Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Bride (1973), aka The House That Cried Murder

A young groovy 70s couple walks through sunlit fields while happy, hornsome elevator music signifies that they're in love.  Barbara (Robin Strasser) and David (Arthur Roberts) are so in love they are practically glowing. They visit a weird unfinished house in the middle of nowhere that Barbara designed and built herself, just waiting for them to move into it and start a new life together. The catch is, Barbara's father (John Beal) hates David, who is also an employee at his firm. But Barbara is a spoiled rich girl who gets everything she wants, and when she throws a tantrum, he reluctantly agrees to give his blessing.

"Oh darling, I'm so happy but that fucking music is making me want to KILL SOMEBODY!!!"
We already know Barbara is a little unstable by the way she makes crazy "I'm going to strangle you" hands behind her father's head when he tells her she shouldn't marry David, but David is actually a sociopathic shit, as he proves on his wedding day. At the reception, which is oddly accompanied by a New Orleans style jazz ensemble, David sneaks upstairs with his ex girlfriend Helen (Iva Jean Saraceni) for a little passionate necking and they are promptly discovered by Barbara, who goes absolutely full-tilt batshit bonkers. Grabbing a pair of scissors, she attacks David with them and bloodies his arm real good, then goes downstairs in her blood soaked wedding dress and has a mental breakdown in front of the entire wedding party before running off in her car. Just like in real life, nobody tries to stop her.

That's the first act of "The Bride", a wacky 70s doomfest that tells one of the most freaked out stories I ever saw. You know, the kind of movie where nothing anybody does makes any real sense? That's THIS movie.

"Don't worry, this blood stain will never show in the wedding photos."
Up to this point in "The Bride", we can almost imagine something like this happening in real life. One spouse catching the other "in flagrante delicto" on their wedding day is something that probably happens occasionally, but after the massive wedding day fail, that's when the real strangeness starts in this movie. Two weeks later, David has his arm bandaged and is presumably back to work with Barbara's father, who invites David to dinner one night to warn him about how crazy Barbara really is. Apparently she's been missing for these two weeks, although nobody seems to be all that interested in finding her, especially not the police. You know, that's where most people go when a loved one vanishes into thin air, especially after a scene like Barbara's wedding day. But her father tells David that Barbara has a history of "sulking" after a crazy episode and that he thinks she'll turn up sooner or later. He also tells David about how Barbara used to like to torment her pet chicken until it attacked her one day in retaliation, which prompted Barbara to revenge-murder the chicken by slowly taking its head off with a strait razor. Slowly.

But not only has Barbara's father (strangely) not fired David yet, David himself is (strangely) shacked up already with the ex girlfriend Helen, and remember that idyllic romance montage at the beginning with the elevator music? It happens again, this time with David and Helen. Now they're glowing with love. David sure glows a lot, and quickly too.

"Welcome to my nightmare AND my breakdown! I think you're gonna like my light show."
The glowing does not last long though, as David starts getting strange phone calls from a woman with a fake-sounding Southern drawl who calls herself David's "answering service", delivering ominous messages from Barbara. Helen is targeted, too--one day she's home alone and a package is delivered containing a wedding dress. Helen assumes David has proposed marriage and puts it on, which really freaks David out when he gets home because obviously it is Barbara's wedding dress.  Helen is belatedly creeped out by the whole thing, and both of them have nightmares about Barbara that night as they sleep. First David dreams he's being stalked in Barbara's creepy old unfinished house, and then Helen has a bad dream about crazy Babs as well. But when Helen wakes up after David has already left the house, she finds a bloody chicken head on the pillow next to her. After freaking out in the bedroom, she moves the freakout to the kitchen, where she finds the rest of the bloody chicken in the fridge. When she hears footsteps upstairs, she goes up there to find the wedding dress pinned up in a door frame with a skull mask.

After another creepy phone call, Helen decides it's time to move out, and David's "answering service" calls David later to gloat about it. Since David is dumb as a box of rocks, he needs the mysterious phone caller to spell out the endgame: someone wants David to go to the house that Barbara built! Now why David would not go to the police about any of this really is worthy of just a bit of discussion. So far, his new wife has assaulted him with scissors on their wedding day and then vanished. Why the police aren't already looking for her is beyond me. But then David is harassed by a strange unknown person who has clearly gained entry to his home without permission and left bloody animal remains behind. Then this individual suggests that David go to a house in the middle of nowhere. 

"Hello, Chinatown Inn? I'd like to cancel that delivery order for garlic chicken."

"I'm starting to think we may be in danger here."
Did I mention David is dumb as a box of rocks? Well, he is. A baked potato would know better than to fall into this stupid trap, and a baked potato would have already reported being stalked and harassed to the police, but David just goes all alone to meet this disturbed person in the middle of nowhere in a weird house. Needless to say, David's day does not end with a sunlit montage of walking through a field while happy elevator music plays on the soundtrack.

I have to admit, this movie's cheapness and meager story are what make it so totally awesome. It's not all that badly acted either, which really helps. I should mention that Robin Strasser is probably best known for her role as Dorian Lord in the long-running daytime drama "One Life To Live". Iva Jean Saraceni actually appeared in two George Romero films, "Knightriders" and "Creepshow"--she was Billy's mother in the wraparound story.  Arthur Roberts is also a longtime character actor who has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies, his most notable genre appearances being "Chopping Mall" and BOTH remakes of the Roger Corman film "Not On This Earth".

The production values often make it look like an early John Waters version of a spooky campfire story, although the director, Jean-Marie Pelissie, uses a lot of atmospheric cinematography to create a genuinely menacing feeling throughout the movie. Sometimes it goes over-the-top 70s, with strange camera angles and over-saturated lighting effects, and other times it's more subdued. One brilliantly tense moment occurs when Helen thinks Barbara is in the house with her and decides to go upstairs and confront her while holding a knife. Why she does this instead of walking out the front door is beyond me, but I also didn't understand how she could so easily disrupt a couple's wedding day, then shack up with the groom after the bride vanishes. The schizophrenic motivations of these characters is part of the charm of this movie, although I realize it's just because they need to do these things to make the story move along.

One of the biggest assets "The Bride" has going for it is the soundtrack. A lot of it sounds like it was just library music, although there is a genuine bona-fide 70s doom love ballad in this movie. However, the thing that you will never forget is the Black Sabbath electric guitar spooky music that keeps popping up during the scary parts, like when Helen wakes up in bed with a bloody animal head as if she's in a scaled-down version of "The Godfather". Morbid and superbly overblown and melodramatic, this simple guitar riff really injects something into the movie that helps take it a lot farther. The experience is so silly, yet also unsettling and strange, clearly done by a director with a very good understanding of suspense and creating something interesting with a meager budget. I'm disappointed "The Bride" is his only directorial effort, his short filmography mostly consisting of production work and assistant directing. "The Bride" is not the kind of film that makes a director widely famous, and this movie is actually very reminiscent of the films of S.F. Brownrigg. Maybe that's why I was so into it!

In classic exploitation style, "The Bride" is known by numerous alternate titles, including "The House That Cried Murder", "No Way Out", and "The Last House on Massacre Street", which would leave the first time viewer wondering what massacre they were referring to (unless you count the chicken).

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