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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

THE CARETAKER -- Movie Review by Porfle

Some horror movies seem to be able to look right into our minds and find exactly what flat-out scares us, and then they use that to turn us into shivering, quivering, gibbering blobs of giddy terror.  Others, unfortunately, don't seem to have a clue and simply throw everything but the kitchen sink at us in hopes that something scary will stick.

And then there are those fright flicks that traverse the middle ground between the two, occasionally causing a tingly chill up and down the spine but never quite hitting that elusive terror sweet spot within our delicate psyches.  THE CARETAKER (2016, Level 33) is like that, although not for lack of trying.  It's a respectable effort.

Sondra Blake, a familiar face for those of us who grew up watching TV in the 70s (in addition to being married to Robert Blake, she played Susan Atkins' cellmate in the TV-movie "Helter Skelter" among many other things), is a welcome presence as dotty old hag Birdy, who lives in a huge antique of a house and drives away every caretaker hired to watch over her.

Not only is Birdie stubbornly unwilling to take the meds that keep her psychoses at bay, but when she isn't behaving like an even nuttier version of Blanche DuBois from "A Streetcar Named Desire" she tends at times to be...well, scary.

The movie's first (effective) jump scare, in fact, is due to her, which finally drives away caretaker Gilberto and forces her granddaughter Mallorie (Meegan Warner, "TURN: Washington's Spies") to move back into the old house she grew up in (Birdie raised her from the age of four after her mother's mysterious disappearance) to take over as caretaker herself.

Mallorie's boyfriend August (Sean Martini) comes along for the ride--the occasional chance to ride Mallorie, that is--although he chafes at having to sleep on the dusty old couch.  They'll both get more than they bargained for when Birdy turns out to be not only more unmanageable than they imagined, but also displays a tendency toward witchery that lends a growing air of creepy foreboding to the proceedings.

As the two young people learn more and more about Birdie's past--such as being expelled from her position as a circus medium, of all things, for heresy--Mallorie starts sleepwalking and seeing things.  She also tells August of the time as a child when she was in the living room one dark night and thought she saw a clown standing in the corner.  Okay, end of movie--I'd be outta there faster than a McDonald's employee asks "Would you like fries with that?"

Sondra Blake is pretty effective throughout, but in a relatively subtle way--she never really lays it on as thick as I thought she eventually would, even when Birdie turns the tables on her caretakers and teeters off the deep end. 

In fact, the movie itself never quite goes for broke, content to maintain a decent level of interest with the mystery of what terrible things happened in the house back in Mallorie's unremembered past, what secrets are locked away in the old dark attic, and other stuff about spells and seances and such.

What's missing, ultimately, is the sense of genuine fear we anticipate and desire but which the film is never quite able to pull off.  The elements are all there for an experience similar to that of, say, THE OTHERS, a movie that chilled us to the bone because it knew just how to pull our strings.  Even the potential to capitalize big-time on the clownophobia most people suffer from these days goes largely unrealized. 

The story does make one last stops-out attempt to end things with a bang, or rather a scream, but even this final twist is merely noteworthy (in a "hmm, that's an interesting end to the story" kind of way) rather than chilling. 

Still, although I was totally unmoved by the 1980 ghost story THE CHANGELING, some of the guys I saw it with found it really disturbing.  Similarly, your mileage may vary with THE CARETAKER.  It does have a nice creepy atmosphere, good performances, a decent script and production values, and Sondra Blake, which I found enough for an enjoyable if mostly non-terrifying experience.

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