Carpenter, The (1988)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-12-23 09:22

Written by: Doug Taylor
Directed by: David Wellington
Starring: Wings Hauser, Lynne Adams and Pierre Lenoir

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

ďA job ain't done 'till it's done."

Leave it to Canada to produce a film with one of the most congenial homicidal ghosts youíll ever see. Essayed by the great Wings Hauser, the title character in The Carpenter has returned from the grave to finish constructing his dream house, and is even pretty protective of the lady (Lynne Adams) who has moved into it. In fact, itís everyone else in this movie thatís an asshole, so David Wellingtonís directorial debut kind of flips the whole haunted house thing on its head a bit and sometimes to slightly amusing effect.

Adams plays Alice Jarrett, freshly released from the mental ward, where she was placed because she tore up some of her husbandís (Pierre Lenoir) clothes after she discovered his infidelity. The two have vowed to patch things up and head out to an old country home that also needs to be patched up. Martin has hired a crew of beefy (read: mustachioed and flannelled) guys to patch the place up while his wife reposes. One night, Alice hears someone still working on the house and discovers a nice carpenter (Hauser) who insists that his late hours are required because ďa job ainít done ítill itís doneĒ (said job apparently includes shooting vermin with a nail gun, by the way). She accepts this and wanders off in a sleepy haze; less pleased are the disgruntled construction workers, who are convinced that theyíre getting screwed by their foreman, and when one of them (drunkenly) confronts Alice, the mysterious carpenter shows up and dismembers him.

An odd mish-mash of soap opera drama and blood-soaked revenge follows; at times, this feels like a spoof of those old movies where a neurotic wife would move into a new house with a jerky husband and discover something weird about it. All of those elements are here, and I think weíre supposed to wonder if Hauserís carpenter is even real at some point; is he just an idealized projection of Aliceís psyche? Thatíd be a pretty neat plot point, I think, particularly since Martin is such a lame, milquetoast douche bag who continues to cheat on her with the pretty coeds in his class (heís an English lit professor, and nothing screams ďlame, milquetoast douche bagĒ like that profession). Imagine Steve from MarriedÖWith Children, only somehow smarmier and deserving of a decapitation. All of this isnít lost on the carpenter, who comforts Alice when heís not fixing things around the house.

But, as it turns out, we learn that even heís got a dark side to him once the town cop shows up to welcome Alice to the neighborhood and dump some exposition on us. Turns out, the carpenter once had a conniption fit and killed a bunch of repo men, an act that landed him in the electric chair. Now heís back toÖwell, fix up his house. I imagine that would have gone smoothly if Martinís construction crew hadnít been so paranoid and been more grateful that a specter was doing their work for them overnight. Sometimes, you just gotta know when to fold Ďem and not make a drunken fool out of yourself. So, thatís basically the story here: Wings Hauser (who is a great good olí boy here) killing a bunch of often-inebriated fools (who seemingly raided the Brawny guyís wardrobe) in horrible fashion. All the while, he intones the value of hard work and charms Alice; one can hardly blame her, I guess, considering what sheís stuck with otherwise. Itís actually sort of amusing to see her becoming more like her new lover, particularly when she gets violent with Martinís mistress (who he eventually knocks up).

Oh, she has a sister too; sheís perceptive to everything thatís going on, so we move into Lifetime territory at that point. Nevermind that, though--this oneís mostly about Hauser using his hardware to carve up some victims; most noteworthy is the first instance, where he employs a buzz saw to hack off the peeved workerís arms. Alice watches it all unfold, and opts to basically sleepwalk up the stairs and climb into bed. Given sequences like this and the overall ludicrous concept (itís like Ghost if Swayze were psychotic), itís sometimes difficult to tell what The Carpenter is trying to be. It sometimes plays as a straight slasher, but it sometimes feels like a yuk-fest, particularly in the absurd drama and silly yokels (of course the cop is chomping on donuts). Part of me wants to say thereís some neat subtext about masculinity buried in there somewhere--Wings is the powerful, protective man thatís somehow an upgrade over the 95 pound weakling sleazebag that is Martin. Somewhere in between are the beer-swilling dolts that get buzz sawed.

The ultimate point? Avoid all men, apparently (so this is like a Lifetime movie in more ways than one). But really, this is just a cheap Canadian horror movie that Iím reading way too much into. And a fairly obscure one at that; up until recently, it survived only on VHS, but Scorpion released it as part of their Katarinaís Nightmare theater series with a restored, uncut print. Iím sure thatíll be the way to go for anyone whoís either a fan of The Carpenter or feels compelled to check it out. I can somewhat recommend it, if only because some moments are absurdly brilliant. Wait until you hear the line Alice drops on poor Wings towards the end--itís a riot, unlike the rest of the film, which should really be more riotous considering the premise. Rent it!

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