Written by: Don Gronquist, Reagan Ramsey
Directed by: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner and Sara Ansley
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďA lot of really weird things are going on round here!... Breathing, strange sounds, your Mother, now faces at the window... I can't stand it!"
Unhingedís biggest claim to fame is its former status as a Video Nasty, which means it was yanked from video store shelves in Britain shortly after its release. 30 years later, youíll be left wondering just how it managed such infamy; while this might be true of a lot of films whose gory reputations seem quaint three decades removed, itís especially true of Unhinged. Don Gronquistís early 80s slasher isnít without its gory bits to be sure, but itís hardly the type of film whose reputation should precede it in this manner because itís much more of an atmospheric slow-burn than many of its trashier, splattery contemporaries.
It starts off with a rather seedy reference point in Last House on the Left, as it concerns a trio of girls who are headed off to a musical festival; gone are any implications of deflowered flower children, but the main girl, Terry (Laurel Munson), strikes off despite her motherís reservations. Said reservations end up being well-founded, of course, as the girls head off into the woods (all the while ignoring radio reports about missing girls in the area) and end up wrecking during a bad storm. Theyíre taken in by a woman (Janet Peneer) and her elderly mother (Virginia Settle), a couple of old birds living out in a creepy old mansion in the middle of nowhere.
These two are just a little too inviting, of course, plus Terry swears thereís a creepy guy prowling the grounds. If youíre expecting Unhinged to consistently pile up bodies to prove her right, then youíll probably be disappointed. Instead, thereís one intermittent scene of violence involving a scythe; in the meantime, Terry plays good houseguest by patronizing her two hosts. Like her own mother, Ms. Penrose is a little overbearing, perhaps even psychotically so, as sheís spent most of her parenthood drilling a deep distrust of the opposite sex into her daughter. This is relayed several times over the course of this chatty slasher flick, which eventually has the requisite Havisham-esque backstory involving a jilted lover, and thereís also be an extra sibling roaming around out there somewhere, a son thatís been disavowed due to his sex.
The gender psychosis makes Unhinged another hayseed riff on Psycho, right down to the ridiculous twist that was made more famous by another slasher. Itís a moderately well-done payoff thatís difficult to see coming, if only because itís pulled off in such a silly way (Iím really tip-toeing around spoilers here). Anyway, the silliness really runs counter to the genuine mean streak of the climax; this is where most of the gore is found, and I can almost see how UK censors might have freaked over it since itís remarkably savage and unflinching. Something about it really lands a blow, perhaps because the film is so measured and drawn out to the point where this violence actually means something. Unlike a lot of the splatter films that would populate the decade, Unhinged isnít really concerned with being a cartoony body count movie that piles up corpses with reckless abandon.
In retrospect, thatís a little refreshing; Unhinged has problems, particularly as far as acting goes--everyone is trying just a little too hard, as if theyíre trying their best to uncan their dialogue without tripping up over it, but at least there is effort to be found here. The genuine attempt to make a film thatís more like Psycho and Halloween than it is Friday the 13th is admirable, even if Gronquist canít completely outrun the thin script and even thinner performances. Itís actually probably more apt to compare it to an old dark house film, especially since the prowling sibling recalls Brember Willsís character in James Whaleís 1932 classic. At times, Unhinged also feels like the type of movie that might have inspired Ti Westís House of the Devil--itís a super slow burn with minimal plot development that doesnít even make great use of all of its characters (one of the girls is bed-ridden the entire time, and sheís barely heard from until the end). Still, there is one great jump scare and a few creepy parts to break up the monotony of the dinner table conversations, and the film certainly doesnít stretch itself too far at 79 minutes.
Unhinged is also genuinely atmospheric; shot on location in some deep, rain-soaked Oregon woods, the film is moody and desolate. The Penrose home feels like itís been lived in for the past few decades, and itís worn in without being overly decrepit. If it had just a bit more forward momentum and suspense, Unhinged might be a great, unsung little backwoods slasher; as it stands, itís still a bit surprising given its Video Nasty reputation, but itís ultimately a little dry during its downtime. Unhinged has shown up on a couple of budget packs, but IndieDVD also released it separately in its complete uncut form. The full screen transfer and stereo soundtrack combine for an adequate presentation, and thereís some production stills and a vintage interview with the filmmakers as an added bonus. An MST3K style ďcomedy narrationĒ is also provided, which might give you the wrong impression of the film. Sure, it lends itself to some unintentional laughs here and there, but Unhinged mostly takes itself seriously, an approach that results in an admirably flawed film thatís worth a look for slasher enthusiasts.
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