"The Evictors," a haunted house melodrama from the regional filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, is a decided improvement on his last feature, "The Norseman," but it poses no threat to "The Amityville Horror" or "The Shining." Slipped into town without advance notice, the film may be too obscure and expendable to cover the overhead at the theaters booking it. I was the only customer at a suburban theater the other night-my first truly private screening since keeping "Uncle Joe Shannon" company a few months ago.

An Arkansan now based in Shreveport, Pierce made his commercial reputation with a low-budget horror melodrama, "The Legend of Boggy Creek," after a carrer in advertising. The horror genre seems to put less strain on his limited resources and rather stilted techniques than historical adventures like the oafish "Norseman" or ponderous "Winterhawk."

Pierce and cinematographer Chuck Bryant exploit the setting for some palpable, if predictable, shivers. The production also benefits from decent performances by Jessica Harper and Michael Parks as the couple who discover they've moved into a house with a deadly heritage and Sue Ann Langdon as a friendly, crippled neighbor. Pierce's fundamental deficiency is a haunted house story clever enough to be satisfying. The explanation for the evil occurrences in "The Evictors" really won't do. It's too literal-minded to be mysterious or credible-a double-edged letdown.

Harper, last seen navigating through the spooky obstacle course of Dario Argento's "Suspiria," threatens to squander a unique presence and promising talent on marginal horror vehicles. She provides a more sensitive and intelligent image of vulnerable femininity than second-string movies like "The Evictors" usually recruit, but they don't enhance her image in return. It might help if she hooked up again with the first-string filmmakers who originally used her well-Brian De Palma and Woody Allen. It would be reassuring to hear her sing and play comedy once more.

Parks has lost his good looks and leading man potential, but he appears to be evolving into an agreeable character actor as his features prematurely age and thicken. Parks now resembles Ben Johnson, of all unexpected transformations, and the resemblance is reinforced here by his impersonation of an easygoing, drawling Southwesterner.

Parks and Harper are scarcely what you'd call sexy or scintillating together, but they're a rather endearing image of a married couple, the sort of pleasant, unaffected folks one could feel protective about when they appear threatened. Instead of sticking to the feeble twists and revelations he had in mind, Pierce should have calculated his mystery story to take advantage of this protective instinct.