A Lady (Olivia De Havilland) gets trapped inside a home elevator after the electricity goes out. During a hot summer day, while she presses a button inside the elevator to summon help from the alley, she unknowingly attracts looters who in turn try hurting her and steal all her personal belongings.
This is the perfect thriller for me because I’m physically disabled and have had experiences where I have had to wait for help from others. One time at college I got stuck, unable to press the controls on my motorized wheelchair, while an outdoor ramp (basement service entrance) which went partially under the building. Just twenty feet from sunlight and people walking by. They couldn’t hear me so I had to wait for someone to go down the ramp or out the entrance door. It took ten minutes – ten minutes of no control. This movie is just like that but intensified a hundred fold!
This film perfectly captures the thoughts and emotions felt when you lose control and the ensuing panic it causes. It’s like being buried alive, just in a bigger tomb. But it doesn’t end there – no, not by a long shot. Added to that is a group of looters who disconnect your emergency alarms and steals your belongings right in front of you! Bad enough? Wait, it gets better – or is that worse? Add another group of looters but ones who aren’t adverse to killing! Combine these, plus a few other negative details (I can’t spoil them), and mix them in a blender at high-speed with the lid off. The result is highway to nervous breakdown-ville!
The story is simple but one which only appears simple at first glance. It’s filled with complex emotions that keep building and building, layer upon layer and culminating in a huge tour de force of insanity. Being simple and basically centering in one house, we’re forced to focus on the intense drama portrayed.
The cast is an all-star ensemble of experienced veterans and up-and-coming stars. Olivia de Havilland is just fantastic; too bad more modern actors aren’t as good. This is Olivia’s fortieth film so she’s the veteran and star here. She portrays a delicate woman, recovering from hip surgery, toughened in the course of a few hours and drawn to the edge of insanity, perfectly. The great James Caan, in only his second role, plays Randall, the hardened criminal who has no qualms with murder. Caan’s so realistic here as the deranged thief that I didn’t recognize him until I read the credits. And I definitely did NOT recognize Scatman Crothers as the junkyard assistant! I had to go back to see those scenes. The rest of the cast is great as well.
The trio of looters led by Caan is very wild and don’t care who they killed. They remind me of House of 1000 Corpses with that insane aspect; Baby is just like Elaine here. They did a lot of crazy stuff but most is implied – what is shown probably pushed the censors back then. If done today with the implied things shown, this would be rated R+. I hope it gets remade but with more gore. They’ll never replace Olivia de Havilland or Caan though.
There’s a disturbing implied relationship between Hilyard and her son, Malcolm, which just adds another dimension of disturbing her.
Overall, this is a great, great classic thriller which stirs horrific and disturbing emotions. I highly recommend this to everyone, horror fans or not. 4.5/5
Mrs. Hilyard: I am a human being. A feeling, thinking, human being.
Randall: [mocking] Okay. I am *all* animal. Sure beats the hell outta being an inmate…
Mrs. Hilyard: [shudders] … inmate?… Asylum?
Randall: [to George] We’re gonna kill you. First you, then the pig… and then, the human being
Olivia de Havilland …. Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard
James Caan …. Randall
Jennifer Billingsley …. Elaine
Jeff Corey …. George L. Brady Jr.
Ann Sothern …. Sade
Rafael Campos …. Essie
William Swan …. Malcolm Hilyard
Charles Seel …. Junkyard Proprietor
Scatman Crothers …. Junkyard Proprietor’s Assistant