May 10, 2011

Crowhaven Farm (1970)

"A young couple inherits a farm. Hoping that the rural location might help to patch up their strained marriage, they move into it, only to be confronted by the supernatural forces that inhabit it."

I have to thank Jinx for reminding me about "Crowhaven Farm". I don't have a real trailer to adorn this post with as "Crowhaven Farm" was a made-for-TV movie and there isn't one. If you search on YouTube, you will easily find fan trailers and can even watch the full movie, but I'm not going to encourage copyright theft by posting links here.

Copyright theft is a bit of a grey area when it comes to my own VHS copy of "Crowhaven Farm" which I recorded off the telly back in the early '90s. The jury is still out on whether or not using a video recorder for the purpose it was intended is actually legal, but since VHS is obsolete now anyway, I don't suppose it even matters. Bootlegging has dogged most DVD releases of TV horror movies from the '70s, but it seems that there was a legitimate version of "Crowhaven Farm" released in 2008 (though you may never find a copy of it anywhere now).

Anyway, if you've never even heard of "Crowhaven Farm", I wouldn't be at all surprised. It's a tale of witchcraft and covens which tried to cash in on the success of "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) in some ways but was completely unlike it in many others. I've yet to see a really good film about witchcraft, but if I was forced to make a list of the "top ten witchcraft films of all time", "Crowhaven Farm" would be one that I'd have to add.

As a horror movie, "Crowhaven Farm" is very tame and would probably appeal more to women of a certain age than your average horror fan. As a man, it's not one of my favourite films at all as much as I can appreciate Hope Lange who plays the lead. Hope Lange is very attractive as Maggie Porter, but her hair is a little bit too short for my taste, and her character is somewhat underdeveloped and inconsistent.

I'm not sure whether it was intended or if I'm just able to recognise a certain "type" with some people (either in real life or as fictional characters), but all the way through, I could visualise Maggie Porter being a really nasty piece of work for some reason. If you are American, in particular, or you've ever worked in retail or catering, you'll understand exactly where I'm coming from if I mention "entitlement issues". Maggie Porter had the potential to be the customer from Hell, and it was something I couldn't shake out of my mind. When the "twist" came, my suspicions were proved correct, but I'm not sure if the average American audience of 1970 would have picked up on it. It was a very subtle suggestion, but it was most certainly there.

Obviously the whole story points to Maggie Porter not being quite the innocent that she seems but there's a big problem with how much you can sympathise with her plight. It's a bit like how, in "Drag Me to Hell" (2009), you are made to feel unsure about Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). If you've haven't seen "Drag Me to Hell" then I really have no better way of explaining it to you. A similar technique and story was also used in "Angel Heart" (1987) although Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel was a much more likeable character than Maggie Porter.

Now that I've mentioned "Angel Heart", I've given away a huge spoiler, but it's not as if "Crowhaven Farm" isn't completely predictable from the start anyway. I would love to say that "Crowhaven Farm" was derivative of a lot of other Satanic and witchcraft movies, but I don't think this particular storyline was ever done before even though it's been done several times since. I'm sure someone with a lot of knowledge about Barbara Steele's Italian movies from the '60s will be able to correct me if I'm wrong.

Other things which I noticed about "Crowhaven Farm" were not only that it didn't have any obvious places where commercials had once been inserted, but it honestly had a pretty good atmosphere considering the low-budget and acting abilities of the cast. I wouldn't say that it was much more than creepy, but some people might find it genuinely disturbing.

One thing I found very disturbing was a certain young girl sharing a bed with Maggie's husband Ben (Paul Burke). I have absolutely no idea what age Cindy Eilbacher (who played Jennifer) was supposed to be without Googling it, but she looked like she was twelve. The whole "crush" thing which was going on in that scene was beyond creepy in ways that even "Orphan" (2009) didn't achieve. Skipping to the end of the story for a moment, I can tell you that it got far more sinister and even more "crushing" (including a different kind) was involved.

For anyone British watching this, the name "Ben Porter" will immediately have them thinking about the late Gary Olsen who played a character by the same name in the BBC's long running comedy "2point4 Children". Well, that's what happened to me watching it, and I'm British so I thought I'd share that moment. It's funny when character names get used in different scenarios especially if you take a flight of fancy and re-imagine "Crowhaven Farm" done as a comedy. That certainly wasn't the intention though as there is absolutely no comic relief whatsoever in this movie, and there aren't even any unintentional laughs.

There are a few plot holes and things to be nit-picky over, of course, but the bottom line is that "Crowhaven Farm" is a 100% played-straight thriller. Only the fact that it's from the beginning of the '70s makes it at all "cheesy", but that's only because of the fashions. As much as I could tear each and every actor's performance apart, I'm not going to because the movie, as a whole, was very enjoyable.

So, without further ado, I'm adding "Crowhaven Farm" to The Vault. As far as I know, the story was original, and it's a must-see movie for all fans of witchcraft stories.

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