Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cult-TV Movie Review: She Waits (1972)

A very private man, Mark Wilson (David McCallum) returns to his childhood home with his new wife, Laura (Patty Duke).  Upon his return, however, his sick old mother, Sarah (Dorothy McGuire) insists that he and his new bride leave the premises at once.

Mark’s mother believes that the spirit of Mark’s first, dead wife, Elaine, still dwells in the house, and wants to torment Laura and Mark.  The house-keeper, Miss Medina (Beulah Bondi), however, believes that Sarah is sick, and getting worse.

Mark dismisses all these concerns, even as he introduces Laura to his old friend, David Brody (James Callahan), who also knew Elaine. 

Soon, however, Laura begins to grow uncomfortable in the house. She hears strange noises, and voices, for instance.

Eventually, Mrs. Wilson realizes that she has miscalculated Elaine’s dark plan.  The roving, vengeful spirit now plans to possess Laura, and murder Mark, whom she blames for her own death.

“Maybe when you move closer to death, death moves closer to you.”

She Wait…and she isn’t the only one. 

Watching this TV movie (which originally aired on CBS, on January 28, 1972), the audience waits -- and waits interminably -- for anything exciting or intriguing to occur.

But the wait is largely in vain.

A story of spirit possession, She Waits (1972) is one of the most long-winded and dull of the early 1970’s made-for-TV horror films. Basically, the movie sets down in the Wilson family house, and rarely leaves that setting.  Although it is possible that a feeling of claustrophobia was what director Delbert Mann and writer Art Wallace were seeking here, the result is nonetheless disappointing. At 74 minutes, She Waits feel practically endless.

Basically, She Waits features no real action, no real explanation for the survival of Elaine’s spirit in the house, and no real horror, either. Despite a fine, competent cast that includes McCallum and Duke, the characters here are exceptionally dull-witted, failing to put two-and-two together for a long time. McCallum’s Mark keeps talking to Elaine, his first wife, as if she is still Laura, his second wife, even after she has told him differently.  And this happens despite the fact Laura -- to all external signs -- is a completely changed person.  If he doesn’t hear her words, Mark doesn’t seem to notice the extreme changes in Laura’s demeanor and tone.

Even the resolution of the story is disappointing as well. Basically, the evil spirit, Elaine, is “talked” out of existence, so that Laura may re-possess her own body.

Excessively talky and slow, She Waits plays like a much less-interesting version of “The Bride Possessed,” the pilot episode of One Step Beyond (1959), but at least that tale featured more action and characterization. Here, Laura begins to realize that she is being manipulated and taunted by a dead woman, but the possession takes forever, and there are red herrings, like an apparently-haunted music box.

Weirdly, the story doesn’t make much sense, either. For example, even the dead woman doesn’t seem to understand her own back-story (or death, for that matter).  

As the film eventually reveals, Mark didn’t kill his first wife -- as even his mother suspects -- but rather she died at the hands of David Brody, who was having an affair with his best friend’s wife.  The spirit of Elaine doesn’t recognize this secret until the final act, and so she has waited years -- existing beyond the grave -- to wreak revenge on a man who didn’t even deserve it.
She Waits boasts some interest for two reasons, primarily. 

The first is that the movie seems like a modern-day, supernatural variation on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847).  Here, as is the case in the novel, a naïve young woman comes into the established home of a mysterious man.  And the dark force in that family home is actually his first wife. 

The primary difference between tales involves not just period details, but the nature of the first wife.  Here, Elaine is a spirit, not a living (mad) woman.

Secondly, She Waits seems to feature a sub-textual comment on the state of marriage in the 1970’s. This was the decade, lest we forget, when divorce became a much more normalized phenomenon in the American family.  This meant that, psychically-speaking, second husbands and second wives had to deal more frequently with the metaphorical “ghosts” of spouses past. 

She Waits is certainly a literal-reading of this concept, with Laura feeling competitive towards Mark’s first wife, Elaine, and Mark proving tight-lipped and evasive about his earlier marriage. The movie’s resolution point is the line of dialogue “Don’t the past come between us,” but that’s almost precisely what happens. Laura becomes possessed (and obsessed too…) with Mark’s previous romantic relationship. In the absence of direct communication from Mark, Laura is overpowered by the memory/spirit of Elaine, which still haunts the Wilson house.

There’s more than one kind of possession,” Dr. Carpenter (Lew Ayres) reports, and what he refers to here is the way that jealousy can consume someone, especially a second wife or husband. It’s just a shame that She Waits never finds a clever way to dramatize or resolve this story-line.

There are so many great supernatural TV-movies of the early 1970’s (see, for example, 1972’s Something Evil, directed by a young Steven Spielberg), but She Waits feels like a relic from the age of radio. Every piece of information is spoken, reiterated, and chewed over, and there are no compelling visuals exist side-by-side the talky script.

Although She Waits got a VHS release in the 1980’s courtesy of Prism Entertainment, it is one of the rare TV-films of its era that is not really worth seeking out.


  1. She Waits(1972) on youtube

    Something Evil(1972) on youtube

  2. Sheri4:43 AM

    I agree there are parallels with "Jane Eyre", John, but I would have said "Rebecca"! I think it almost IS "Rebecca". Maybe it was pitched to the principals involved as a version of Rebecca, and then the project was interfered with.

    Considering the time it was shot, I suspect what happened here had something to do with fallout from Patty Duke's undiagnosed bipolar disorder. It has the hallmarks of a half-finished project that went on hiatus and languished on the shelf, then was hastily compiled and senselessly edited to fill an open network timeslot. Yes, TV movies like this gave a lot of people like Lew Ayres, Beulah Bondi and Dorothy McGuire needed work when the studio system disintegrated, but the script must have been very attractive to get Duke, McCallum and Mann to sign on in the first place.