Suburban Grindhouse Memories: SUPERSTITION (1985)
SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Horror Hotel This Isn’t…
By Nick CatoOn a freezing cold Saturday night in January of 1985, I was still reeling from seeing my second Metallica gig at Brooklyn’s famous rock club, L’Amour (at the time no one had a clue they’d eventually become the biggest band in the world) and yet an ad I saw in my local paper a day earlier kept gnawing at my brain. SUPERSTITION came out with no TV commercials and, as far as I recall, no mentions in any of the horror magazines or fanzines at the time. And most alluring of all, it was released unrated. So I attempted to get my hearing back as I entered the (now defunct) Fox Twin Cinema, one of Staten Island’s best venues for exploitation films.
I had to laugh during the opening sequence: a couple of teenagers attempted to pull a prank on a couple who are making out near some abandoned-looking house. They both get deep sixed by an unseen killer, and I wondered why the film had a supernatural title if this was just another slasher flick.
Well, it isn’t a slasher flick per se. As we soon learn, this abandoned house—that’s actually being remodeled to house a minister and his family—had been cursed three hundred years earlier by a witch who used to live there. In flashbacks, we learn the local priest discovered this witch was in league with Satan himself (I believe it’s even said she was Satan’s daughter), and, as punishment, drowns her in a pond behind the house. Now being HORROR HOTEL (1960) is one of my all-time favorite horror films, I was already put-off by SUPERSTITION’s rip-off plot. But what redeems this Canadian production is its kill scenes: I’m guessing even though the killer here is supernatural, the producers thought it would be smart to cater to the (then) popular slasher crowd and off victims in gory and inventive ways. I still don’t think this film needed to be unrated, as there were many R-rated films released before this that were much more graphic (1980’s insanely brutal DON’T GO IN THE BASEMENT and MOTHER’S DAY—both released with an R rating—make SUPERSTITION look like a kiddie show). Go figure.
So, judging by some groans heard around the theater, it was apparent we were aware we weren’t in for a deep story. There were several things brought up during the film that are never resolved, but when a working circular saw comes unhinged from its base and flies into a young minister’s chest, spinning so fast that it goes through him, as well as the chair he’s pinned to, everyone cheered, realizing we’d at least be in for a fun splatter-fest.
While there’s plenty of violence in SUPERSTITION, much of it takes place off camera and we see the aftermath. Perhaps this is how the FX crew saved some money? Either way, many of the kills are still effective, if not disappointing to a mainly teenaged, blood-hungry-crowd.
My favorite scenes are when a cute young girl kept showing up out of nowhere, dressed in a clean white dress, giving some kind of psychobabble warnings about the house to the Reverend. It’s never explained who this girl is, and between some of the inventive kill scenes not many of us really cared. Some other fun, splattery goodness includes some poor sap being cut in half by a falling window and a head exploding via microwave (those at the beginning of the film) and another unlucky lady gets a thick spike to the ol’ noggin. Jason Vorhees himself would’ve been impressed with some of the stuff this old witch comes up with…
In one flashback sequence, there’s an exorcism performed on the witch by the accusing priest that’s quite convincing. For a change, the witch’s deep-growl possessed voice doesn’t sound too goofy, and for whatever rare reason the scene didn’t remind me of THE EXORCIST (1973), and not just because it takes place three hundred years ago.
SUPERSTITION was a decent time at the movies, if nothing ground-breaking, and all these years later I have yet to revisit it on video. I’m wondering if it holds up as a fun gore-fest? Perhaps it’ll show up on cable one of these nights and I’ll see. And if not, I’m happy enough with my one-time viewing, alongside a bunch of cheering, popcorn-throwing suburban grindhouse fanatics. For 80s gore-hounds only. All others, see HORROR HOTEL.
© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato