Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Strange Vengeance of Rosalie (1972): or, Rosalie Loves Company

People are always asking Stephen King where he gets his ideas, and while he has several stock answers, my favorite is probably the one I've seen reproduced the most--when he pulls out this old chestnut, the buttzillion-selling author smiles sheepishly and says, "I think it's because I have the heart of a young boy...I keep it in a jar on my desk." Hahaha! Oh, Steve, you make the evisceration of children for inspiration sound like such a lark!

Still, taking the first part of that answer at face value, I wonder if that young boy whose heart Mr. King possesses might have ever gone to a drive-in with his parents to see 1972's The Strange Vengeance of Rosalie (aka Rosalie and the Strange Vengeance, aka Someone to Watch Over Me). Because seeing hapless jewelry salesman Virgil (Ken Howard) strapped to an old-fashioned iron bed after childish, slightly-unhinged Rosalie (Bonnie Bedelia) has broken his leg with the back end of an axe so that he'll be unable to leave her remote homestead, hearing her proclaim her love for him even while he writhes in...well, misery...pleading with her to for god's sake bring him a doctor--well, it all seems just a little bit familiar.

Then again, Virgil isn't a writer. An important point.

We open with Rosalie digging in a dust-strewn, hardscrabble landscape, while chickens cluck in the background and artistic silhouettes of fowl-festooned trees drift by in the foreground. Rosalie is digging a grave for her granddaddy, Bear, and old Indian rancher who was apparently her only family. After rolling his corpse into the grave the young girl shimmies down a rope into a well to retrieve a mysterious bag from behind a loose stone, then climbs back and puts the bag in the dead grandparent's hand. She also buries his rifle with him. Then she walks for hours to the freeway, where she starts hitchhiking and is quickly picked up by Virgil, a salesman on vacation en route to catch a flight to Hawaii. No points for guessing he's not going to make the baggage check. After they're threatened at a truck stop by an ugly and belligerent biker, Virgil agrees to deliver the young lady back to her door.

Rosalie claims to be meeting her Grandaddy at the ranch, a place she's never been but has dreamed about. The viewer's alarm bells sound, but of course Virgil just smiles and goes along. On the way back to the ranch, Rosalie betrays a fascination with the car's tapedeck and cigarette lighter, almost as if she's never seen such things before! She has a thick hillbilly accent and seems none too bright. Virgil takes it all in stride, making no advances since she's meant to be 15 years old. It's one of the few notes of nobility his character sounds, as we shall see.

"It's the swearing, Virgil. It has no nobility."

It's a very The Hills Have Eyes-ish trek back out to the dirt farm; at one point they even pass a dilapidated "Radioactive Warning" sign, though nothing ever comes of this plot-wise (unless we're meant to understand that at least 2 of the 3 cast members are mutants in addition to being inbred hillbillies). When they get there Rosalie begs him to wait while she finds her Granddaddy. She disappears into the gathering dark and Virgil goes after her, poking around the eerily abandoned shack. When he returns to the car he finds both tires deflated, and when he enters the now-open shack, he gets a near-stab to the wrist and a chicken to the face! Stranded, he agrees to stay the night with Rosalie and head back to town in the morning.

The next day Rosalie tries to convince Virgil to stay, asking him pointedly, "You figure I'd make a good wife?" But he is un-enticed by her strange sack dress and weekly bathing habits, and says so. Bad idea--next think you know Rosalie is swinging the the back of an axe at Virgil's tibia, and the pole-axed Samaritan faints from pain. He awakes, Gulliver-esque, strapped to a ratty old bed and being fawned over by his young, somewhat smelly admirer. Misery set-up now complete.

However, instead of begging and cajoling his captor, Virgil responds by getting as nasty and abusive as possible. He spits venom at Rosalie, calling her stupid, cursing her ignorance, threatening her with the police, telling her he wouldn't marry her if she was the last girl on earth--really, considering his helpless position, his attitude is quite shocking. Even threats from Rosalie ("How would you like me to break your arm too?") only improve his outlook for a few moments; it's never long before he's cursing and name-calling and spitting abuse at the girl again. If I'd been Rosalie, I think I would have taken a few more whacks at him, just to teach him some manners.

"Don't beat me wid a rubbah hose!
Don't beat me wid a rubbah hose!"

Later in the movie I started to think that Virgil's anger and venom might stem from a feeling of entitlement--after all, he's the sophisticated city-dweller on his way to Honolulu, and she's the ignorant rube who barely even knows how to operate a can opener. How can SHE do this to HIM? Even later there's a (very) little racial subtext, when the greasy biker from way back at the beginning (his name is Fry, and he has a history with Rosalie and her granddad) shows up and talks about the dangers of going to the police: "A 'breed gets in trouble in this state--it ain't too good." Virgil calls Rosalie an "ignorant half-breed Indian SQUAW!" and a "stupid APE!" several times, driving home that possible feeling of racial superiority. It's an ugly part of Virgil's character, and it's never really redeemed in him.

The rest of the movie can be summed up by the formula "Vigil Attempts escape --> FAIL --> Rosalie professes love/threatens bodily harm --> REPEAT." It's broken up a little by the appearance of Fry, who wants the sack of gold Bear had hidden on his land now that the old man is dead. Rosalie buried it with him of course, and doesn't want to tell Fry anyway, as they have a hate/hate relationship (she bit his finger off once because he was "tickling" her). Once Virgil learns that Rosalie might have a sack of gold somewhere he too becomes interested in her, and peppers his speech with more pleasantries and promises of marriage (though never completely banishing the terms "IGNORANT" and "APE" from his sweet nothings), but to her credit Rosalie is too smart to be taken in by such talk. His inability to deceive the Indian girl enrages Virgil to even further abuse.

In the end Rosalie's apparently genuine love for Virgil makes her betray the gold's secret location to Fry and leave the ranch with him, in order to keep him from hurting Virgil even worse. Once she's gone Virgil proves quite able to drag himself out to the car and get its tires pumped up (even changing a spare on a bum leg!) and finally he escapes the ranch. Once out on the road (to some HILARIOUS traveling music) Virgil sees Rosalie sitting alone and forlorn on the shoulder of the freeway. Inexplicably (perhaps gripped by the guilt of the White Man's Burden?) he goes back to see if he can help her, discovering that she has killed Fry and setting things up for a not-at-all surprising twist ending.

Just another pretty face.

The movie is long--nearly 2 full hours--and there is basically one setting and three characters. Therefore a lot of the time we're just listening to Virgil and Rosalie talk, one-act play style, with no real gore or nudity even to spice things up. It has to be said Bonnie Bedelia (who ought to be a children's book heroine with that name) does a great job as the uneducated, naive, but hardly-helpless Rosalie, imparting her violence and threats with a strange kind of childishness that makes it believable; after all, if you don't think a kid would swing an axe at you sometimes to get her way, you've never been a parent.

Ken Howard as Virgil is somewhat worse--though his insults and outrage can be entertaining at times, he never seems like a real character, and his line readings are often perfunctory. But character actor Anthony Zerbe (of KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park!)really steals the show as Fry, the slimy, cunning, animalistic villain who might be stupid but who's always dangerous. But even with Zerbe and Bedelia doing their best,the movie is at least half-an-hour longer than its plot can support. The twist at the end (which I assume constitutes the titular "strange vengeance") is rather stupid, and not much else happens.

Still, the movie is SO much like Stephen King's Misery in its set-up--and fifteen years before the fact!--that it's worth a look for fans of the author. As for whether the similarities are intentional or not, I can't say--but I can tell you that star Bonnie Bedelia appeared in the orignal Salem's Lot mini-series, as well as the movie version of Needful Things. Coincidence? One has to wonder whether King might be this movie's number one fay-unnn...

So 1.5 thumbs for The Strange Vengeance of Rosalie. You might dig it, you might not. See it or don't. What am I, your mother?

Thanks again to Karswell for the obscurities!


Karswell said...

I suppose I liked this alot more than you did, I definitely like it miles more than Misery. But yeah, we've been talking about the similarities for years too and the fact that this movie has never really ever been released on DVD (let alone home video) might be saying something about intentional studio surpression.

I've been in love with Bonnie Bedelia since her glowing eyes in Salem's Lot bewitched me at a tender young age so this one is always going to be a winner in my book.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Bedelia was definitely the best thing about the movie, with Zerbe a close second. I just felt that it was really a lot longer than it needed to be. I did love Howard's inexplicable and ill-advised venom, though.

What were those subtitles, btw? Swedish?

Nathan said...

BTW, the earliest attribution of that "heart of young boy" gag that I know of is to Robert Bloch. In fact, I think King quoted Bloch saying it in Danse Macabre.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Well, if King lifted this plot from Rosalie, I guess Bloch wouldn't be safe either...

Not that I'm saying he did that, of course. :)

McHenryDesigns said...

I actually found this film quite disturbingly memorable, but that is possibly because I was 12 when it premiered. I went to a lot of trouble to try track it down on Netflix. ("Who's the guy who played Counselor Hammon in 2/3 Matrix films...?)They don't even have it in their instant view B-Movies collection. But at least I can now attach a name to Anthony Zerbe's distinctive face.

carioca said...

I've benn searching for this movie for a long time, i really believe, though it's poor edition and photography (remeber, it was 1972...)that, looking closely, it's not only the madness of a lost crazy girl. She's so acostummed to violence,dirtness, lonelyness, that when the cute "white man " arrives to "save" her, she doesn't believe or want any salvation, the ugly biker is more from her world than the travelling blond and clean white man. Still an actual movie... So, why not remake this movie, it haves more agument than a lot of kings of billetery...

Mary R. said...

OH MY GOD! Somebody else has seen this awful movie!!! My husband and I saw it in Copperas Cove, Texas, where we were living when he was stationed at nearby Ft. Hood in the Army. We saw it at the local drive-in. It made a HUGE impression on the two of us (in our early 20's at the time) and we've never forgotten it because it was so creepy! It made us terrified of small towns and rural areas our whole lives until we moved to the upper midwest several years ago and overcame our fears of such places. To be continued...

Mary R. said...

Anyway, TODAY, this very day, we were driving from Minneapolis where we were visiting, back home to our rural area. On the way, we stopped into a local gas station/convenience store in a rural area and I remarked, "Gee...we've come a long way! It wasn't too long ago that we would have been afraid to stop in a place like this, because it looks like something out of 'The Strange Revenge of Rosalie'!"

I made a mental note to google the title of that movie when we got home, and found your blog! Hope you see my comments.

(Usually, when we drive through some really remote area, we comment, "This looks like something out of 'The Strange Revenge of Rosalie'!)

We'll never forget that movie! Sooooooo CREEEEEEPY!!!!!

Thanks for the post.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Hi Mary, thanks for stopping by! As you can see, your memories of STRANGE VENGEANCE were not false ones--I know your husband saw it with you, but it's always nice to have 3rd party confirmation. ;)

I'm glad you enjoyed it and my review of it. I guess a lot of how much a person is affected by a movie depends on who and where they are at the time they experience it, and it sounds like you were perfectly placed in both the country and your life to get the maximum impact out of ROSALIE. That's the great thing for me about revisiting all these obscure old scare flicks--you're always discovering something interesting.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your memories of this under-known movie!

The Vicar

Mary R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Wow, saw this movie when it came out as part of a double feature at local theater. That's right kiddies-2 movies for kids admission price of 75¢. Mom doled out $2 and you were gone till dinner time!!! Brilliant!!! Always remembered it cause Bonnie B was so hot and available in flick!!! Did some research awhile back and it indicated it was filmed in algracias Spain.glad it's on YouTube now. As a 12 yr old I would have gladly been Rosalie's sex slaves!!! Infrequent bathing habits and lunacy would have been overlooked!!

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