Long after the 1973 adult movie High Rise, but little before the cult classics Savage Streets and Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, director Danny Steinmann created a suspense-horror film that was rarely seen, even more so as the passing years went by. Fittingly titled The Unseen, it starred the beautiful Barbara Bach (co-star of The Spy Who Loved Me) in the midst of incest terror! But as the movie wrapped up, Danny wanted no part of it. He completely distanced himself from anything relating to his tragedy, believing it to be trash and worthless. What does Oh, the Horror! think? Well, I may not like every movie out there, including a bulk in the specific genre, but all of them have a place somewhere, and we here welcome them, even if they blow. Was Danny right, or does The Unseen deserve some credit? Should you seek out The Unseen?
In Solvang, California, TV reporter Jennifer Fast (Bach) and her two friends Vicki (Lois Young) and Karen (Karen Lamm) are covering a story on a Danish festival. Accommodations donít go as planned when their hotel messes up their booking, and they soon have to settle for museum owner Ernest Kellerís (Sydney Lassick) farmhouse. His wife Virginia (Lelia Goldoni) is in a state of sadness over something, but the girls just joke about it. Leaving sick-feeling Vicki at the house, Karen and Jennifer go off to get the story on the parade, where they meet Tony (Douglass Barr), Jenniferís ex. Karen thinks that Jennifer is an idiot for leaving him, but Jen has her reasons. Meanwhile, something is in the basement at the Keller house, and itís loose! Vicki is attacked up in her room, and when Karen returns, sheíll wish that she had not decided to put on a scarf that day. Murder has never been so innocent. What is the Keller secret? And will the last of the reporters be able to dodge harmís way in time? Whatever has remained unseen in the basement is about to be hideously revealed!
The cast is wonderfully limited to the three gals, Tony, the elder Keller couple and of course...The Unseen. Donít you just love it when I use the title to explain things? Yes; yes you do. The acting is a bit flimsy. Barbara starts off a bit robotic, but she shines in the final scenes as a terrified guest. The same story goes for Lassick, who doesnít seem to be certain in how he wants to create the character of Ernest when being introduced. At least, I hope so. But along the way, as the movie gets darker, heíll let it all out. The styles are very 70s, and the atmosphere reflects off of the house interior. All of the main women are colorful: Vicki is the fun one, who wouldnít hurt a fly; Karen is the mind speaker; Jennifer, to be honest, might be a little boring without her good looks, but sheís the longest lasting one, so she has enough going for her. Itís just a shame that the two supporting ladies are killed off within the first half of the movie. There was potential for some monster fighting Charlieís Angels.
The Unseen has a few good suspense scenes, but there are some low points of interest. In its entirety, although a major difference in comparison to what slashings were being cloned at the time, itís still not as fresh as one might had hoped. A little bit cheesy too. Some things catch you off guard, such as when Ernest is having a flashback to a fight he had with his father, and then sitting across from him is a stabbed corpse. Can you guess who it is? But if youíre a horror buff then youíll be able to piece parts of the puzzle together very quickly. A living secret is in the basement, not quite ready for population exposure, but is treated like a child. Then you find out that Virginia is, in fact, Ernestís sister. Incest! Your suspicions have been confirmed, although you didnít need it. Itís pretty predictable. I will say that my favorite actress of the feature is Goldoni, whose crying and nervous Virginia brings the most talent and emotion. At times, it certainly feels like a drama.
The make-up effects are very good for a low budget quickie like this, and most have less to do with death. We have a couple of murders centered around a floor grate, both of which are enjoyably inventive. Karenís scarf is pulled in from the opposite side, bashing her head against the surface. Vicki is just carried off down the grate, followed by a head smash when the grateís cover flops down on her. Minimal blood, but you feel their pain. The real prize is in the killer Ė basement dweller. Remember the incest talk? Well, that was long ago, and now the Kellerís inbred son is all grown up, aside from his mind. He has down syndrome, and an interesting take on deformity, which uses the right balance. The message is soon learned that the Ďunseení, also known as Junior, is not the monster at all. As we see a family fall apart, the inevitable Ernest is shown to be the real villain. Heís running the show, abusing poor Virginia and his son. A slightly disappointing and tedious cellar highlight is still watchable, and makes for a great soap opera, though a tad more violent. The writing is average, and direction isnít fulfilled, and the Tony character adds almost nothing to the story, except for some distracting Jennifer time for Junior to kill her friends.
By nightfall, itís raining out, meaning a perfect time for horror. But I still canít shake the memory of that funny Danish parade. Youíve got to love their feel. And as anyone who knows Steinmannís work, the tame beginning is assuredly going to end. Vicki gives the museum owner something to look at when he peeps through the keyhole during her bath. Some sleaze never hurts anybody. What makes The Unseen a let down is the lack of excitement in each eventful scene. The kills arenít shocking, the reveal isnít grand, and it falls from the pedestal of something that could have been a memorable horror asset. I think the biggest shame is that Jennifer and the Keller family never develop a strong bond, resulting in a case of bad luck instead of broken trust. Fast is elegantly well kempt, and having her soaking wet while crawling in the mud is highly effective.
Code Red DVD has once again unleashed a forgotten treasure. Hooray for them! And on a two-disc set as well. The only problem is the picture quality of this DVD, which has flickering light stages, and a lot of grain. Dark patches sometimes turn blue, but itís still terrific quality. After all, they are independent. The sound is a clean mono track, easy to hear and with no complaints. If youíre a major fan of The Unseen, then you must have this definitive set. Along with an audio commentary with star Stephen Furst (the monster, Junior) and the producer Tony Unger, plenty more treats are accompanied. A handful of informative on-camera interviews with Furst and Barr can be useful in discovering more about Danny Steinmannís odd on-set adventures, much like when he worked on Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. A still gallery of pictures and posters, The Unseenís theatrical trailer, and multiple other Code Red trailers for movies such as Night Warning and The Visitor. On disc two, more interviews can be seen with make-up supervisor Craig Reardon and effects legend Tom Burman (My Bloody Valentine; Halloween III; Happy Birthday to Me). Finally, to top it all off, make-up test slides, sketches, and photos from behind-the-scenes are added in a gallery. What a fantastic release! The Unseen has many obstacles in its way, but it tried very hard and is not given a high enough status. Danny is wrong. Itís a fine film. There just needs to be more. Try it out. Rent it!