Concluding Arrow’s American Horror Project box set we have another slice of strange nightmarish 70’s hysteria ‘The Premonition’ directed by Robert Allen Schnitzer in 1976. Naturally there are plenty of other films with this title and before giving it a view I wasn’t sure if I had ever seen it before. I was pleasantly surprised that I had not which made a blind viewing without looking up any details about it all the more enjoyable. One thing that came quickly apparent is just how well it fits in with the other 2 films in the box-set ‘The Witch Who Came From The Sea’ and ‘Malatesta’s Carnival Of Blood.’ It most definitely has one big dose of psychological madness running through it as per the first and a setting of a funfair sideshow is concurrent with the second. As things progress more and more comes to light and these films would make a perfect triple bill if you had the inclination and time to watch them back to back.
The Premonition is a curious tale that at first seems to make little sense. We are introduced to a rather strange couple Jude (Richard Lynch) a mime artist and photographer at the funfair and Ellen (Andrea Fletcher) who both seem to be teetering on the precipice of madness. They have their hearts set on snatching a child Danielle from a much more normal family The Bennetts. A premonition by the girl’s mother and an attempted kidnapping spiral off into a tale of murder mystery and mayhem. Jude is obviously as nutty as a squirrels lunch and dressed in an alluring red dress wanders around in an ever more crazed state. She doesn’t manage to steal the girl away at first making do with her doll much to the annoyance of Jude who it would seem is going out of his way to help her. You would think he is doing things out of love but he too is far from normal and it would appear has nefarious and unexplained designs of his own. After the kidnap attempt goes wrong the girl’s mother Sheri (Sharon Farrell) also starts her descent into madness whilst pragmatic husband Miles (Edward Bell) a professor plays sleuth. It’s not that straightforward though as the professor is involved with his colleague Dr. Jeena Kingsly (Chitra Neogy) in all sorts of parapsychology and psych-babble to do with dreams and psychic links, a bond of which appears to have formed between Ellen and Sheri.
The first half an hour or so had me not enjoying this much at all. The hodgepodge child in peril scenario mixed with supernatural trimmings and the sort of whacky scientific aspects that could have been straight out of an early Croneberg film such as The Brood had me groaning. However as things went on I found myself all the more engrossed by the strangeness of it all and wanted to find out where things were leading to, all the more. Although there is resolution and everything does tie up it is done in such a baffling and perplexing fashion that the absurdist nature of it all can’t help but leaving you haunted by what you have just seen. This means that like the other films in the set it is a somewhat unique viewing experience and one that has stood the test of time well. The central characters are all very strong and although at times things border on overacting this seems necessary to express just how whacky many of them actually are. Director Schnitzer was hardly prolific although his debut feature No Place To Hide (1970) may well be remembered for having a young Sylvester Stallone in. After this he did not make anything else until 1987 with Kandyland a film about a bikini contest before again pretty much fading into obscurity once again. The film itself appears to have got a release on Embassy video in 1983 and from what I can determine sunk without a trace until now getting its DVD and Blu-Ray premier in the UK and USA in this boxed set. Perhaps the extras would fill in a few gaps about what happened with everyone involved in it.
“Pictures with a Premonition” a featurette with director Robert Allen Schnitzer, composer Henry Mollicone, and cinematographer Victor Milt is first up. The director mentions his interest in the paranormal and metaphysical and incorporated these themes into a script he had picked up called The Adoption to arrive at the film we have now. Spending several months in Jackson Mississippi he says that the shoot went largely without a hitch and the cast and crew were fantastic. Sharing some of his somewhat hippy ideals cinematographer Milt had been on a trip of discovery like the director and collaborated closely with him making it. He explains that it was the use of new handheld camera technology that created the look of the film. Luckily they had lots of help from all sides, securing a carnival setting to shoot in and getting necessary assistance from police and fire-services. Even working with a 6 year old girl on the set went pretty easily. Got to admit the soundtrack didn’t grab me whilst watching, it’s classical and partly incidental until it really does get utilised in the film at key parts. Composer Mollicone was discovered in the yellow pages of all places and provided that much needed link. I suspect when I go back to watch the film I may appreciate his part in it and notice it all the more now I know what to expect narratively. Elevation of the human spirit is the most important aspect of making a film are the partying words of the director, it’s up to the watcher to decide whether he achieved this or not. He also pops up for a short older interview but this does not add much to what we have already seen and heard apart from the fact he did a promotion tour in a hearse as no limos were available. Richard Lynch had a prolific career before dying in 2012. He has played parts often as a baddie in plenty of genre pictures from Larry Cohen’s God Told Me Too to Albert Pyun’s The Sword And The Sorcerer and a rake of Charles Band productions. Here he chats in animated fashion about his acting lifestyle. He states he signed on for this for his entire life and indeed that was very much the case and it was only poor health that prevented him starring in Rob Zombie’s Lords Of Salem towards the end. He fondly remembers The Premonition and has plenty of interesting things to say about his life making this a good little insight into his 40 plus years on stage and screen.
Although not mentioned on the IMDB Schnitzer made some short ‘student films.’ I watched the first, the painfully overlong 40 minute ‘Terminal Point’ and suffered terminal boredom at its drawn out scenes and attempts at hippy counter-culture deep meaningfulness (man) but found it a load of pretentious nonsense that probably should never have been inflicted on the public. As for the half hour paint-drying story of boy meets girl and a bunch of grapes which Vernal Equinox translates to, well best advice is save yourself the time. I can only conclude with everything else taken into consideration that The Premonition is probably a flash in the pan work of merit amidst a small but otherwise un-noteworthy filmography. Arrow’s box set is completed with a 60 page booklet and groovy artwork and although I haven’t seen these up close, the whole thing strikes as a real labour of love and has me looking forward to the inevitable second series. Hopefully these films will be released as stand-alone titles in the future as although working together it would no doubt be preferable to many to pick and choose the titles they want at a cheaper price. All in all though, this journey into the American Horror Project has been highly enjoyable.