OK. I realize this website devotes most of its space towards pleasing the more graphic/extreme horror fan, and I’d expect nothing less. So PLEASE bear with me on this review. There ain’t a thing necessarily graphic so to speak about this made for TV movie, but it’s shadowy, haunting 1970’s attack is nonetheless foreboding. This film holds great sentimental value because it’s probably one of the first to impale my spongy pink memory banks (now dulled, elderly and tobacco stained) and scared the ever-loving hell out of me. Once again, I originally caught this jewel on a Sunday morning, propped up in front of our old B&W television (this film is in color), with “mommy” explaining every detail. So with this historical disclaimer firmly intact, lemme tell you about “How Awful About Allan”… Once again, like “Psycho”, our star Anthony Perkins (Allan) plays the part of a mentally disturbed son, except this time instead of dealing with a transvestite-inducing “dead mother” complex; it’s his father’s death that bedevils and blinds him.
The opening scene where Allan, along with his father, Professor Collie and sister, Katherine (Julie Harris) are caught in a blazing house fire results as the catalyst for what follows. A wall of flames separates Allan from his trapped father while Katherine begs big brother to save dad. The blaze becomes out of control and with the house crumbling around them, Allan becomes separated from sis, and he bolts from the house leaving his father to die, engulfed by flames. Allan’s soot-covered sister is carried out moments later and to the horror of the on-watching neighbors, her face is badly burned, but she is alive.
And then it happens: Allan psychosomatically goes blind. Amongst a throng of onlookers Allan declares, “I can’t see. I’m blind!” and then the faces and images surrounding him blur-out as the camera lives through our troubled main character’s eyes. The blurry filtered camera lens working from Allan’s viewpoint, as he now “sees” the world, is a reoccurring theme for the remainder of the flick and adds a tremendous amount of atmosphere to an already grainy, darkly lit affair.
The film picks up with Allan returning home after some 8-months spent in a mental hospital. Nothing is medically wrong with his eyesight but his mind tells him otherwise. The tension between he and Katherine is apparent from the get-go. She’s fully recovered, but uses a prosthetic patch to cover the scar on her face apparently left in the aftermath of the fire.
Allan is distrustful of his surroundings and immediately throws himself into introvert mode. Katherine is nothing more than sulky and dutiful when it comes to dealing with Allan on a day-to-day basis. She cooks his meals. She cleans up after him, and seems to constantly patronize his every semi-hostile, questioning probe.
Allan believes she holds their father’s death against him, as well as her facial disfiguring.
As it turns out, after investigation, it looks like it was possibly Allan’s fault the fire started in the first place. Cans of paint and thinner were left by a gas heater, but Doctor Ellins (Robert H. Harris) is quick to remind Allan “there’s no way you could’ve known that” in a scene where Allan is originally discharged.
Allan tries several times to gauge where Katherine stands on the subject but she avoids the entire topic with quick non-answers and worried looks. She in turn believes Allan may’ve been released from the hospital too soon because of his lack of rationale and ultra-paranoid behavior.
Olive (Joan Hackett), is a sympathetic neighbor from across the street, and you get the idea she and Allan may’ve had something going at one time, but his behavior toward her is extremely stand-off-ish. He’s so entirely wrapped up in feeling sorry for himself, her attempts at helpfulness and affection are thwarted. By all rights, Allan feels completely alone; therefore he IS alone.
This is when Allan’s nights become invaded by a whispering, shadowy specter that calls him by name; beckoning him upright out of bed and into the dim-lit maw. Confined to the 4-walls of his bedroom, Allan peers into the dark hallways of the house, desperate to identify the intruding source, and by all rights he’s obviously terrified.
Allan’s point of view is at its most chilling because the cloudy lens that represents his eyesight only allots the viewer to see brief glimpses of a darkened human (?) shape slowly shambling closer and closer towards the camera. A constant “Allllllan” being whispered in long drawn-out, threatening breaths overlap the entire sequence.
This, flip-flopped with scenes of Allan sporting a mortified look on his face, stumbling through the dark and then finally locking himself in his room is a tense, unnerving watch.
The haunting visits become more frequent, and Allan’s paranoia hits an all-time high, but he CAN’T say a thing to anyone about it, especially to Olive or Gawd forbid sis Katherine, for fear of being sent back to the hospital.
Is he really going crazy? Or is his nocturnal visitor out for some kind of revenge? Mix in Katherine’s estranged boyfriend Eric (Trent Dolan) and potential room-renter Harold Dennis (Billy Bowles) who’re BOTH suffering from separate throat afflictions, and Allan has plenty of laryngitis-throttled, hissing suspects to choose from.
I’ll be stupidly honest; the ending leaves a little to be desired. You pretty much know all along what the heck is going on, but the way the story progresses creates a bizarre, scary ride. The film is slow-paced and methodical in its approach, but leaves a heck of an impact in its wake. The heckling, whispering voice that harasses Allan has been stuck in my head since I can recall recalling. Bravo!
The music score by Laurence Rosenthal is a perfect compliment to this story. It’s depressing, eerie and dramatic at key moments and non-existent tastefully. Directed by Curtis Harrington, teamed with screenwriter Henry Farrell (Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte) and produced by 20th century TV stalwart Aaron Spelling, “How Awful about Allan” is a unique watch. Fans of Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” TV series, or another made for TV great, “Don’t be Afraid of The Dark” should adore this movie.
Maybe the next film I dig out of this vault of mine will be a more visceral affair, but I HAD to get this one off my chest, just in case any of you fellow horror freaks might’ve missed it. Atmosphere and psychosis baby! Atmosphere and psychosis… you gotta love it.
Talk next month… be Hellish!
this week in horror
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