The Devonsville Terror (1983)

SUZANNA LOVE.....Jenny Scanlon
ROBERT WALKER, JR.....Matthew Pendleton
PAUL WILLSON.....Walter Gibbs
DEANNA HAAS.....Monica
MICHAEL ACCARDO.....Ralph Pendleton
BILL DEXTER.....Aaron Pendleton
PRISCILLA LOWE.....Myrtle Pendleton
ANGELICA REBANE.....Angel Pendleton

Produced and Directed by ULLI LOMMEL


German film director Ulli Lommel is one of those promising talents from years past whose career never really took off. A disciple of German New Wave director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant and The Marriage of Maria Braun), this art-house filmmaker broke out on to the scene in 1973 with the controversial German thriller Tenderness of the Wolves, but it was not until he came to the United States and made the stylish 1980 hit The Boogey Man that he was able to pick up much of a following.

This low-budget horror film, which starred the then-Mrs. Lommel, Suzanna Love, and the late horror legend John Carradine, was the tale of a murderous broken mirror which harbored an evil spirit. With its unusually slow pacing and hallucinatory atmosphere, it stood out as one of the better independent horror offerings of the time period. He followed this success with the Hitchcock inspired Olivia (1981), the extremely underappreciated Brainwaves (1982), the disastrous Boogeyman II (1983--a directorial effort that he allowed assistant director Bruce Starr to take the credit for), and the disappointing yet intriguing 1983 horror melodrama The Devonsville Terror.

During the unsettling 1683 prelude of The Devonsville Terror, we watch in our seats helpless as three young women are dragged out of their homes and taken into the woods to be tried and executed for the unholy crime of practicing witchcraft. One by one, each are found guilty of the misdeed and immediately put to death by the chief executioner of the small New England village of Devonsville and his bloodthirsty clan. After burning the third and final witch at the stake, lightning strikes her charred lifeless body lying on the ground and suddenly, from beyond the grave, her spirit exclaims "Damn you all!!!" With those words, the people of Devonsville have had to live with the possibility that someday the spirits of the three witches may return to seek retribution.

Three hundred years later, in 1983, a young woman, Jenny Scanlon (Suzanna Love), arrives in Devonsville to take the position of the town's school teacher. Jenny is a quiet young lass, who stays to herself and does not socialize with the locals. After she teaches the children that some early cultures believed God was female in gender and rejects the sexual advances of a young redneck (Michael Accardo) and the town grocery merchant (Paul Willson), who, unbeknownst to the rest of the community, recently suffocated his wife, Jenny begins to be loathed by her neighbors.

The town soon suspects that Jenny and two other career gals, who also have recently moved into the area, are the reincarnations of the three witches put to death in the 1683 inquisition. This belief is confirmed by the mysterious Dr. Warley (Donald Pleasence), who through hypnosis has been making the women and the rest of the townspeople subconsciously aware of their past lives as the witches and executioners in the inquisition. Dr. Warley's great, great, great-grandfather was the witches' executioner, and, since that fateful night, the entire Warley family has been cursed and subjected to death by worms.....yes, worms! He believes that if he can resurface these memories, history will repeat itself and the witches will finally be able to get the revenge they desire.

Lommel's lack of concern in the areas of character development and dialogue is what ultimately sinks The Devonsville Terror. At no point, during its scant 82 minute running time, do we care about Love's character and her well-being. Time is never taken to fully explore her personality or anyone else's, for that matter. Each of the characters are cardboard caricatures and have little to offer the viewer. All are forced to utter atrocious dialogue (penned by Lommel, Love, and George T. Lindsey), which destroys the little credibility the characters do possess. If you don't believe me, here is an example of what I mean.....judge for yourself:

Ralph (Accardo): Look at my poor brother Matthew with that whore.

Walter (Willson): She's not a whore.....she's a witch. She tried to seduce me too, but I didn't fall for it.

Ralph (Accardo): It's the same temptation are ancestors had to go through. She probably tried to get Doc Warley too.

Walter (Willson): I'm afraid the Doctor is playing a much more dangerous role in this conspiracy.

The acting ranges from decent to amateurish. Michael Accardo and Paul Willson, who you might remember as the recurring character Paul on the television sitcom Cheers, make the most of what they have to work with and give a pair of chilling performances, while Love and Robert Walker, Jr. seem to be both embarrassed at the production and merely sleepwalk through their roles. Donald Pleasence is totally wasted in his role, which on the whole is rather meaningless and seems to have only been written for the excuse to include him and thereby give a degree of name power to the film.

I hate to criticize the film, because I admire Lommel's filming style and can see what he is trying to do. The idea of transporting the seventeenth century witch trials to modern times, so that current society can see more clearly how paranoia can quickly engulf everyone in a community, is very intriguing. This idea, however, is never fully realized in the film. If Lommel would have spent as much time on the screenplay as he did on the look and feel of the film, The Devonsville Terror could have been something to treasure.

It has been fifteen years since the release of The Devonsville Terror, and Lommel has not directed anything worth mentioning since. It is hard to believe that someone as talented as Lommel never became well known in the horror film industry. Anyone who has seen The Boogey Man or Brainwaves knows that he had a unique "anything can happen" style that was unlike any other. Maybe, one of these days, Lommel will make his comeback and prove once again that he is an auteur to reckon with. We can only hope.

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Review © 1998 THE MAN WITH THE HYPNOTIC EYE. All Rights Reserved.


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