Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Prime Time: The Devonsville Terror (1983)

Here's another one of those unmemorable horror movies that became more memorable to me because I saw it at the right age. And the right age is, of course, the wrong age. I would be 9 or 10, I had no idea of what constituted a good movie, and I was able to sit quietly to the side while my parents watched any number of VHS tapes that probably weren't supposed to be viewed by youngsters. It is how I was first traumatised by Creepshow, how I fell in love with both Jenny Agutter and the practical effects in An American Werewolf In London, and how I laughed awkwardly while also gawking at the naked female form in films like Porky's, the Lemon Popsicle movies, and Screwballs. Every one of those tapes seemed to have the same trailers on them, unless I am misremembering. One of them was advertising Necromancy (a film I have somehow not yet seen), and one was The Devonsville Terror.

Both of those films seemed dark and dangerous, arguably more interesting and strange than the modern horrors I had already seen because of their basis in what looked to be spooky lore from years gone by. They also had some fine work from "trailer voice guy". I knew I had to see them. I suspect that when I finally did see The Devonsville Terror I was, even at such a young age, relatively unimpressed. It's not a terrible film, and far from the worst to come from director Ulli Lommel, but it feels like something without enough going on to entertain viewers who had recently discovered the VHS pleasures of the titles just mentioned in the previous paragraph.

But let me get to the plot. Things start with some witches being executed in Devonsville. And then we move forward 300 years, to the here and now (as it was in the early '80s anyway). A new female teacher comes to town, by the name of Jenny Scanlon (Suzanna Love, who was also married to Lommel at the time), and quickly upsets the menfolk, who seem to have their attitudes set very much in line with their misogynisytic ancestors. If that wasn't enough, another young woman appears who is ALSO a scientist (Chris, played by Mary Walden). And then they also receive an outspoken DJ, who is also . . . a woman (Monica, played by Deanna Haas). Does anyone have any grounds to be perturbed by the ways of these modern women from the outside world? Can Dr. Warley (Donald Pleasence) be of any help, or will he be too busy trying to cure the family curse that leads to worms crawling out of his skin?

With some acting of varying quality throughout, a decidedly murky visual palette, and a script (co-written by Lommel, Love, and George T. Lindsey) that sticks to everyone like a wet shower curtain, The Devonsville Terror is clearly not any great shakes, to use a technical term. It's so forgettable that I actually didn't realise I had revisited it a few years ago. It all came back to me as the movie started.

"Wait," I thought, "I HAVE seen this as an adult. I remember it not being that good, but I don't think it was that bad to make me rant. I wonder if my opinion will change this time around."

My opinion did change, but only slightly. The Devonsville Terror, although a weak horror movie for those seeking actual scares or bloodshed (one or two decent FX moments in the finale aside), has some interesting elements to make it more worth your time nowadays than when it was first released. This is a film bookended by men being incredibly horrible to women, intent on killing them, and every scene in between shows a male population angry at women who don't seem to "know their place", and angrier than they otherwise would be because they are also covering up their fear. After being used to keeping women in their place for centuries, they don't know what to do when faced with individuals they cannot get to fall in line as easily as those who have lived within their community for years. And the evil deeds that these women commit? Simply being intelligent, opinionated, and unwilling to give themselves over to any man who gives them a bit of attention.

There's a saying that even a stopped clock is right once a day (twice if you're not using a 24hr display format). A comparison could be made here. The current conversations, the sense of great, overdue change coming, the problems and abuses that are now harder for people to hide away or excuse, all of these things make The Devonsville Terror a strangely interesting piece of work to view nowadays. But that doesn't mean it will remain that way if viewed again in five or ten years. And I'm certainly not rushing to ever check it out for a third time, although I tentatively recommend others give it one watch.


You can buy the movie here.

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