exposition man so that he can impart the wisdom that witches don’t appear in photographs, something that will have been well-researched during the hight of the witch-hunt era … yeah.
The problem with horror movies that are made for television is that they have to fall within what standards and practices will allow. In this film the horror events are mostly flashbacks to car accidents and the euthanasia of a horse. Not really the sort of thing that’s going to horrify anyone more than the evening news. The plot, however, is ideal for a TV movie as it deals with possession and witchcraft, neither of which requires gore or anything else that would be considered objectionable. There are some low-budget special effects like exploding doors and a car chase that’s nothing special, but that’s about it. Even the final scene plays out exactly as expected and the final shocking scene isn’t.
That final bit serves to negate the rest of the film. Since we’re only shown Julia’s modus operandi, but her motivation or ultimate goal is never shared, Julia becomes a cardboard villain. When will writers learn that simply having their evil witch tell us why she’s doing what she’s doing isn’t the worst idea ever? Even Professor Jarvis could have been used for the purpose of filling in the blanks, because as it stands it looks as though Julia’s doing her thing simply to be mean. That’s a piss-poor excuse for a villain and, even more shamefully, could easily have been a part of the script without adding anything else for the network censor to get all worked up about.
Not very good at all.
Features John Steadman – Fred from The Hills Have Eyes – as a veterinarian.