directed by: William Fruet
starring: Lesleh Donaldson, Kay Hawtry, Barry Morse, Dean Garbett,
Harvey Atkin, Alf Humphries
(back of video blurb): choice dialogue:
...( maybe someone could help me with this- my Dutch isn't too good!)
A fairly daft, but enjoyable piece of cheesy hokum from William Fruet, the director of DEATH WEEKEND (1977); the bonkers giant snake on the loose yarn SPASMS (1983) and the semi-spoof dorm slasher KILLER PARTY (1986).
Sub-genre veteran Lesleh Donaldson plays Heather, a teenage girl who goes to spend the Summer with her Grandmother (Kay Hawtry), to help out at her newly opened tourist lodgings- a house which used to be a funeral parlour. The Grandmother, much to her displeasure, has been forced to open the doors of her home to strangers due to financial pressures caused by the disappearance of her mortician husband, who, "just vanished into thin air!". Pretty soon the rooms begin to fill up with tourists and people passing through town. Heather, when not working in the house, hooks up with local boy Rick (Dean Garbett), and it’s through him she begins to hear about the warped history of her Grandmother’s house. At first she poo-poos the tales of her drunken and violent Grandpa, and the reputation the place has- "Chalmers the embalmers!", but as she hears her Grandmother arguing with someone in the cellar and as guests start to disappear, she starts to believe all is not well- "...there is something wrong in that house. Something eeevil!" she mutters to Rick. With his help, and although "she was warned!", she endeavours to find answers in the dusty, and still intact, mortician’s rooms deep within the house- the rooms which lie beyond the cellar door...
Fruet’s film is a curiously restrained affair in-so-much as there is very little on screen violence for an out-and-out slasher movie (the only real exception being an attack with a bit of embalming equipment, but even that wouldn’t give Tom Savini any sleepless nights), and a relatively puny body-count to boot. Where the film isn’t so restrained, and thankfully so, is in the colourful characters which are scattered throughout- Hawtry, as the Grandmother, is so perky you half expect her to start a thigh slappin’ barn dance at any moment; and Harvey Atkin and Peggy Mahon excel as travelling business man (Mr Browning) and his ageing bit on the side (Florie), whose wayward white trash behaviour appals the seemingly apple pie Granny. And you can tell they aren’t long for this world when, watching slow handyman Billy (Stephen Miller) collect firewood, Florie lounges provocatively across a deck chair- admiring Billy’s big chopper, but when he begins to acknowledge her flirting she turns around and laughs in his face. Always a big no-no- to piss off someone with an axe in their hands! Naturally the other standout is Donaldson (who went on to star in HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981), (if it actually exists) GORY GRADUATION (1982) and CURTAINS (1983)),whose oddball beauty is a definite plus- as the inquisitive Nancy Drew character in bunches, who keeps delving into the secrets of the house.
It isn’t very difficult making a mortuary look creepy and Fruet pulls it off with minor aplomb- the dusty corridors lined with jars full of yellowish liquid and an abandoned hearse make for a suitably spooky, if terribly cliched, backdrop. Fruet can’t help but throw in a few more creaky old house clichés too- thunderstorms at midnight (check!), hidden doors (check!) and a psychotic black cat (check!). Actually, the cat that terrifies Donaldson throughout the film (it haunts her from the moment she gets off the bus) had me in stitches, not just because that mangy thing couldn’t really scare anyone, but because it looked like the spitting image (no pun intended) of my own beloved moggy- George Glass. Maybe she was allergic, because there was no real reason for her to be frightened- it looked like it just wanted a cuddle(!). And the cat seemed even less scary when I discovered, during the credits, that its real name was Mitten! Anyway, I digress- the creaking doors and flickering shadows provide the ideal stage for the Grand (well, actually petit) Guginol denouement when Donaldson is chased through the mortuary by the deranged, axe swinging killer. And it is here that the film admits its ...ahem... ‘homage’ to Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960), from the wildly swinging lightbulb to...well, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Unfortunately, just as the film builds up to an enjoyable and campily frenetic climax it blows it all with a complete dramatic damp squib of an ending- it’s one of those, you know the ones, where you exclaim to yourself, "Oh,.... is that it?".
All-in-all, Donaldson was as watchable as ever, there was some hokey fun to be had and I got a kick out of that cat, but CRIES IN THE NIGHT was ultimately pretty unsatisfying.
Finally, something else that really made me laugh, was a review for the movie on the IMDB written by, I presume, a funeral director. It goes like this- Bigpat of Syracuse, NY writes:
...Now, I have no argument with the fact that we will all suffer pain when we lose the one’s we love, but you do have to wonder how someone who hired a film called FUNERAL HOME (presumably- as the email address is in the US), and with it’s horror trash cover art could be so sanctimonious! Jeeez, some people...
BODYCOUNT 4 female:1 / male:3
1) Male dies after car is pushed off cliff into lake
2) Female (same as above)
3) Male beaten around the head with shovel
4) Male repeatedly stabbed in back with embalming needle