Saturday, January 22, 2011

In short: Unhinged (1982)

A trio of young women is on their way to a music festival, when they have a car accident somewhere in the deep dark woods. Fortunately (or is it?) there's a lone house hidden away even further down in those woods, with the two women living there willing enough to help the girls out. Two of the three girls are in a perfectly good state, but the third one will need a few days of rest before she will be able to walk again. So basically, the girls are stranded.

Not that their hosts seem to mind much. The younger of the two women, Marion (J.E. Penner), even seems quite glad to have someone else to talk to for a change, which isn't much of a surprise given that her cohabitant is her mother, an old lady whose long rants about the olden times and the terrible evils of the male gender just stop short of foaming at the mouth.

But - to nobody's surprise but the protagonists' - other things in their inadvertent holiday home are even less well than Mother's mental state. Someone with a love for enthusiastic heavy breathing and watching young ladies undress is sneaking around the house, and that someone might just be a little more dangerous than your usual voyeur.

Unhinged is another one of those films that landed on the UK's original video nasty list for not much reason that is still discernible today. It's far from being all that brutal or immoral (whatever that may mean), and while the style of the very few murders seems influenced by slasher movie tropes, the film mostly tries for a psychological thriller vibe one would think the guardians of all that is good and proper would have approved of.

Visually, the film is dominated by long-ish shots of a quite impressive looking mansion and the surrounding woods. These locations should have made the building of the proper mood of insanity and decay a bit more easy for Unhinged than for local independent productions that had to work with random people's living rooms and someone's backyard. It's a bit of a shame the film's director Don Gronquist wasn't really able to make as much out of these natural advantages than I would have wished for. There's a promise of true creepiness in the places we see, but the proper mood never really sets in, as nice as everything looks and as inexhaustible the synthie score - of the type you'll either love or hate with intense passion - noodles.

Gronquist's directorial style goes for slow and moody, but tends to get dragged off into the territory of the slightly boring. There are only so many evening dinner scenes with Mad Mum a viewer can watch without losing her interest. Another problem with the film's ambitions for subtlety is the acting: the three young actresses are obviously only in here because they were willing to drop their clothes, and drone through their (sometimes - yet not often enough - bizarre) dialogue, looking bored; Penner and Settle on the other hand try to outdo each other in fake upper class stiltedness and only prove that they sure aren't related to Vincent Price.

What Unhinged really has going for it are its final five minutes, containing a pretty nasty little twist ending and an increase in acting intensity that I surely wouldn't have expected at this point in the proceedings. One could argue this sudden transformation from mediocrity to "Holy crap! Horror movies!" is too little, too late, but I'm pretty sure Unhinged's ending will stay with me for a while, and I take what I can get from movies that by all rights shouldn't deliver anything at all.

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