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DVD/BLU RAY

The Premonition (1976) Blu Ray (Arrow) starring Sharon Farrell

This is one of three films which were originally included on Arrow’s 2016 box set American Horror Project Vol 1 but are being released individually on 4th December 2017.

A paranormal abduction

Ellen Barber plays Andrea Fletcher, a mentally ill woman who teams up with her boyfriend, a carnival clown named Jude (Richard Lynch), to locate and regain her daughter Janie (played by Danielle Brisebois) who has been taken away from her for adoption. Their investigations lead them to the suburban family home of Professor Miles Bennett (Edward Bell) and his wife Sheri (Sharon Farrell). One day while sitting in her car Sheri experiences sudden and shocking premonitory visions of Andrea and Jude.

Sure enough, Andrea breaks into their house at night and attempts to kidnap Janie from her bedroom. However, Sheri is awoken by the disturbance and succeeds in preventing the abduction. In a swift and desperate attempt to seek some form of consolation, Andrea takes a baby doll in its place. Back at their hideout Andrea, in a fit of grief and despair, comforts the doll as if it was her real daughter. Jude loses his patience with her odd behaviour and suddenly snaps, resulting in a scuffle in which he breaks the doll and kills her.

Meanwhile, Sheri continues to experience paranormal occurrences, including her bathroom mirror freezing over and the bloodied form of Andrea appearing in Janie’s bedroom. Her husband suggests that she sees his work colleague, a parapsychologist named Dr. Jeena Kingsly (Chitra Neogy). Things become more urgent when she takes Janie out for a nighttime drive and suddenly the car’s windows freeze over, resulting in her crashing. When her husband goes to see them in the hospital he finds that only Sheri has been accounted for; Janie is nowhere to be seen.

Can either Jeena or the police catch up with her before it’s too late?

Watch a trailer:

An interesting effort from a little-known director

The Premonition is one of just three feature films to have been directed by Robert Allen Schnitzer, the best-known of which is the 1970 Sylvester Stallone-starring Rebel - and even that one only gained a dubious cult following after Rocky (1975) made him famous. The Premonition the only one of his films which fits into the horror category - which is a pity since, while it’s not a perfect film by any means, it’s still an interesting attempt at a singular take on the genre.

Schnitzer displays an evident flair for both atmosphere and an ability to construct a narrative in a “show, don’t tell” manner. There are some effective passages in the film which take place with sparse or no dialogue - in particular, a number of scenes establishing the relationship between Andrea and Jude. The night-time scene where Janie views the huge, colourfully-lit fairground looming on the horizon is another memorable visual moment, filled equally with childlike wonder and sinister undercurrents.

Restrained and effective chills

It’s a low-key take on horror, taking a decidedly understated approach to its more violent aspects and backed by some resolutely melancholy piano music. The pivotal murder sequence is kept off-screen but is prefigured by the sight of Janie’s baby turtle being accidentally squashed on her bedroom floor (animal lovers be warned). The film’s climax steers clear of the usual overblown mayhem, instead emphasising a beautiful piano melody and an equally beautiful piece of visual storytelling. A sense of peace and closure has been achieved - something quite unusual for a horror film, but nonetheless effective in its own way.

However, The Premonition is a little too uneven in terms of pacing and tone to be a genuine horror classic. There are times when dramatic events occur, only for the film to fail to build any momentum from them and shift its focus elsewhere. The middle section of the film seems to go more for sudden shocks, whereas the first and final acts tend to have a slow and deliberate feel for letting the story unfurl. It feels like it’s trying to be different films at different times.

Richard Lynch and Jeff Corey in The Premonition

The performances also veer between good and lacklustre. Unsurprisingly, it’s the name players who come out best. Sharon Farrell (from It’s Alive) is believable as the fraught and anguished surrogate mother. Richard Lynch, as per usual, makes for memorably creepy antagonist - but in a more complex “Jeckyll and Hyde” manner than a mere one-dimensional psychopath. Veteran character actor Jeff Corey lends some presence and authority as the police chief investigating the incident. However, Edward Bell is dull as Sheri’s Professor husband. Ellen Barber as Andrea is initially flat but does improve during her later scenes when her mental state clearly deteriorates.

Amongst Arrow’s three standalone films from American Horror Project Vol 1, The Premonition isn’t quite as good as The Witch Who Came from the Sea but it’s certainly better than Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (which also, as the name suggests, features a carnival/fairground location).

Runtime: 93 mins

Dir: Robert Allen Schnitzer

Script: Anthony Mahon, Louis Pastore, Robert Allen Schnitzer

Starring: Sharon Farrell, Richard Lynch, Jeff Corey, Edward Bell, Danielle Brisebois, Ellen Barber, Chitra Neogy

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

This is an absolutely stunning print which looks like it hasn’t aged a day since it was released just over 40 years ago. The colours and imagery are beautiful to look at throughout. Sound-wise it’s a little less successful; it’s not bad but it suffers from the fact that much of the dialogue is overly muted and hard to make out without turning the volume right up.

Extras

Pictures from a Premonition

An interesting making-of documentary featuring Robert Allen Schnitzer, composer Henry Mollicone and cinematographer Victor Milt. Schnitzer reveals that the working title of the film was Turtle Heaven, while the original script was called The Adoption. When adapting it to the screen he rewrote to it include metaphysical elements - something he has a particular fascination with. Milt came up with the in-camera freezing effect by using a time-lapse shot of a decorative freeze spray.

Robert Allen Schnitzer Interview

A shortish but entertaining 2005 interview with the director. The most interesting revelation here is that he carried out the film’s promotional tour in a hearse - not because of the obvious horror genre connection, but because the location where the tour commenced (Des Moines in Iowa) didn’t have any limousines available.

Richard Lynch Interview

Another interview from 2005, this time featuring the actor talking about The Premonition as well as his wider career and influences.

Short Films

Three of Robert Allen Schnitzer’s shorts are included here:

Terminal Point

This extremely strange 40-minute black & white experimental piece from 1969 features Carl Haas as Justin, an author who, at the start, decides he needs a break from the big city. The rest of the film is a dreamlike collection of random oddities including a lengthy sequence at a hippie music gig, a child’s father who turns into a creepy mannequin and a scene where the protagonist shoots a black man and then makes love to the latter’s girlfriend beside his corpse.

While Schnitzer displays some evident filming talent here - there is some effective use made of avant-garde music, montage and crane shots - it’s all rather inexplicable.

Vernal Equinox

This is Schnitzer’s 30-minute debut short which he made in 1968 at the age of 17. Unlike his later Terminal Point it has been shot in colour. It follows a young man and woman who meet on the streets of New York and fall in love with each other. An uber-psychedelic mix of lysergic imagery, stream-of-consciousness monologues, music and body-painting ensues. Towards the end the film re-imagines their meeting (the guy asks the girl for the time as she walks past) but this time the necessary spark of mutual attraction fails to occur. It’s slightly less impenetrably weird than Terminal Point but still feels like the kind of film that’s best watched after smoking a significant amount of grass.

A Rumbling in the Land

His 11-minute 1969 documentary looks at the occupation of Stony Brook University by an anti-war student activist organisation who assembled to protest marine recruitment on campus. While the audio-visual quality of the footage is poor (I’m not sure whether it was originally this way or whether it’s a result of print deterioration) but it’s still quite a fascinating look at the potency of grassroots student politics from the period.

Peace Spots

A series of anti-Vietnam war TV spots produced in 1970 for Film Industry for Peace. Be warned: some contain disturbing images of the war dead.

Audio Commentary

Robert Allen Schnitzer provides a highly enjoyable discussion about shooting his low budget film (entirely on location in in and around Jackson, Mississippi), the actors, the motivations behind the characters and more. We learn that Edward Bell (who plays Professor Miles Bennett) was actually Schnitzer’s theatre professor at college. He got Richard Lynch to be so convincing during his key “anger” scene by asking him to imagine how he would feel if the producer’s didn’t pay him.

Animal lovers, meanwhile, can breath a sigh of relief in the knowledge that the turtle was attended to by a wrangler (which was mandatory practice for shooting in Mississippi, and was - according to Schnitzer - the film’s single biggest expense) and that he wasn’t harmed during filming. Schnitzer also jokes that he was very demanding and wanted his own turtle trailer!

A theatrical trailer and TV spots round out the extras

Overall:

The Premonition is well worth a look for those who like their horror restrained, thoughtful and relatively low on gore. Both the print and the extras are fantastic to boot.

Movie: ☆☆☆1/2

Video: ☆☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆☆☆

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