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Killer Car Movies: ‘The Hearse’ (1980)

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The Hearse
Hearses are scary enough when possession isn’t involved…
Photo: Greg Gjerdingen via CC

When it comes to effectively scaring an audience, most modern films tend to go for shock and gore. However, there was a time when creepy flicks used atmosphere to gradually build terror. Whether these films were excellent, passable, or so-bad-they’re-good fun, their use of atmosphere over spectacle often produced memorable results. Such is the case for this installment of The News Wheel’s spotlight on killer-car cinema: a low-budget thriller from 1980 called The Hearse.


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The story of “The Hearse”

Produced at the turn of the decade by director/editor George Bowers, 1980’s The Hearse is an obscure supernatural thriller with little notoriety. Sadly, it would ultimately be buried under the many horror classics that would define the 80s. In many ways, the story feels like a throwback to an older type of horror film. With its creepy haunted house and ghostly happenings, it seems an ill fit for an era of extravagant, effects-fueled spectacles.

The Hearse tells the tale of a woman named Jane Hardy, played by Trish Van Devere. In an attempt to distance herself from a bad divorce, she decides to spend the summer in the creepy old house she inherited from her late aunt. Upon arriving in the town, she realizes that she is far from welcome. As it turns out, her aunt was a devil-worshipping witch. Worse still, the townsfolk are less than thrilled to see the old house occupied again. Soon, spooky things begin happening to poor Jane, including the threat of an ominous black hearse that seems to drive itself through the night…

Why it’s scary

If you go into this film expecting action, bloodshed, and a body count, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. This is simply not that kind of movie. However, what it lacks in spectacle is more than makes up for with atmosphere. The entire film has a tense feeling of dread and unease, mostly due to the townsfolk treating our heroine with distain. The idea of an innocent decedent moving back to the place where their ancestor committed evil acts is nothing new for the genre. In 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, the son of the infamous doctor is met with mistrust and hatred upon moving back to his father’s village. In The Hearse, the concept plays out much the same.

But what about the creepy car of the title? The menacing hearse that stalks Jane — and the tragic legend surrounding it — is the supernatural center point of the movie. As Jane learns, the hearse is supposedly the very one that carried her aunt’s body following her death. The story goes that the hearse crashed and exploded into flame, and her aunt’s body was never found. This added layer of morbidity gives the car an even creepier presence, and invests the audience in solving the mystery of its existence.


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Could the hearse be possessed by the soul of a vengeful witch? Are the townsfolk just trying to scare her away? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.