You might think that a film called Haunts of the Very Rich has already telegraphed its intent before you even watch the opening credits but you wouldn’t be entirely correct in that assumption.
Of course you wouldn’t be entirely wrong either.
Like a great many of the TV horror movies of the early 70’s – this one was made in 1972 – there’s a great deal of emphasis on atmosphere and the atmosphere in Haunts of the Very Rich is both effective and… Well, a little nasty. A lot of this is due to Lloyd Bridges and the typically unhinged nature of his performance. At first I was waiting for him to make a comment about quitting sniffing glue but eventually the comparisons between this and his performance in Airplane dwindled as the atmosphere got dark enough to make any comparison impossible.
The film opens as visitors to a new Caribbean resort arrive on a seaplane, each visitor is handpicked by the resorts owners and the place is so exclusive that the guests are not entirely sure exactly where it’s located and couldn’t place it on a map. No one seems concerned by this as they are shown that all their whims can be catered for on site and they quickly get lost in eyeing up the other guests and seeing what romantic entanglements they can get themselves into.
That night things rapidly change when a tropical storm hits cutting the power and causing more than a little concern with the new guests.
But morning, as it turns out, reveals the true extent of the damage and as the staff begin to disappear the guests realize they are in far more danger than they initially feared.
As the infrastructure breaks down around them the world becomes a sweaty grimy mess and the guests start to unravel as they each explore their own personal interpretations of the situation. During one of these discussions it’s revealed that they have each recently suffered a near death experience and one guest begins to increasingly believe that there may be a supernatural reason for their predicament.
The explanation isn’t widely accepted but it does seed the idea with the other guests and as each hope of rescue is dashed they become more and more aware of a cycle of hope and despair that seems deliberate and somewhat torturous.
As the despair takes hold the characters fall into their base responses and steadily become more of a threat to those around them.
Haunts of the Very Rich is a typical 70’s TV movie in that the vast majority of it takes place on a soundstage, and this is obvious for the most part throughout the movie. In spite of this the location scenes are well used and interspersed throughout the film well enough to make the soundstage scenes feel bigger than they are, even if they don’t actually look it.
Everything about Haunts of the Very Rich is a bit hackneyed but it all still manages to be rather more effective than any of it had the right to be.
As is often the case this essentially comes down to the performances being engaging, though maybe not actually all that believable. Though many of the characters aren’t particularly likable their situation become so abhorrent that you can’t help but sympathize with them and the end scene and ultimate freeze frame carries more weight than expected.
The last grainy shot of panicked, terrified faces is a welcome escape from a grimy movie with unpleasant undertones that are hard to place.
Haunts of the Very Rich is ultimately an effective little slice of melodramatic horror and after some thought it seems to be that it was perhaps a missed opportunity.
I could have easily seen Haunts of the Very Rich expanded into a series, a twisted sister show to Fantasy Island, where instead of someone’s dreams a persons nightmares are the dish of the day.
The director, Paul Wendkos, is no stranger to TV movies, making four of them in 1972 alone. He made such films as Terror at the Beach, Brotherhood of the Bell and the theatrical movie The Mephisto Waltz which shows him to be no stranger to the horror genre either.
He also worked on many more shows, many of them fondly remembered. He worked on The Invaders, Wild Wild West, I Spy, Doctor Kildare and many, many others but by the early 70’s specialized almost solely in made for TV movies.
There are far better TV horror movies than Haunts of the Very Rich, but there is enough in the film that works to consider it more of a success than a failure.
Though maybe only just.
I’m off to rummage through that box of old DVD-R’s and see what other little odd things I’ve recorded over the years…