ExpulsionQuite a few haunted house clichés are utilized in this slow moving French-made effort by Juan Luis Bunuel. A seeming inspiration on POLTERGEIST, the film has a few good things, but not enough to make for a worthwhile product.

This 1973 film (original title: AU RENDEZ-VOUS DE LA MORT JOYEUSE/AT THE MEETING WITH JOYOUS DEATH) was the directorial debut of Juan Luis Bunuel (son of the legendary Luis Bunuel), and the first of three horror-tinged films made by Bunuel. The others include the 1974 Catherine Deneuve vehicle THE WOMAN WITH RED BOOTS and 1975’s LEONOR, all co-written by screenwriter Pierre-Jean Maintigneux. As for the rest of Juan Bunuel’s output, it’s confined largely to French television and DVD interviews about his more famous father.

The story: A successful illustrator named Marc and his family move into an old country house. They have trouble settling into the place, what with windows shattering for no apparent reason and Marc’s 14-year-old daughter Sophie behaving strangely. The following day Marc discovers that his latest illustration has been inexplicably covered with mud while Sophie finds that her mirror reflection appears to be acting on its own. A bit later Henri, a family friend, turns up for a dinner party and is attacked by the refrigerator.

At the end of his tether, Marc allows a television crew to do an expose on the house while he and his family stay elsewhere. The crew are initially disappointed by the lack of supernatural activity, but then Sophie turns back up, having hitchhiked her way back to the house, and a soundman burns his hand on a stove.

Around this point a most unexpected thing happens: a priest shows up at the house with a dozen or so orphaned children. Apparently the priest and his brood have been coming to the house for years, and the TV crew lets them stay. Thus, there’s a crowd on hand when later that night the TV show’s producer Perou wakes up covered in mud.

Sophie finds her mirror image acting up again. The priest reports that similar things occurred recently in a house in New York, which, in common with the present haunting, appeared to center on a 14-year-old girl. By this point things in the house have degenerated entirely, with the injured soundman going completely nuts and driving off with the children, and a seemingly possessed Sophie acting far stranger than usual.

This film has many problems. First of all, it takes most of the opening twenty minutes to really get going, with the lead characters coming off as remote and unsympathetic. It’s not until the supernatural activity begins that the film picks up—but then it becomes burdened by a new, far less interesting set of protagonists who take the place of the family. Other irritants include a punishingly slow pace and a lot of dead space between the scary stuff, which is presented (a la the same year’s THE EXORCIST) in short bursts of intense action.

Not that the scare scenes—the early kitchen attack in particular—aren’t strong, pulled off with evocative lighting and a hint of the unaffected surrealism that distinguished the films of Juan Bunuel’s father. There’s also a memorably hysterical turn by a young Gerard Depardieu as the unstable soundman. But the film overall is just too dull to warrant a full recommendation.

Vital Statistics

Les Artistes Associes

Director: Juan Luis Bunuel
Producer: Robert Velin
Screenplay: Juan Luis Bunuel, Pierre-Jean Maintigneux
Cinematography: Ghislain Cloquet
Editing: Genevieve Vaury
Cast: Francois Fabian, Jean-Marc Bory, Jean-Pierre Darras, Claude Dauphin, Michel Creton, Gerard Depardieu, Andre Weber, Yasmine Dahm, Renato Salv