Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by: Henry Farrell (screenplay) and Barbara Michaels (novel)
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Egan, Michael Anderson Jr. and Kitty Winn
Reviewed by: Josh G.
ďAmmie, come home!Ē
Based on the novel Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels, The House That Would Not Die is a TV movie from the glory days of the ĎABC Movie of the Weekí times. With star Barbara Stanwyck in the leading role as Ruth Bennett, and Mabel Albertson (Phyllis from the Bewitched television series) as a bit part neighbor, I suppose people expected viewers to pop in especially for this specific showing. Ever since the networks stopped exhibiting House That Would Not Die, it has been a tough bolt to pry out, with what I recall as no legitimate American video release (at least, not an easy one to pinpoint). No DVD either. It appears that those fortunate enough to see the TV chiller have to search out old home tapes from the 80s, or a bootlegging source from the net. As how I saw it, with a file floating around the web, itís great to see it resurface, especially with a fair video quality. But just because something has stayed hidden in the dark Ė does that mean it is any good?
Ruth Bennett and her niece Sara Dunning (Kitty Winn of Exorcist II: The Heretic) have moved into Ruthís recently passed away auntís home. Professor Pat McDougal (Richard Egan) and his student assistant Stan Whitman (Michael Anderson Jr.) are among the first to greet the two, setting the stage for a relationship between the two young ones and both Ruth and Pat. Patís mother (Albertson) and her eager friend Sylvia Wall (Doreen Lang) appear soon after. Talk of the house supposedly being haunted grants Sylviaís seance hosting abilities a new lease, but the night of the spiritual gathering ends in a few frights. From here on, Sara begins acting strangely, attacking her aunt and speaking as if she were another person. Patís actions also seem to take a toll on his appearance when he forces himself on Ruth and becomes enthralled with Sara. Then thereís that eerie male voice calling out in the dark, the wind blowing furiously inside the home and the cellar door swinging open or closed at will. When a bible with the names of the original owners at the time of the Revolutionary War shows up, Ruth, Pat, Stan and Sara attempt to uncover the answers to the past, while juggling the two possessions at the same time.
I truly appreciate the art of TV movies from the days of yesteryear. Some may call them bland, but I say they have a certain charm to them. While low in violence, they usually make up for it in suspense and style. Usually. Here, it keeps its ghost story tidy, but I canít help but feel the need for a little more. Perhaps the cheesy music and commercial thrill-hangers are diluting my judgment, but through all of the events and supernatural sketches, though I may have felt content with the easy viewing, I was not alarmed in any way. Not shocked. Not engaged. Not really that interested in the tale. I will say that the acting is above what most of the day was churning out, and man, that Doreen Lang can let out one hell of a scream. So suddenly, I found myself looking back on what I had watched. Was it all worth it?
Letís look at some of the higher points here in The House That Would Not Die. The use of wind. Now donít laugh. Whether it is present or absent affects a lot of what we see and think we see in the film. Most impressive is a fight scene ten minutes near the end with no music, but the loud howling of the wind, giving the house an almost demonic shift, as if it itself were egging on the battle. And of course when you mention that there is no wind, or some object is quite strong, the creaking open of a door becomes the suspense highlight of the feature. But Iím afraid thatís about it for the mood. The mystery is a fresh one for the time, but if youíve seen those like this youíve pretty much already sat through these 74 minutes. Kitty Winn tries to pass herself off as a drone; a girl possessed by another soul, but itís a sham when convincing the audience. And does the relationship between Pat and Ruth seem to blossom a bit too soon? Forgiving a man for aggressively trying to smog you after the first five minutes of meeting him is one thing, but hold on Barbara Stanwyck! Are you trying to tell us youíre that desperate for a man that youíll cling to the first guy who is within fifteen years of your age? ĎOh, if only the characters had a little more colorí. Yes, now youíre understanding. This is that type of casting.
Scavenging through piles of documents to find the answer to a mystery that isnít really that engrossing leaves you with scenes of filler nonsense, but luckily the production is saved from a leap off the falls with a neat purpose for the haunts. Itís not a waste of your minutes and you could do much worse. Fathom the existence of The House That Would Not Die and it is easier to enjoy. You have a pre-Exorcist possession script with real motivation to send goose bumps up the arms of a 70s TV watching family. Sadly, it walks away with a few dire wounds and fails to stand out from the hunk of its kind. People accept things too easily, with the final confrontation desiring more, but itís yet fiction of genuine taste. Next you just need to, in some manner, potentially find it, because I think I can advocate a Rent it!
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