Review: THE PREMONITION (1976){0}

American Horror Project, Volume 1

“Something’s not adding up. There’s too many weird things going on. Like your wife bringing you to the lake. And this music. There’s a hidden key to this, buried underneath. I want to be there when it’s found.”

The speaker is Detective Lieutenant Mark Driver (Jeff Corey), investigating the case of a missing girl – and by this stage, viewers will be sharing his mixture of bafflement and curiosity. Six-year-old Janie Bennett (Danielle Brisebois) was previously the putative victim of a failed kidnapping attempt by her deranged biological mother Andrea (Ellen Barber) – helped by travelling circus clown Jude (Richard Lynch), whom Andrea met in the asylum where she has spent the last five years. Now Janie really is missing, and while Andrea has been eliminated as a suspect, Janie’s traumatised foster mother Sheri (Sharon Fennell) keeps having strange visions of Andrea that seem linked to the girl’s disappearance. So Sheri’s astrophysicist husband Miles (Edward Bell) turns to his new colleague, intellectual sparring partner and would-be lover, the paraphysicist Dr Jeena Kingsly (Chitra Neogy), to “deal completely with the metaphysical system” and, hopefully, to find Janie.

When director Robert Allen Schnitzer (Rebel, 1970) purchased the original script for The Premonition, it was just a conventional abduction thriller with some social concerns but no supernatural elements whatsoever. Schnitzer radically reworked this material with his co-writer Anthony Mahon, folding new layers of clairvoyance and telepathy into the investigative texture of its narrative, and turning a smalltown Mississippi criminal case into a broader exploration of reality and our place in the universe.

The harmony of the Bennett’s middle-class nuclear family, already unsettled by the arrival in town of exotic Jeena and her promise (to Miles) of new experiences, is stretched to breaking point by the sudden return of marginalised, manic Andrea and by the disappearance of Janie. With that domestic unravelling comes a parallel deconstruction of the norms of genre, as a grizzled police detective, a scientific rationalist, a wide-eyed paranormal investigator, a distraught, drugged-up housewife and an angry ghost each contribute – in a manner that never quite adds up – to a deeply irrational restoration of cosmic order.

All this is structured around an ongoing debate – polarised if flirtatious – between sceptical Miles and open Jeena over mind and matter, as they pursue different truths leading them in the same direction. Meanwhile, two very different mothers, both desperately in pursuit of the same daughter, come together – however impossibly – in the end. Whether all this seems a marvel or a muddle may well depend on the individual viewer – but from its mime-act opening to its concert finale (with murder, mystery and mayhem in between), The Premonition is certainly a curio.


– Anton Bitel

The Premonition is released on 22 February as part of Arrow Films’ dual-format three-film package American Horror Project Volume 1, alongside Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood and The Witch Who Came From the Sea.