Haunts

Hot Goat.
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1977
Director: 
Herb Freed
Starring: 
May Britt, Cameron Mitchell, Aldo Ray, William Gray Espy
The Setup: 
Woman is totally wigged by presence of killer in town—to say the least.
Discussion: 

One of the best things about collections like the fucking amazing 50 Chilling Classics is that you get movies like this one, peripheral oddities that probably didn’t do that well back in the day, and are not important enough to be remembered and given an official release—but are quite interesting and worthwhile. This movie is one of the stranger things, both in content and style, and though all the pieces don’t snap neatly into place, it’s still a fascinating watch.

We begin at dinner on this family farm. It seems that the pudgy girl with the glasses is the one who fetches, so she’s sent to the garage to get something or other and is killed by a man with scissors. Then the credits roll, and we see that we are to witness a performance by Cameron Mitchell [My God, was he in EVERYTHING?] and Aldo Ray, and be treated to a score by frequent De Palma composer Pino Donaggio. This movie is directed by Herb Freed, who sounds really familiar, but when I looked him up I didn’t see anything notable, except that he directed over 200 TV commercials. Maybe he's super-famous in the advertising world?

Anyway, so the murder of the farm girl has roiled the entire town. The movie does a good job of conveying the sense of unease in the air. We are then introduced to Ingrid, our main character, as she comes out to milk the goat. It would seem that Ingrid experiences erotic thoughts while milking the goat. Yes, it’s true. Then there’s a strange scene in which she goes into the pantry and is scared for no apparent reason. Then she goes to the butcher and is transfixed by him chopping meat while listening to the local women gossip. Then, if I can believe my ears, the butcher and one of the pleasantly plump ladies of the town invite Ingrid to a three-way, asking her if she wants to “join the club.” Was all this happening in my small Michigan town and I just didn’t know about it? How come everybody always lives in much more exciting small towns than me?

Then, roughly around 11:30, Ingrid has a nice driving scene featuring a few good uninterrupted minutes of languid Pino Donaggio score. During her drive she again obsesses about chopping meat, and recalls her own molestation as a child, including scenes of a broken, bloody mirror. When she gets home the police are there to questions her and—why, guess whose scissors are missing from the sewing basket?

So Ingrid attends church, where we have an extended white gospel performance. She is then introduced to this GOON with dark circles under his eyes [he looks like the brother of that creepy guy from the Red Meat comics], and is told “He’s single.” She then has to talk home though the woods, and asks another woman to accompany her. After she drops the woman off, she still has a long way to go by herself. It’s kind of amazing the pervasive influence of that classic walking and stalking scene from the original Cat People had, because here it is evoked yet again. Anyway, she is attacked in the woods by Frankie, the town cutie who favors red satin western-style shirts. She makes it home and runs around, seemingly for hours, screaming for her Uncle Carl, who is supposed to be in town. He walks in, and tells her that what attacked her was probably “a rabbit or a deer.” Hey, fuck you, Uncle Carl. He then takes off to go out on the town. Ingrid is justifiably wigged, and calls the sherriff, Aldo Ray, who is sick. He asks her if she’s locked the doors, and she says no and simply hangs up on him to go lock the doors.

Next we go to some cruddy nightclub where we meet this woman Nell. The creep from earlier is there, and Nell comes on to him HARD. The creep tells her he’s not interested but she is NOT having it. Then, when he finally walks of, she’s furious with him for leading her on. Then we cut away to town hunk Frankie, the one in the red satin shirts, and picks up this woman in a pickup truck. She’s pissed because he made her wait 30 minutes. She gets in and he’s not in the mood for her ministrations, and tells her he hates it when she baby talks, and she throws a fit and gets out, and he drives off without a thought. We then return to Nell, now completely drunk. But no problem—she’s going to drive. She doesn’t make it far, and the next time we see her she’s hacked up in Ingrid’s chicken coop.

So Ingrid’s a little wigged. She milks the goat again, but this time has a vision that the thing starts shooting out blood [it’s pretty disturbing] and that there’s blood all over her dress. Then she wakes. She goes into the shower where she claws at her body, giving herself welts. Then Frankie comes in to the shower and takes her to her room, where he rapes her. Uncle Carl comes home and hears her inside—presumably at this point we are to understand he thinks she’s masturbating?—and they make up from their fight earlier, when he wouldn’t believe her.

Then there’s a weird scene in which Ingrid, who by the way is very religious, goes to church and tells the priest what happened to her. He seems to be very keen on hearing the illicit details. Then who should come in for confession but Frankie the rapist! Funny running into you here! He tells the priest what happened, but refuses to take the priest’s advice and go to the police. Outside the priest hears Ingrid being raped again, and it must be said that he doesn’t exactly run to help her. A few minutes later—after Aldo finds out that his daughter is pregnant with Frankie’s baby—a woman is being brutally raped right across the street from two cops who stroll over at a leisurely pace to help her.

This is where I’m gonna stop, because from now on this movie takes some twists that you really shouldn’t know about if you have any inclination to watch. We see some disturbing events that make a lot of sense and pull the story together, then we get a long scene of explanation of what’s been going on all along, and a visit from someone who—well, let’s just say who we thought we knew. At the very end comes a series of visions / memories that are evocative, but shy away from direct explanations. That is, they imply things without directly showing the undeniable evidence, and I kind of appreciated that, as the entire movie seems to be about the distorting nature of memory and piecing together conclusions from fleeting impressions. And at the end there is a final image that may or may not blow your mind.

This movie is often seen as a gloss on Repulsion, and the connection is obvious once you see it, but it also reminded me of another gem from the 50 Chilling Classics set, Messiah of Evil. Like that movie, it’s just intriguingly unsettling in the best ways. Many notes I jotted down from this movie begin “Weird scene in which…” “Weird scene where….” I’ve also never seen a movie that so successfully conveys the town-wide anxiety that having a killer on the loose provokes.

It ultimately turns out to be a little less interesting than one would initially believe, but even so it remains spooky and dreamlike throughout. There are obviously tighter and more rewarding movie out there, but if you like creepy and weird with an atmosphere of sustained sexual tension and menace—much of it thanks to Pino Donaggio’s gorgeous score which gets much extended play—then hop on over to Haunts.

Should you watch it: 

I would. It’s a righteously bizarre and spooky little gem, if ultimately it doesn’t come to all that much.

RELATED MOVIES:
REPULSION is the obvious blueprint for this movie.