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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Unhinged Don Gronquist 1982

Somebody Call a Somnambulance!!

If you rent this movie, I'd advise that you watch the last 3 minutes and call it a night. An under-populated slasher/"old dark house" combo, the film is intolerably boring for the first 76 or so minutes, and in a switch that screams "Guest Director!" or "PCP Binge!", suddenly kicks into brutal, fevered life in the final scene. While I in no way recommend the bulk of the film, it is worthy of mention here due to its odd sexual politics (the cast is entirely female save two burly, facial-hair-enriched red herrings) and a certain twist. As I'm only recommending that you watch the final scene anyway, feel free to read on if you want to know what that twist is; if you're planning on subjecting yourself to a viewing of the entire feature, stop reading now and book yourself into a clinic, citing "extreme masochistic tendencies".

In the thrilling kick-off to Unhinged, a young woman wakes up, takes a shower, eats breakfast, and talks to her mom on the phone. She looks out the window. Her mother does most of the talking. We think seh does, anyway - considering that we can't hear her mother's side of the conversation, we'll assume that the long stretches where she sits silently gazing out the window with a phone pressed to her ear are meant to be periods where she's listening. At any rate, salvation from crippling, inescapable boredom arrives in a white car as her friends pick her up for their weekend trip.

Or so we would like to believe.

In reality, the filmmakers challenge us to leave the room or choke on our own tongues as a means of escaping the excruciatingly uninteresting driving sequence that follows. And follows… and follows… seriously, The Trip to Bountiful is Charlie's Angels next to this snoozefest, with a boring overhead dimestore ripoff of The Shining alternating with dull, hard-to-hear shots in which the girls apparently talk about fun things and smoke pot. In all, not exactly a running start for a purported thriller. Without warning, the girls hit a log and drive off the road into a cushiony-looking ditch, and the girls are all apparently knocked out, although I might argue that the film has thus far been so boring that even they, much like the director, have managed to fall asleep at the wheel.

The girls wake up in some big mansion where they are attended to by a random moustachioed man (a crooked moustache, at that) and a Shelley Duvall impersonator wearing one of Ma Clampett's old dresses. They assure the ladies that they are safe and invite them to dinner, ushering in the most tedious and unacceptably droll stretch of the film: the dinner table gauntlet. The puffy, manly-looking matriarch is wheeled in and proceeds to yammer on for literally 20 minutes about how much she hates men. Imagine a community theatre staged reading of Taming of the Shrew with Rod Steiger playing Kate from a wheelchair and that just about sums it up.

Fortunately, the two girls are so wretched as actresses and so hilariously styled (check out the brunette's "fresh-off-a-motorcycle" 'do) that their reaction shots are almost funny enough to distract you from the otherwise unbearably uninteresting proceedings. The mother seems to have some fixation on the salt and pepper dishes. Not sure why. After this tedious exercise in "suspense" and "backstory", we are treated to what by comparison is a veritable fireworks display of viscerally engaging cinema: the ladies retire to the parlor for dominoes and a piano recital.

I honestly don't know what the fuck is going on. At this point this mess is less akin to a horror film and more like Picnic at Hanging Rock, only with the two most interesting elements (namely, the picnic and the rock) removed. Dominoes? In a horror film? What's next, pinochle? The ladies who lunched sit in a parlor for about 7 minutes looking at the walls while someone might stumble around outside - it's not entirely clear, as the exterior scenes were apparently shot during a total eclipse. At about this point I realized that one of the passengers has been strangely absent since the car accident (and her one audible line). Lest you get too interested in this point, rest assured that it is NOT a plot element, and for her sake I hope that the actress simply had something better to do during those shooting days and had herself written out of the scenes. Who knows - maybe her character was the really interesting one and was meant to engage in any number of wacky pursuits during dinner and dominoes (plate-spinning, snake handling, Jenga…). We'll never know.

At any rate, this is also the point in the story where it becomes terribly apparent that the overriding motif for the film is people sleeping. Or if not sleeping, at least reclining or at other times waking, lounging, stirring, languishing, convalescing, napping -- or, ultimately, dying. It is therefore no surprise at all that this movie is as boring as it is - the cast is either sleeping or otherwise horizontal for the better part of the film. Even when they are awake the leads are so wan and lifeless that their emotional performances can be likened to that of over-steamed asparagus, or perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow. The sole non-sleep inducing actor, J.E. Penner, is unfortunately so burdened by her lame spinster accoutrements and somnambulistic supporting cast that even she is pretty easy to ignore.

Eventually, someone gets killed, and at least it's somewhat nasty (albeit brief) and breaks up the tedium of the established sleep/dominoes/sleep/shower/sleep/dinner/sleep routine. The other girl (who is indeed just convalescing upstairs - no need to worry about her!) gets an axe in the face, and the poor little lady doesn't even get to step out of bed before being offed. Not the most exciting death, to say the least. Meanwhile, the last survivor, who has been hearing what sounds like the labored breathing of a man beating off through the ceiling every nite, gets spooked by a creepy dirty man peeking in her window (it is a genuinely startling moment - I'll give them that one), and runs downstairs in terror. She is intercepted by the spinster Marion, who explains to her in yet another monologue that she had a brother blah blah blah not harmful blah blah SCENE.

But things don't end so easily, of course, and the heroine is chased into the shed by the randy mountain man, where she finds piles of bloody body parts and naturally loses her shit. She runs up to the attic with him in pursuit and shoots him in the face, much to the chagrin of Marion, who reveals that he had nothing to do with the corpses. And for anyone in the audience who has yet to figure it out, she begins speaking in a man's voice and even flashes some wiry chest hairs to confirm that no, she was not simply an ugly woman playing an ugly woman -- she was an ugly woman playing an ugly man.

This brings us to our final 3 minutes and the only decent scene in the film, which I won't ruin for you. Suffice to say it packs a bit of a wallop and really seems like a scene from another movie entirely, something genuinely scary and mean. It's not enough to make the entire experience worthwhile, but with the movie finally over, we are at last allowed to go to sleep ourselves - having been lulled into a deep, comfortable slumber by the dulcet tones of a hacking machete.

Rating (out of 5):