“Funeral Home”: Some things never rest in peace

By on June 17, 2016

Funeral Home — an Alfred Hitchcock-influenced Canadian mystery/horror film now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — was originally released in the Great White North under the title Cries in the Night (1980), having been shot the previous year in various Ontario locations.

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In Funeral Home, a teenage girl, Heather, travels to the rural American town of Northampton to help her grandmother, Maude, run a new bed & breakfast over the summer.

This lodging house for tourists was once used for the business her grandmother and grandfather used to operate: a funeral home. When boarders begin to turn up missing or dead, Heather starts to investigate.

And what exactly did happen to Heather’s grandfather? Is he dead? Did he run off with another woman? Or is he living in the spooky basement with the remnants of the old family business?

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Made with a modest $1,400,000, Funeral Home is obviously lacking in production values (though it doesn’t look bad, mind you, just low budget).

It also owes a huge debt to a certain Hitchcock film, but it holds its own with a good story that never lags, creepy atmosphere, and above average B-movie acting chops.

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What’s most striking about Funeral Home is the film’s musical score by renowned composer Jerry Fielding, who had previously been nominated for three Academy Awards, including seminal motion pictures The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971).

The producers of Funeral Home may have skimped on things like set design, but they went whole-hog with the hiring of Fielding and bringing him to Toronto to conduct an orchestra in top-notch recording studios.

At times it’s startling to be watching this low budget-looking film and then suddenly hear Fielding’s tasteful — and very professional sounding — score.

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It would prove to be Jerry Fielding’s final work, as he suddenly passed away almost immediately following the last recording session for Funeral Home.

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Japanese VHS artwork

Funeral Home stars Lesleh Donaldson as Heather. This was the fifteen year-old’s first lead part in a film, one in which the young actress earned a Genie Award nomination (the Genies are the Canadian Oscars) for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role; she lost to Margo Kidder.

Donaldson’s still acting today, but for better or worse she’s best known for her appearances in two slashers, Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and Curtains (1983); her character’s head was chopped off in both films.

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Longtime Canadian actress Kay Hawtrey plays Maude Chalmers. Hawtrey has had a number of parts in both television and film, but her first-rate portrayal of Heather’s seemingly moral grandmother is perhaps her most acknowledged role.

The uncertainty surrounding Hawtrey’s character is just one of many elements that keep Funeral Home viewers guessing: is she hiding her husband in the basement? Or is something else afoot?

Veteran British actor Barry Morse plays Mr. Davis, the lodger whose extended stay at the former mortuary is unknown for most of the film. Stephen E. Miller, yet another actor here whose resume is now a mile long, appears as Billy, the hired hand who just might be the one responsible for the killing happening on screen.

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William Fruet, who directed Funeral Home, co-wrote the landmark Canadian film, Goin’ Down the Road (1970), and although he’s directed his fair share of movies — including Killer Party (1986), Spasms (1983) and The House by the Lake (1976) — he’s worked primarily in television (“Goosebumps,” “My Secret Identity”).

Funeral Home is the only feature-length screenplay credit for writer Ida Nelson.

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This slice of vintage Canuxploitation was partially funded by the Canadian Film Development Corporation. The CFDC (now Telefilm Canada) was established in 1967, and from 1974-82 the governmental office not only helped finance Canadian films, but allowed investors to pocket 100% of the profits.

These incentives were meant to give filmmakers a leg up on the competition in the states, and in order to appeal to the CFDC, U.S. distributors, and, ultimately, America audiences, Canadian motion pictures from this period are usually set in the U.S. of A. Funeral Home is no exception.

The CFDC’s handsome tax credit inspired many of the wealthy to put their money into motion pictures that were conceived solely as tax shelters, but the makers of Funeral Home look as if they had more respectable, traditional goals with their movie.

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Though it took a while, Funeral Home did eventually secure American distribution, and was released in U.S. theaters — under its new title — in 1982.

Funeral Home is an entertaining little mystery/horror film. See for yourself via Night Flight Plus.


About Bart Bealmear

Bart Bealmear is a librarian, archivist, bandleader, and freelance writer. He has contributed to a number of online media outlets, including All Music and Dangerous Minds. His rock band is a collective known as The Blind Doctors, featuring a cast of Detroit-area musicians.