May 18, 2017
Last week, the talented character actor Michael Parks passed away at the age of 77. Parks was one of those actors whose name might not be instantly recognizable, but whose face is known by every cinemaniac. He was a regular in films by both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith has gone on record saying that he wrote Red State and Tusk specifically for Parks. Like so many other cult favorite actors, Parks did his share of horror movies, schlock with titles like The Savage Bees, Nightmare Beach…and the subject of this week’s Cinema Fearité – The Evictors.
Set in 1942, The Evictors stars Parks as Ben Watkins, a man who, along with his wife, Ruth (Jessica Harper from Phantom of the Paradise and Suspiria), purchases a home in a small Louisiana town. The realtor, Jake Rudd (Vic Morrow, most famous as the actor who was killed while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie), neglects to tell the Watkins about the bloody shootout that took place at the house when the bank tried to foreclose on it fifteen years earlier. He also doesn’t mention the fact that every resident of the house since has met a violent end. When the Watkins receive an icy welcome from the town, they are perplexed. When they start getting suspicious notes telling them to leave, they get a little worried. That worry turns into sheer panic when a shadowy stalker turns up outside the house every night. Ben and Ruth need to unravel the mystery of the house before it unravels them.
The writer and director of The Evictors, Charles B. Pierce, is the man behind the cult B-movies The Town That Dreaded Sundown and The Legend of Boggy Creek, and The Evictors is more of the same. It was made in 1979, so he’d already had a number of movies under his belt, but The Evictors isn’t much more polished than his early work. There’s more to it on a narrative scale, but it’s still got the same low-budget, make-it-up-as-you-go-along visual aesthetic that makes Pierce’s movies so endearing. At its core, The Evictors is a cross between a supernatural campfire tale and a suspenseful home invasion movie. It’s “based on a true story” title card just makes it more of a spiritual soulmate to The Town that Dreaded Sundown and The Legend of Boggy Creek.
By the time Pierce made The Evictors, he had grown accustomed to working with professional actors rather than casting his friends and relatives in his movies. Even still, between Jessica Harper, Michael Parks, and Vic Morrow, The Evictors is probably his most accomplished group of actors. There can be little doubt that it’s Harper’s movie, but Parks carries his weight like only he can, both supporting Harper’s lead and proving to be a formidable foil for Morrow’s shady real estate agent himself. When called upon, Parks plays the hero, but he is in no way Harper’s knight in shining armor – he’s flawed, makes mistakes, and pays dearly for them (as does his wife). In other words, Ben Watkins is an everyman, and Parks’s performance of the character connects with the audience and helps them relate to the otherwise far-reaching world of the movie.
His cast may have been experienced, but Pierce used a rookie cinematographer to shoot The Evictors – a man by the name of Chuck Bryant, whose only cinematic credit up to that point was for performing the title song to Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek. Pierce himself was known as a very hands-on filmmaker, so chances are that both men tagged-teamed the camera work. Whoever was behind the camera, the cinematography in The Evictors fits right in with Pierce’s other movies, rough and gritty enough to give an air of authenticity without looking too much like a shaky-cam, found footage mockumentary. The Evictors does pull out some fun photographic tricks, like washing the flashback scenes in sepia toned black and white as well as utilizing the infamous slasher point of view shot for some of the stalking scenes. Visually, The Evictors falls neatly between a standard Charles B. Pierce faux-documentary and a straight-up occult slasher.
The music for The Evictors was composed by Jaime Mendoza-Nava, who not only scored classics like The Brotherhood of Satan and Grave of the Vampire, he also did the music for most of Pierce’s other films. Because of this, the score for The Evictors is reminiscent of the music for Pierce’s earlier work, minus the country twang. The soundtrack music is over-the-top spooky and mysterious, yet also extremely accessible, sounding almost like the triumphant thunder of an old western, never getting too dissonant or abrasive to betray the film’s nineteen-forties setting.
Most movie fans will remember Michael Parks from his recurring role as Sheriff Earl McGraw in the Tarantino/Rodriguez universe. A few others will recognize him from Kevin Smith’s more serious movies. But if they dig deeper, they’ll find buried treasure like The Evictors on his resume. No matter for what film he’s best remembered, one thing is for sure; he’ll never be forgotten. There will only ever be one Michael Parks. Rest in peace.