Saturday, January 24, 2009

Funeral Home (1980)

Reviewed by: Billy

Funeral Home is kind of like a My Bloody Valentine for the old folks crowd. You know, like Arsenic and Old Lace…if that movie had a scene where people having sex in a car get pushed over the edge of a rock quarry. There’s a very Canadian quality to the proceedings (like Valentine, we get a small-town populated by dozens of brunettes who pronounce words like “out” as “ooot”), but a good two-thirds of the principle actors here appear to be over the age of 50, something generally reserved for movies on TCM and episodes of “The Golden Girls.” It makes for an interesting twist in the usually teenagers-only genre…but perhaps is not so surprising when you learn the screenplay was written by someone named Ida Nelson (who may have been a character on “The Golden Girls” at some point…).

Anyway, never fear…for you kids averse to white hair and spectacles, there is a young lead, and it’s a good one – Lesleh Donaldson (of Happy Birthday To Me and Curtains, where she plays the girl ridiculously chased down by a killer on ice skates) finally gets to carry a movie herself. Looking exactly like Selma Blair (but, mercifully, not acting like her), Lesleh plays Heather – a young girl spending the summer with her grandmother, Mrs. Chalmers. Grandma (whose mean old husband “disappeared” mysteriously years ago) runs a funeral home, but due to tough economic times, is transforming it into a tourist home. Personally, I’m not sure who in God’s name would choose to spend their vacation in a former-funeral home (wouldn’t the smell of formaldehyde be overwhelming?), but within a few days, they’ve got a full house. We’re also asked to believe that this small Canadian town, which appears to be in the middle of a wheat field, would even be a tourist destination. Anyway…

Mrs. Chalmers (who the kids call “Chalmer the Embalmer”) happens to be a little obsessed with her missing husband, talking about him constantly…and even talking to him in basement (in scenes, a la Psycho, in which we only hear their voices and see shadows…hmmm…what could that mean?). We also get Billy the “slow” handyman (who, as the perfect red herring, leers at every woman and walks around with an axe) and a young, hometown dolt who’s new to the police force (and virtually lays out the entire blueprint for Deputy Dewey in Scream, right down to the dialogue about not being taken seriously on the force). Meanwhile, Heather’s trying to find out the truth about her missing grandfather while being romanced by local boy Ricky (who unfortunately wears extremely unflattering sleeveless shirts considering his arms are like blinding white pipe cleaners)…and every black cat in town is hissing at the poor girl, something I completely identify with as all animals seem to hate me, too.

Amongst this group of characters, our tourist home guests start disappearing. First, it’s Mr. and “Mrs.” Browning (we find out she’s not really the Mrs.) – an annoying couple reminiscent of the Ropers who end up in the car that gets edged off the sharp drop of the quarry. Another guest, Mr. Davis (played with “Matlock” readiness by Barry Morse) has ulterior motives (his wife…who happened to be having an affair with missing Grandpa…is also missing), is fishing in the quarry and ends up being axed and buried in the local cemetery. The bumbling cops are investigating, and Heather starts worrying that maybe Grandpa is still alive and being kept in the basement. Billy, meanwhile, wanders down into the basement and gets repeatedly stabbed with one of those tubes that drains the blood of a corpse….guess our red herring is nothing more than a belly-up fish.

All of this leads to the climax in the basement full of caskets, as Heather and Ricky end up face to face with the killer. The final pronouncement should come as no surprise to anyone (after all, we’ve referenced Psycho enough to know that Grandpa ain’t in the basement…at least, he ain’t alive in the basement…and that Grandma is nuts), but it is pretty effective due to the balls to the wall insane performance of Kay Hawtry, who spends a good ten minutes wailing and chopping up everything in sight with an axe. The end is cribbed entirely from Hitchcock, with a complete explanation of Grandma’s nutty behavior while the closing credits roll across the screen (which, if you ask me, is an effective time saver and a great way to actually make the audience have to watch the credits). Oh, and we also get a final look at one of those black cats…which I’m still not sure had anything to do with the story…

So, for fans of both slashers and Bea Arthur, look no further than Funeral Home. It may lack in the pure ridiculousness and body count of something like Curtains, but it’s an enjoyable departure from the typical kids-in-the-woods-meet-hockey-mask slasher. It’s also nice to see Lesleh do something other than have sex with John Vernon (truly the most horrifying aspect of Curtains), and she makes for a pretty good final girl. Really, Funeral Home might just be the perfect bridge across the generation gap. So find it at your local video store, invite your grandmother over for dinner, and watch it together…just make sure she stays out of the basement…


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