170. The Demons of Ludlow (1983)
Director: Bill Rebane
Writers: William Arthur with additional dialogue by Alan Ross
In celebration of Ludlow’s bicentennial, the family of the founder deliver a special piano to the town, only the piano carries with it a power that will fulfill a curse laid upon descendants of the town’s founders 200 years before.
The third film from director Bill Rebane to pop up in this series, the previous two being The Astral Factor and The Cold, this piece also demonstrates his mastery of the 80’s-afternoon-TV form. Think of him as a mid-budget Don Dohler.
The movie starts with 3 establishing shots: someone we don’t know walks through the snow to a house, a woman wearing a corset and heels is trying to decide what to wear, and a jug band plays down at the ol’ town hall where they’re celebrating the town’s bicentennial. With that you have a sense of the tenor and competence of the film—stuff’s going to happen and there’ll be (mostly) TV-safe titillation along the way.
The man is the town’s Reverend, the woman his wife, and they share a snarky exchange about how much she drinks and demonstrating a general discontentment in their marriage. Neither matters to the plot and neither element is brought up again, but the scene did allow this reviewer to clarify that, yes, she’s getting ready for the evening and is only wearing a corset and high heels. Super.
The town is Ludlow, celebrating it’s bicentennial, and the family of the late great-grandson of the founder, also named Ludlow, has sent an antique piano to commemorate the event. Most people are impressed by the gift, a few say there’s something creepy about it, and a young couple decides to sneak off to fool around while the piano’s played.
Ghosts show up and kill them, natch, but everyone in town thinks they’ve just run off together.
Meanwhile, a reporter who spent her childhood in the town has returned out of pure curiosity and is investigating old tales her grandfather told her, including tales of the piano.
Anyway, haunted piano, ancient curse, yadda yadda. There aren’t any characters here and nothing really surprising. The Reverend and the Reporter (coming this fall to ABC) are the only ones who are suspicious of the piano and its connections to the town’s history. People keep dying and the mayor refuses the Reverend’s demands that they bring in outside help. The movie becomes a bit of a cross between Jaws and Poltergeist at this point, although for no explicable reason. It’s never clear why the mayor is so resistant to calling the cops, and then ghosts cut his head off.
The Reverend digs up “the list” which details all the original settlers of the town and what crimes they committed against each other and ultimately against Ludlow himself. The Reporter, while talking to her colleague, says there were rumors that Ludlow was a vampire or witch, that something happened with children, and he was run out of town and forced back to England. What the Reverend reveals is that Ludlow played the piano a bunch, which annoyed everyone, so they cut off his hands. Plus his ten-year-old daughter got sick and died, so he blamed the town. Hence a centuries-long curse that’s finally coming to fruition!
This culminates in the Reverend and Reporter facing off against the piano, first trying to write the proper notes on it to dispel the curse and then just attacking it with an ax. Credit where due, the piano starts flying up and down a la Hausu, and then all the Puritan-era ghosts appear. They cut off the Reverend’s hands, the Reporter (suddenly in period dress) flees but finds herself unable to cross the town’s border, and then that stops when the Reverend’s hands are restored to Ludlow’s ghost. THE END.
As you’d expect from a Rebane film, it’s generically bad. It remains watchable and makes some budgetary choices that are unintentionally funny—the piano never sounds like a piano, instead always sounding like a bank of synths—but it also doesn’t demand any kind of attention. You could turn this movie on at any point and immediately be caught up because there are no details that need explaining. The set-up is obvious throughout. Even the echoes, intentional or otherwise, of Carnival of Souls amplify the feeling that this is a movie you’ve seen before.
So I’m in the middle on it. It’s fine enough if it comes on in the background, but I wouldn’t direct anyone to it. It has a few campy excesses, but not enough to make the movie riffable or enjoyable on an ironic level. While it’s not as boring as Alien Prey, it’s not as much fun as his follow-up, The Cold which managed the cheap movie mash-up style more effectively. If I were to recommend anything, it’d be that or the two episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 featuring his movies, 0421: Monster-A-Go-Go and 0810: The Giant Spider Invasion.