A little girl sits on the stairs. She plays with a twisted doll. She appears traumatized, but when no one's looking, she smiles, a grin of pure evil on a cherub's face. She never speaks-- but she knows something the elders around her have forgotten or, at least, choose not to recall.
The Elders takes the tired bones of Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and a hundred other sleaze 'n' slash flicks, and makes them fresh again by, ironically, bringing in tired bones. In place of the usual teenagers, this film features a maniac who stalks senior citizens.
You scared yet?
The film begins on the senior promenade, 1952. The expected gang shows up for the shenanigans. Cool young Mr. Blaine has his eye on one of his graduating students, while the popular jocks are out to play one last prank on social misfit Leonard. There's rivalry among potential prom queens, Bette and Ronnie. There's a bitter old spinster who appears to have dressed for a funeral in some other era. But something far more sinister than any of these matters seems at work. High school can be a very dangerous place indeed.
Prom Night won't have the happiest of endings.
Flash forward to the present. Some of the popular jocks have passed on, and one-time quarterback Mitch isn't doing so well. Bette and Ronnie share a room at Crofton Manor, a gothic old mansion that has been converted to an upscale seniors' residence. Leonard, still the same slightly creepy guy from high school, runs the building's social committee. Mr. and Mrs. Blaine have survived scandal and a long, successful marriage, and also live in the building; his failing health precluded their keeping a house of their own. The remainder of the teaching staff, we assume, has long since passed away.
With its restored Victorian fireplace and charming gardens, Crofton Manor seems the perfect place to live out one's life—but that end may be coming sooner than anyone realizes. A killer stalks these halls, intent on putting a few other feet in the grave.
Several of the slasher film's hoary old conventions benefit from their hoary new context. Ever wonder about those slow-as-zombie psycho-killers who nevertheless catch up with their fleeing prey? The character works, if the intended victim hobbles along with the aid of a walker. Do you want to shout at the idiots in horror movies who just won't leave the haunted house, despite the obvious presence of danger? Do you have any idea how long the waiting lists are for really good seniors' apartments? Besides, quite a few of the residents have, literally, no place to go.
Another obligatory scene: the babe undressing as someone peeps, malice in mind. It happens here, only the woman is septuagenarian Ronnie. The "last girl?" I won't give it away but, like the killer's surprise identity, the twist makes more sense with blue rinse.
And yet, The Elders does not rest on its limited premise. The film revels in weirdness, most of which actually makes sense—or at least provides Easter eggs for horror devotees. Tiffany, for example, the flighty young recreation gal, buys her lingerie at a shop called "Lovecraft's. More horrifically, archaic medical equipment inexplicably fills the basement, creating a suitably creepy setting for the final showdown.
Then there's that sinister little girl on the steps.
The film occasionally tries to make Buffyesque
commentary on aging, and the reality of being stalked by death
. The "Last Old Woman" resists with humor and dignity. Especially given that fact, The Elders
has one too many cliché old folks jokes. Enough with the bowel movement gags!
The Elders generally maintains a balance between the horrific and the hilarious, and works best when it casually sends up convention or when it hints at the darkness in the characters' pasts. At times, it attempts to be a little too self-serious. The desperate Mitch, making that final run, begs for help from the most unlikely of people, says a Hail Mary and desperately pulls on a leg. At such moments, the film upsets a delicate equilibrium, and gives up the game.
Directed by Émile Cohl
Written by János Arany and Tom Taylor.
Alma Kruger as Rebecca "Bette" Singleton
Dame May Whitty as Veronica "Ronnie" Dibioski
Henry Stephenson as Wolf Blaine
May Robson as Janet Cobbler Blaine
Joe Keaton as Leonard Arbogast
Anna May Wong as Tiffany
Gertrude Grundie s Midge McGee
William V. Ranous as Mitch
Elspeth Dudgeon as Miss Voynich
Waldo Weatherbee as Mr. Haverhill
Frank Keenan as Migliorati
Kate Cooper young Bette
Taylor Lodge as young Ronnie
Arthur Andrews as young Mitch
Dave Macon as Scooter
Matt Dilton as young Leonard Arbogast
Eleonora Duse as Janet Blaine
Wilfred Lucas as younger Wolf Blaine
Lotten Almlöf as Creepy Little Girl