This is one of those `B' movies that can be seen again and again because you keep picking up on little vignettes that slid by before. I just found a copy that I had taped off the air back in the 80s - one of those midnight groaners that in this case, did not turn out to be one. I'm trying not to be a spoiler, but some unmentioned nuances need to be commented upon.
Kudos to the cast, and especially to Linda Gillen (Regina), the heroine. Right off the mark there's a poignant scene where she wants to share her good news (winning the vacation) with SOMEONE in her apartment complex, only no one is around. There's a nice long distance shot of her almost lost in the tree-in-the-forest maze of balconies shouting `Hey, everybody, I'm a winner!' You're not five minutes into the film before you LIKE the kid - cute, infectious smile and just plain NICE. She makes you want to put your arm around her.
Check out her facial expressions as Baby John (John Neilson) drives her from the airport and does a mini Dukes of Hazard chase scene with the sheriff. She gives a GREAT reaction, reflecting a scared-but-excited young girl who knows she's doing something naughty. At first I didn't pay much attention to John but when I watch reruns of this movie, I realize he does more than a creditable job of a grandma-whipped kid who has only one oar in the water. He also does a fine job of asserting a newfound independence after flashing some embarrassed Daffy Duck type grins in the spanking scene.
You also like Margaret Avery (Edwina) -- another charmer who develops a great rapport with Regina during their brief acquaintance. You feel pretty bummed when she `goes home'. Janet Wood (Pamela) does a fine job of being the `model' - pretty, ripe, and succulent. Once you discover what's going on, you can see why she went first, and I suspect some viewers would be asking for seconds. The problem is - she's stuck on herself and shows it and you really don't really feel THAT bad when she goes missing early in the film.
Since this is billed as a horror movie, you know something's going to happen to the girls at the lonely house on the beach. (The low angle shots of the Victorian home look suspiciously like the "Psycho' house at Universal Studios.) Arthur Space and Mary Jackson (the old couple) seem friendly enough - until the pig out `going home' dinner for Pamela.
That sensuous routine is backgrounded with `Pomp and Circumstance' - the old graduation music, and greatly compliments the scene. The dessert scene tipped me off -- the already stuffed girls had to make room for just a bit more. Regina licks her fingers and says `If I keep this up, I'll get as fat as a pig.' The priceless calculated and approving look Mary gives her just REEKS of menace and impending doom.
There are lots of little goodies to pick up on. Except for a few instances, the horror, and humor, is understated. In these days of buckets-of-blood movies, this one stands out for what it doesn't show. Like: The Mystery of the Freezer. Well, we all KNOW what's in there but there's only one instance later on, when Regina has her epiphany, that we actually see anything gruesome. Earlier, when Edwina is chloroformed, to the tune of a lullaby, and taken in there (`Careful Baby Joe, that's Choice Grade A'), the camera lingers on the door while you hear a knife being sharpened, some muffled noises, a chopping sound and an admiring, `Oh look at that!' You can imagine how a remake of that would be done today.
Evelyn carries a miasma of malevolence about her. There is always a hint of horror in everything this woman does, from weighing the girls (and beaming at the weight gain) to making sandwiches for an oceanside picnic. When Regina bites into one, she says, `This is delicious. What is it?' Evelyn smilingly replies, `It's filet, dear, filet.' You get the feeling she's licking every letter as she speaks. You want to yell out `RUN, Regina, RUN!' (She does later, only to run into the old couple and told, in a disapproving manner, to get in the truck. Totally demoralized by now, she does. Another great scene.)
That beach scenario has an awkward-first-time-they-kissed routine between Regina and Baby John. A nice tender scene that neatly counterpoints the horror that is always lurking in the background. Then, still at the beach, there's a routine where Baby John kills a shark. After Baby John leaves, Regina performs a touching burial of the battered remains. Why this talented young woman never became a bigger name is beyond me.
Arthur plays the somewhat befuddled kindly old Henry to a `T'. He talks lovingly to his plants but thinks nothing of butchering the girls. Near the end, when he discovers his trampled plants, he goes into a crooning soliloquy that makes you think he is talking to his dead children. At Regina's `going home' party (by now we all know what THAT leads to) everyone is ravenously attacking their large serving of meat, except Regina. From the shape, you have no doubt it is the rear deck of the recently departed Edwina. Chewing a mouthful in front of Regina, who knows SOMETHING is up, Henry muses, `We'll cure the next one.' and gets a dreamy look on his face. Regina keeps refusing to eat and does so only when she is warned one last time by Mary to `EAT, DEAR!' The intimidating words drip with evil and have that club-in-the-closet tone to it.
One last kudo for Linda. Watch her face when she runs up to the visiting sheriff (Michael Macready, the producer), who has arrived with siren howling and lights blazing. He is surrounded by the old couple and Baby Joe when she breaks in and starts babbling that `Something is going on here!' and mentions the missing girls. About then the sheriff looks at Evelyn and says `Hi grandma.' Linda's stunned look is priceless.
You might conclude that I like this unappreciated little gem. The older actors were already well established and Arthur kept making movies until the 80s (he started in the 40s). I'm still doing the `Whatever happened to' routine on the others. Linda had parts in movies and TV shows up until the 80s but I can't find out what she's doing now. Linda, if you read this, I wish you well.
Get ye a copy and watch some great entertainment. Dang! I think it's about time for yet another rerun!
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