Friday, 17 February 2017

The Premonition (1976)


Director: Robert Allen Schnitzer
Screenplay: Robert Allen Schnitzer and Anthony Mahon
Cast: Sharon Farrell (as Sheri Bennett); Edward Bell (as Prof. Miles Bennett); Danielle Brisebois (as Janie Bennett); Ellen Barber (as Andrea Fletcher); Richard Lynch (as Jude); Chitra Neogy (as Dr. Jeena Kingsly); Jeff Corey (as Det. Lt. Mark Denver)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #82

One of the more sorrowful and melancholic films from classic American horror and exploitation cinema, The Premonition's been a slow burner I've grown to admire more and more on the rewatches. Its position as a horror film is transitional, closer to a "weird tale" in how, even if the supernatural is directly involved, it doesn't follow the conventions of a supernatural horror film. Instead, about a couple Sheri (Sharon Farrell) and Prof. Miles Bennett (Edward Bell) who realise the mother Andrea Fletcher (Ellen Barber) of their adoptive daughter is trying to claim her back with the help of carnival mime and photographer Jude (Richard Lynch), the ghosts in the film are entirely in terms of emotional states and a paranormal slant. We're not in the era of vague entities for merely jump scares,  but ones with a greater connection to the characters as they are presented through the story.

It's very unconventional, not in style, an elegant and very understated presentation in form, but in terms of how calm and sombre said tone is. From a director who comes from experimental short films, he presents an A-to-B narrative that yet plays out as a supernatural drama which great emphasis on the later word rather than merely presenting the content blandly on the surface. The Premonition does follow in an trend of seventies cinema that could easily divide people - the paranormal trend and ideals that'd get lumped in as New Age or those books about aliens being the creators of the Earth unfairly without dividing them into their various areas of belief - but this is the case of a director who has real belief in those sported by paranormal expert Dr. Jeena Kingsly (Chitra Neogy) but never makes the mistake of going into the over earnest and kitsch. Instead, when a vengeful spirit starts to infect Sheri's personal space and haunt her, Schnitzer depicts it with a matter of fact attitude, only the broadness of some of the exposition in talking about the unknown different from what takes a very calm, naturalistic depiction of what would happen if dead spirits could actually effect a person, keeping the film as well in an admirable area of emotional conflicts being always the driving force behind the phenomenon. Instead of something utterly laughable or silly like other paranormal horror films from this decade, The Premonition feels like a more real representation of this type of material, Schnitzer level headed in depicting these events and ideas, including fate and the spirit world entering the living one, without any sense of the absurd but with realism in context of this specific world being depicted. This also means that most if not all the characters are more complicated even if they eventually side into slots of whether you want to be on their side or not, drama mixing with horror with great success. Sympathy is given to Andrea Fletcher, a psychologically unstable pianist whose child was taken away from her due to her mental illness, as much to Sheri as parallel mothers, the sense of pain between them as well for those surrounding them a significant part to why the film feels as mature as it is.

When The Premonition does flex its muscles as a horror film, it's appropriately creepy and effective. An emphasis on drama, slow and deliberately paced, but willing to fully convey the unnatural. Flash frames of Richard Lynch, stealing every scene he's in with his angelic face but menacing personality,  creating the most terrifying face whilst groaning, the bathroom mirror and car windscreen freezing up, paintings bleeding from the eyes, moments which because of the film taking its time to portray everything around these scare sequences more carefully allows them to have a greater impact, suddenly shook aware by an alarming moment of phantasmagoria. It's surprising not many films follow this rule and instead fail as miserably as they do, but in the case of The Premonition it's not only done well but, with the significant time and intercontinental span between them, I can't help now when thinking of it carefully that, whilst an American tradition that sadly died away when slashers started to get more popular in the eighties and horror films became a primarily teenage audience demographic, it's cousins are technically Japanese films like Ringu (1998) and The Grudge (2004) in their slow paced, character building structures. Add to this the southern atmosphere that is undeniably an American part of the film it uses to its advantage, particular a carnival location so much more welcoming than that in Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973), and the general quality of the performances and I've found myself loving The Premonition the more I view it. 


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