Can we just be honest about something?
Most of us are a little bit scared of the elderly.
Oh, we try to deny it. We talk about how they’re “real characters” or we attempts to convince ourselves that their eccentricities are actually signs of an incurable zest of life. We tell ourselves that old people remind us of the value of carpe diem but, ultimately, they creep most of us out because, when we look at them, we see our own future. Regardless of what we do today or tomorrow, we’re all going to eventually become old. Perhaps that’s why there’s a whole industry devoted to keeping old people out of sight and out of mind.
Today’s entry in the Daily Grindhouse, the obscure 1974 film Homebodies, is effective precisely because it understands that unpleasant truth.
Directed by Larry Yust, Homebodies tells the story of Mattie (Paula Trueman). Mattie is one of seven elderly retirees who are the sole residents of a condemned apartment building. All around them, buildings are being torn down and replaced with new apartments. When an uncaring social worker (Linda Marsh) shows up and informs them that they’re going to be forcefully relocated to an assisted living facility, Mattie take matters into her own hands. She realizes that every time there’s an accident on a construction site, work stops for a few days. Hence, if there are enough accidents, work will be stopped indefinitely. Mattie and her fellow residents (some reluctantly and some not) are soon murdering anyone they view as a threat. While this is effective initially, things get complicated once Mattie starts to view some of her fellow residents with the same contempt that she previously reserved for construction workers.
Homebodies is one of those odd and dark films that could have only been made in the 70s. When the film begins, one would be excused for expecting to see a heart-warming comedy about a bunch of plucky seniors outsmarting the forces of progress and real estate. After all, the elderly residents of the condemned building are all appropriately quirky and, as played by Paula Trueman, Mattie doesn’t seem like she’d be out-of-place as one of the prankers on Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. Linda Marsh’s social worker and Kenneth Tobey’s construction foreman both seem like the type of authority figures who one would expect to see humiliated in a mawkish 1970s comedy film.
Instead, Homebodies turns out to be an effectively creepy and dark little film. When the elderly residents of the apartment building fight back, they do so with a surprising brutality that’s all the more effective because of the harmless exteriors of Mattie and her fellow residents. Paula Trueman makes Mattie into a truly fascinating and frightening monster. When a few of her fellow residents start to question Mattie’s methods, you truly do fear for them because Mattie has truly proven herself to be capable of just about anything. While Trueman dominates the film, the entire cast is excellent. As a classic film lover, I was happy to see that one of the residents was played by Ian Wolfe, a character actor who will be recognizable to anyone who has ever watched TCM.
(Remember the old man who gave the lecture at the observatory in Rebel Without A Cause? Him.)
I first saw Homebodies on YouTube and I was going to share it below but, apparently, the video has been pulled from the site. That’s a shame because it’s a film that definitely deserves to be seen, if for no other reason than to appreciate the performances from a cast of underrated character actors who, sadly, are no longer with us. Unfortunately, the best I can offer is this Spanish-language trailer for the film.