I just realized that this post title might be a wee bit misleading. After all, the hearse in The Hearse (1980) doesn't honk- no, my friends, the hearse from The Hearse is not the car from The Car- and to be honest, it barely vrooms. Alas, I've already written the title, though, and there's no turning back now. It's not as if I can just change it.
Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere) is a recently-divorced schoolteacher who's barely coping with the also-recent death of her mother. Once summer vacation hits, Jane gets all "You know, I've been to paradise, but I've never been to me!" and decides to spend the summer at the country house she's inherited from her long-dead aunt.
The driving montage that shows Jane leaving her San Francisco-flavored worries behind as she heads to "hick town" is accompanied by some sweet-ass quality dreamy music. I was so hoping that The Hearse would continue the legacy of The Legacy and vocals would kick in- maybe by Charlene or Melanie or even, if the budget allowed, Phoebe Snow- and I'd be treated to "Getaway (theme from The Hearse)" or some shit, but it wasn't meant to be.
As the sun sets, things go from creamy and dreamy to downright sinister! The music becomes grating, Jane starts- oh God!- yawning, and she has a fender bender with...dun dun dunnnnn...the hearse! Before they can exchange insurance information, the hearse speeds off into the night. This lets the audience know one thing right off the bat: whoever's driving that hearse is a scofflaw! This does not bode well for Jane.
Things don't get much better once she finally moves into "The Old Martin Place": doors close on their own! Music boxes won't stay put! Jane sees the ghost of her aunt in the window! Teenagers catcall as she takes her early morning jog!
Also, the townspeople are acting like real jerks. We're left to wonder what the deal is- does the town have a cuckoo secret? Are they gearing up for some sort of macabre lottery? Does Jane have embarrassing foot odor? Well, horror fans, it's all of that...and more!
Wait, sorry, I mean it's none of that.
Jane unearths her aunt's diary only to discover that she was a devil worshipper, lured to the Satanic side by her sessy boyfriend. What are the odds? Cranky, boozy attorney Walter Pritchard (Joseph Cotten) explains the deal behind the hearse and its scar-faced driver that keep terrorizing poor Jane: decades ago, the hearse carrying her aunt's coffin exploded while crossing a bridge. The coffin and the driver disappeared, and no one knows what happened to them.
And no one ever will, because The Hearse doesn't explain a GD thing. Jane suffers nightmares and run-ins with the car, but why, exactly? Is she actually her aunt, reincarnated? Has she been a ghost all this time? Does her aunt hate Jane and want her to die? Feel free to make up your own theory, because the film just kind of stops with no resolution whatsoever, as if everyone involved got fed up with shooting, threw their hands up, and said "Let's just end this fucking thing!"
The Hearse is not an altogether unenjoyable...ahem...ride, but I can't claim it's exactly satisfying, either. Although not much happens whatsoever, there are some creepy sequences and Van Devere commits to the material. It's fun in that sort of nostalgic way; in the late 70s and early 80s, supernatural thrillers like this were the bloodless antithesis to the omnipresent slasher flicks. There are far better entries in the subgenre out there, though- why, you can even check out Trish Van Devere in a film I mentioned just the other day: The Changeling. Come to think of it, though, that movie doesn't have a theme song either...