Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Shrieking Mime

The moment I see Richard Lynch show up in a film, I know that it's time to double down. But Richard Lynch in full mime regalia? I'm all in. Lynch rarely disappoints as a weird, scary antagonist and is no exception in The Premonition. From the start of the movie, where he's doing some kind of odd, morning tai chi ritual outside of his carny trailer, to his scenes with Danielle Brisebois where he's playing 'hanger and airplane' while trying to feed her, he is awesome. What's even more impressive is I actually felt sympathy for his character, initially, as a lonely, lovelorn guy who is trying to help Ellen Barber's mentally unbalanced character and maybe strike up a romantic relationship with her. Although they weren't the leads, Lynch and Barber drew me in to this low key 1976 horror film, and made it an underrated classic with their solid performances. Sharon Farrell stars in the movie as Sheri Bennett, wife of physics professor Miles Bennett, played by Edward Bell, and mother of moppet Janie, played by Danielle Brisebois well before she lost her baby teeth. Chitra Neogy co-stars as a colleague of Miles Bennett, Dr Kingsly, who works in the para-physics/psychology field. Lastly, Jeff Corey plays the kindly Detective Denver.

The film is a low budget, high atmosphere affair with an odd feel akin to something like Thom Eberhardt's Sole Survivor or John D Hancock's Let's Scare Jessica to Death. Co-written and directed by Robert Allen Schnitzer, it avoids jump scares and gore and focuses more on tone and suspense. In the DVD commentary by Schnitzer, he said, being a contrarian, he intentionally avoided the on-screen violence that was prevalent in the horror films of the time. It's one of the elements that lends the movie some of its uniqueness. Another is the writing, which seems to add an extra layer or element to each character to give them more depth than they would have in the average horror opus. For example, at one point, Corey's cop has a personal conversation with the husband character on how he really wants to stay on the case even though his part in it is over. This scene really helps give some breadth to an otherwise two dimensional, cookie-cutter character. In another scene, the husband is out with his female colleague having a good time and at one point she eyes his wedding ring dubiously. It's a small, unnecessary moment, but it adds to that character and the uncertainty of the plot and thus, the general suspense. In another throw-away scene, Farrell's mother character checks on her sleeping daughter and notices her pet turtle has escaped from its jar and is making its way across the pillow back to the daughter's hand. It's a sweet little moment that could have been easily edited, but just adds some color and texture to the characters and film. Thematically, Schnitzer apparently was trying to make a point about the physical world being closely tied with the paranormal which he accomplishes, but I didn't find this message that interesting or original. What really drove the film for me was the characters and their issues, the new age mumbo-jumbo didn't detract or add much. I really liked the music by Henry Mollicone which is his only film score. It really helped create a moody atmosphere especially in the beginning and end of the movie. There were also some terrific moments of strategic silence where the music was not used to juice up an already creepy, effective scene. It's something you rarely come across in film nowadays where every bit of the movie has music soundtrack accompanying it.

On the downside, the film, while pretty well-paced otherwise, has a prolonged ending that is almost anti-climatic in its predictability. I think if a minute or two had been shaved off the last act, it would have helped maintain the suspense and made this a nice tight viewing experience. The only other problem I had was Sharon Farrell's acting which is turned up too high for a low key, slow burn like this. Farrell is primarily a television actress and seems to have a tough time turning down the melodramatic acting. In one of the film's creepiest discovery scenes, she goes way overboard in selling the scene when it is innately creepy already. It might have been more interesting to see her and Barber swap roles as I thought Barber more skilled and believable. At the end of the day though, it was Lynch who sucked me into the film, and Lynch who held me there with his disturbing howl/shriek of pain and anger.

Score 7/10


  1. Finally someone else who has seen this movie! I has an incredibly low rating on IMDB, and about four votes. The first time I watched, I was a little shocked that it wasn't a legit cult movie.

    The ending, strangely enough, was creepy to me. I didn't realize take it seriously...it felt dreamlike. I wasn't sure I trusted it. The whole film is inexplicably weird in the same way. Is this really happening or is it the ESP?

    Thanks for making me feel sane.

  2. Oops: "It has an incredibly low rating." Typo alert.

  3. Interesting stuff... When I first glimped that VHS sleeve at the top of the review I thought it was an old Genesis poster - it's certainly very striking. The last thing I saw Richard Lynch in was Invasion USA with Chuck Norris...

  4. Dusty, I couldn't agree with you more, that IMDB rating is a joke. I was surprised at how good this movie was and that I'd never seen or heard of it until someone over at Palavr (could have been you!) mentioned it. Thanks for the comment.

    Wes, it does give me the urge to listen to Abacab. If you like Lynch, check out Bad Dreams where he plays a cult leader. He's awesomely creepy in that.

  5. That's hilarious. It was me. (Or my alter ego...PlaygroundofDoom, which is really just a way of publicizing my blog. Which, hey, you should follow...but that's another shameless plug).

    Seriously, though, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's good to have what my dad always called a "sanity check." I've loved this movie ever since I found it mis-shelved in the foreign film section of a local store. It's good to know that someone else found it creepy and well done.

  6. This is an excellent description of this film and I like that you start it with Richard Lynch, whose face is so familiar that I must have seen it in many films whose titles I can't recall -- perhaps because it was as a kid watching TV in the 70s and 80s.

    I actually acquired the VHS of this recently, as a venerable old independent video store near me is liquidating 25+ years of inventory. I grabbed this impulsively and am glad I did: it's a good example of the great American B-move genre, where a little money plus a good story and screenplay, not to mention good acting, could go a very long way.

  7. Thanks IIidas,
    It's kind of depressing they don't make small, character-driven horror like this anymore, but I am happy there are still people out there that appreciate it as much as I do. Really enjoyed Lynch in what was more of a three-dimensional role for him.