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Daddy's Gone A-Hunting
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by Doug Bentin

"This one deserves rediscovery."
4 stars

It didn’t win any awards when it was released in 1969, but it did win a place in my heart for delivering the loudest, longest scream I have ever heard from a theater audience. It’s like this . . .

I was a college sophomore that year and the audience I watched the movie with was made up mostly of college students. The date and the make-up of the audience are important.

The movie is called “Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting.” In it, Cathy, a young English woman, arrives in San Francisco to look for a job. She meets Kenneth, an out-of-work photographer (Scott Hylands). He helps her find employment and romance blossoms. This is never a good thing when dealing with photographers. I’ve known some of them.

Then romance fades as Cathy discovers that Kenneth can’t hold a job and is prone to violent outbursts. She decides to leave him and, since she is a few weeks pregnant, she has an abortion. Kenneth finds out and explodes, “You killed my baby!”

Later, Cathy marries a lawyer (Paul Burke) who is being primed by the GOP for political office. That’s right. She gets out of a bad relationship with a cameraman and ends up in the arms of a Republican lawyer. What can I tell you?

Anyway, she doesn’t tell him about Kenneth or the abortion. Kenneth finds out that Cathy is pregnant again and, after the baby is born, begins to stalk his ex and tell her that he will force her to kill this baby, too.

He kidnaps the infant, and the movie really begins to heat up.

All this exposition plays pretty dully now. Cathy’s fashionable late ‘60s clothes are funny beyond words and Carol White, who plays the female lead, isn’t very good at anything but screaming. I’ve always wondered why this picture dropped so completely out of sight and now that I’ve seen the first hour again after a third of a century, I may know.

But “Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting” still delivers one of the great screamer moments of all time. The college women with whom I originally saw the picture were students at a mid-sized university in Texas and for most of them the womanly ideal was still marriage and motherhood. Keep that in mind.

Okay, I’m going to describe the film’s big moment. If you don’t want to know what happens, you’ll want to skip the next seven paragraphs.

After the kidnapping, Kenneth phones Cathy and tells her to come get the baby. He seems to have gotten under her skin enough and now just wants to give back a troublesome burden. He warns her to leave the phone off the hook so he’ll know she isn’t trying to phone the cops.

Cathy rushes out to the car in the garage. As she settles behind the wheel, the camera tilts down and pans to the right. The engine doesn’t want to turn over, so we hear the sounds of Cathy trying and trying to start it, but what we finally see is the baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying behind the right front tire of the car.

Every woman in that audience in 1969 knew that when Cathy got the motor started she would slam the car in reverse and back up, running over her own baby.

Did I mention that there were screams? The only other film moment in my experience that came close to generating the audible reaction of that moment was Harry Roat’s lunge from the shadows in “Wait Until Dark.”

Cut to Cathy’s face as the engine catches and the car rolls backwards. There is a slight bump as she runs over the bundle. She suddenly knows what happened. She rushes out of the car, screaming. The audience was screaming. She kneels by the bundle, then picks it up. Sticking out from the blanket we see a plastic doll’s arm. Cathy throws the blanket to the floor and a crushed doll falls out.

She runs back to the phone, cursing Kenneth, who whispers, “See how easy it is, Cath? You’ll do it.”

Absolute pandemonium in that theater.

And the sheer, utter nastiness of that scene still works. This is a movie made by men who seem divided in their reactions to feminism.

It was written by Larry Cohen and Lorenzo Semple, Jr. Cohen went on to fame with such B horror films as “Q” and the “It’s Alive!” trilogy; Semple, who is best remembered for scripting many of the “Batman” television shows, never really scored big in features.

Director Mark Robson had begun his career as an editor who broke into directing with the Val Lewton unit at RKO in the early 1940s, making such eerie classics as “Bedlam” and “Isle of the Dead” with Boris Karloff. He later went mainstream with pictures like “From the Terrace,” “Peyton Place,” and “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.”

But “Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting” is a fascinating feminist horror show. Motherhood, it seems to say, is a female weakness that can be exploited by men until the urge to protect the cub becomes overwhelming. Cathy’s guilt at the abortion is so strong, she fantasizes seeing Kenneth coming after her long before he actually does.

But when the bullet hits the bone, Cathy takes charge of the situation while her husband and the cops lag behind, always arriving too late to help.

But the movie isn’t entirely grim. When Kenneth has Cathy chasing around town he forces her to go into a theater where Judith Anderson is appearing as “Medea,” the wife of Jason who murdered their children out of jealousy, and at one point Kenneth feigns concern for his ex by saying, “I just wanted to make sure you were happy, Cath. Married to a Republican, and all.”

They guy thinks like me. How scary is that?

I liked it then and, despite a weak first act, I like it now. It’s the only movie I’ve ever seen that contains a scene I think may be too scary for it’s own good.

I suspect that it failed due to the odd fact that it worked too well. People love to be creeped out, and guys want their girlfriends clinging to their arms when they watch a scary movie, but no loves being terrified to the point of lost bladder control, and guys don’t want their arms jerked out of their shoulder sockets.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13066&reviewer=405
originally posted: 09/08/05 03:41:45
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USA
  02-Jul-1969 (PG)

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