Thursday, 2 October 2014

Halloween 31 For 31: Unhinged (1982)


Dir. Don Gronquist

As you watch a lot of video nasties, you realise that, with a few exception, it was politicians and moral crusaders picking on little companies and non-Hollywood films - low budget independent movies for the most part, Italian and European imports, and the few Hollywood films were the likes of the slasher films that were made with small cost. The films themselves are varied in qualify, drastically so, but they're becoming closer to what I view horror cinema as, disreputable, critically unpopular movies made sometimes by small crews, with low budgets, fighting the restraints of the material available to them as they filmed. Unhinged is one of the greatly obscure entries for the video nasties list, which has a taste of the slasher movie, horror and a lot of dialogue sequences. Upfront, the younger Michael Hewis would've hated this film, not at a time before to be patient with this film's flaws, an unconventional pace or the mood common with a lot of these American independents, stripped of gloss, of having to build the films up in very limiting conditions. Quite a few viewers will find this film to be awful, as many have become fans of it as, when this review exists, a new restored DVD version will be released in Britain in the late 2014. It's a film that is difficult to gauge with through any of the above mentioned factors, while as for myself, my tastes having come to embrace such things, I was very surprised with how good Unhinged is.

Three young women get into a car accident on the way to a music concert. They are taken in by a mysterious mother and daughter of another time and reality in mind. The mother, of a upper class family, is delusional, wheelchair bound and believes her daughter keeps bringing men into the house, while said daughter merely puts up with it, looking after the home and interacting with their accidental guests, the first in a very long time. There is something obviously amiss with the house, as one of the girls keeps hearing rough male breathing at night and there is someone clearly stalking outside, though the danger is far more complicated than merely that. Especially when you find a tooth on the bedroom carpet but don't find anything disconcerting about it. Unhinged cannot be dismissed as a badly made film. Barring one moment where a boom mike is clearly visible poking in at the top of the screen, for the most part it has what I'm finding myself adoring in these films of a rough atmosphere, of these films of a small crew filming in the woodlands of the United States, the clothes worn by the cast possibly their own or bought at a local store. The acting may not be perfect, but its immensely interesting, especially as the background to why the mother is the way she is becomes apparent and the slasher aspect appears.

It was befitting, while obvious differences were there, that I encountered my first Andy Milligan films around the same time of seeing this. In both cases the flaw that they are too prolix is obvious, Unhinged full of lengthy dialogue sequences that are longer than the gore or horror content, making up most of the film, over elaborate, wordy conversations. Three quarters of the film is this, the two young women who weren't badly hurt by the car crash spending nights having awkward dinners with the owners, the mother going on about her daughter being a slut and staring at what appears to be glass dining table ornaments in brief trances, as if with a fascination of bric-a-brac that borders on the psychotic. The young women in smart dress, playing dominoes in the lounge while the daughter plays the piano, the film is closer to an unconventional drama than a Friday The 13th movie. The moment the daughter mentions how this all doesn't really make any sense, or the elaborate argument about whether one of the girls should trek in the woodlands to phone their parents. While able to appreciate these sort of films now, I'm still at the stage where the beginning, and all these dialogue exchanges, were disarming at times, difficult to sit through even, the film concerned with putting in a sordid backstory for the house while still having the actors talk out the lengthy dialogue. Once I was part of the way through the film, I could adapt to this tone, find enjoyment in this alienating presentation and then have the horror content when it appears that one is hopeful for from the movie. I can reveal in the messy, somewhat illogical tone of the film and over excess of dialogue, more so when the creators of the film did at least try.

The main location, an elaborate mansion heavily decorated and from another era, greatly helps the film in tone, with many an image of the building in the dark, in the rain, as lightning flashes, evoking a Gothic horror story though the film mostly feels like a throwback to dingy, seventies horror films. I also like the synth score immensely, by composer Jon Newton, a basic series of notes and drones that add an appropriate mood to the proceedings. When the film reaches its finale, having grown fond of its tone throughout before, it really became something good, from an exceptional use of slow motion for a major, gruesome revel to the utterly bleak ending, all of which, making the last quarter of the film, being the reason why this film has stood out for me. Limited to only six actors onscreen, one main location and its surroundings, and very few deaths, it works immensely well despite the flaws as a gristly chamber piece that for its moments of silliness - the lengthy dialogue, the sequence with the tooth - is suitable creepy and gave me a chill in the spine through its ending. With a passing, clear nod to a famous film which is a clear influence on Unhinged, without giving anything away, the uneasiness and sinister undercurrent to the indie shocker worked immensely for me. Especially with the variability of the video nasties, this is a great advantage to have.


Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Not quite. Aspects push it towards being a Low. The droning synth score. The setting. It's mood. That finale. It all adds a lot to it, as does the structure which could alienate certain viewers or add to the effect, but I've set the bar to how to get a rating too high, making it difficult to add because of how most of it is still a narrative driven horror rather than something else.

A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
As I find myself forgiving mistakes in these earnestly made, lower budget genre movies, yes. While not going to be on the abstract list, Unhinged has everything I'd want - feeling like it was hard work the creators put everything into, was different from the run-of-the-mill, and unpredictable. Weaknesses and all, it's the kind of maligned, obscurer movie I'd be drawn to and can appreciate more now.

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