THE EVICTORS: The Last Of The Southern Retro Drive-In Chillers

A lot of the work of Southern filmmaker Charles B. Pierce has a quality that is best summed up by the word “quaint”: he specialized in films based on legends, mostly chose subjects that allowed for a period setting and made his films with a style that harkened back to the techniques of past filmmaking eras.  He managed to make a home for his dogged old-fashionedness in the world of ’70s cinema – and his films have a strangely timeless feel that is unlike a lot of their contemporaries in the world of independent genre cinema.

Though he continued to make films into the 1990’s, The Evictors was his last movie to get released by a major indie distributor, American International Pictures, and represents the end of an era for both Pierce and his type of regional filmmaking.  The storyline was inspired by a story he read in a detective magazine and focus on the travails of a married couple who move into a house with a troubled history.

Ben Watkins (Michael Parks) is busy doing his best to impress his new boss so his wife, Ruth (Jessica Harper) is spending a lot of time on her own in the new house.  The locals are distant towards her, with the exception of wheelchair bound neighbor Olie (Sue Ane Langdon).  Ruth soon discovers the townspeople are keeping their distance because several previous owners of her current home have died in strange, violent circumstances – something real estate man Jake Rudd (Vic Morrow) neglected to mention.  Soon enough, she’s being stalked by a mysterious homicidal figure and wondering if the spirits of her home’s past are out to get her.

The Evictors came out at the dawn of the slasher era – and it couldn’t be any more different from that kind of film.  With a few minor changes, it’s the kind of horror tale that could have been made in the ’40s or 50’s.  Anyone familiar with this type of story won’t be too surprised about the big reveal that comes near the end but it does offer an added twist in the last few minutes that is amusing (if not entirely believable).  The script also wisely weaves in some recreations of past tragedies at the house that enhance the chill factor.

Pierce favors a slow-burn approach that gradually ratchets up tension, leaning heavily on the atmosphere of the southern locations and his cast to build up the necessary spooky mood.  As with The Town That Dreaded Sundown, the period detail is fantastic and there is excellent scope-format photography that enhances both the mood and production value.  Also returning from Town is composer Jaime Mendosa-Nava, who contributes another subtly chilling score.

That said, the real draw here is the cast.  Park is effortlessly convincing as a downhome man trying to build a career to support his marriage and Morrow adds shadings of charm and menace in a part that seems to be minor at first but gradually becomes more important to the story.  Langdon is also amusing as the neighbor, playing broad but never lapsing into goofy humor in another role that has some unexpected shadings.  However, it is Harper who has to carry the film and she does quite well, using her expressive eyes to effectively convey the growing terror her character feels (after starring in Suspiria, she was an ace at this sort of thing).

Ultimately, how much a viewer enjoys The Evictors will depend on their appreciation for its dedication to old-school storytelling.  If that’s what you like, this film makes a fun, low-key chiller for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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