The whole thing pivots on tawny, ruthless Luana Anders stripping down to bra and panties for her swampside ax dismemberment, sketched out of Cocteau, Psycho, Scream of Fear, and the young Francis Ford Coppola's own early apprenticeship in The Bellhop and the Playgirls. Coppola pitched it to Roger Corman during the production of The Young Racers, the story goes, and was given the Irish set with the same cast and crew to try out the directorial waters. The rowboat at midnight is the first of its dry jokes, with Peter Read virtually forcing himself into a heart attack and pushed by his wife (Anders) into his aquatic grave, a tiny radio still squawking rockabilly while following him into the depths. The family fortune now within reach, Anders flies off to Ireland to meet with the rest of the clan yet finds dark secrets and omens, plaster bodies in the bottom of a pond, a drowned moppet's spirit shackling the gothic manor to a muddy past. Coppola is like Welles with his first toys, one of them is a wind-up doll wielding a hatchet to anticipate the gold-digger's demise; other playthings include William Campbell as a moody sculptor engaged to Yankee ingénue Mary Mitchell and Bart Batton replaying his little sister's death in his head, every one of them subtly keyed to Poe. The Godfather is anticipated, inevitably -- the ghost of Patrick Magee's hammily baleful doc certainly hangs over Brando's Corleone makeup, yet the fragile dinosaur here is ailing matriarch Eithne Dunne, equally doomed by tradition. Predictably dismissed as drive-in fodder, this is really an upstart's precocious proposal on artistry, independence, and the business of family, or vice-versa. With Karl Schanzer, and Ron Perry. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce