Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Unhinged (1982)

Reviewed By: Billy

In an (failed) attempt to make their children “well-rounded” members of society, our parents made JM and myself participate in all kinds of lame activities growing up. This included a miserable year in Little League…several miserable years in show-choir…and a couple of summers at a bizarre YWCA summer camp which led to our first encounter with breasts via a prematurely-developed girl with a penchant for losing her top (which explains JM’s current obsessions with Maria Ford and Misty Mundae). But by far, the lamest activity of all included our associations with community theatre.

Oh, yes…the “brothers who know it all” know sad, low-budget community theatre well…from The Music Man to The Pied Piper to a children’s adaptation of the tortoise and the hare, we braved the rigors of mothball-ridden costumes, cakey stage makeup, and theatrical “warm-ups” (which included repeating tongue-twisters and walking around in circles really slowly “as if walking through molasses”)…and somehow lived to tell about it. The experiences left me with a love/hate relationship with the dramatic arts…it’s complete torture for me to actually have to sit through a play, but there’s something oddly touching about watching adults playing dress-up and traipsing around the stage, basking in a very limited version of fame.

This, then, explains why I love/hate Unhinged. This so-called “video nasty” is basically a filmed community theatre production – some of the actors were apparently stage performers from the Pacific Northwest, and they leave you with no doubt that between takes they were practicing diaphragm-breathing and reciting lines from Charlie’s Aunt or some other civic theatre favorite. The experience of watching Unhinged is a lot of like watching a low-budget stage production, too – it’s slow and there are lots of awkward silences, and you just keep praying for some kind of intermission to come soon so you can pee and use your cell phone. Thankfully, Unhinged affords us with something community theatre sadly lacks – the opportunity to fast-forward.

So, Unhinged opens with three girls (Terry, Nancy, and Gloria…an 80s trifecta of names if there ever was one) traveling by car to some rock concert. The girls, unlike the rest of the cast, don’t appear to have theatre experience. Hell, they don’t appear to have any acting experience at all. Their performances are so wooden and lifeless that I’m not sure they were ever actually awake on set. My personal favorite is Nancy, the "bad girl" whose wide-eyed delivery comes off like a little girl pushed out onto stage for her first talent show. Anyway, after a confounding opening exchange, we are treated to a roughly five minute-montage of the car traveling through various landscapes; this may be one of the most blatant examples of time-padding ever to grace a horror film. Finally, during a “rain storm” (a.k.a. some poor grip running a sprinkler just in front of the camera), the car crashes (a.k.a. clumsily drives into a ditch).

Here’s where our little repertory theatre show really takes off. The girls wake up in the home of Marion Penrose, a creepy spinster who lives with her mother, Edith. Marion and Edith are straight out of a small-town Indiana civic theatre production of The Glass Menagerie or some other Tennessee Williams family drama; Edith is the crazy, wheelchair-ridden domineering mother who constantly puts down her daughter, and Marian is a severe, black-wearing schoolmarm who’s been robbed of a normal life. The dialogue isn’t quite up to Tennessee’s standards, but played with the abandon of two small-town Meryl Streeps excited to be trading the stage for the screen, it still sparkles:

Edith: When I was a child, I was taught that it was proper to be truthful and respectful to one’s parents. But take Marion here, for example. She thinks nothing at all of lying to me…of taking advantage of my crippled condition TO DEFILE THE SANCTITY OF OUR HOME!
Marion: MOTHER!

From here we cut to a painfully slow dialogue scene between Terry and Nancy, who both continue to deliver their lines as if they’ve just been served a cocktail laced with NyQuil and Novocaine. Seriously…why doesn’t Terry move her mouth? Didn’t the actresses playing the Penrose ladies show her a few of those theatre tongue-twisting exercises? Anyway, Terry reveals that at dinner she had a feeling of “déjà vu,” which she says means she felt like she was being watched. Umm…Terry…that’s not actually what déjà vu means. But, big props for trying to say something French through clenched teeth.

Sadly, nothing else happens for the next forty minutes; we get a heavy-breather stalking around outside the house, a few nudity-fulfilling shower scenes, and two very lame death sequences (one of which includes that most ridiculous of all slasher standbys, the scythe). Really, this was one of the "video nasties" banned from video shelves for so long? WHY? There’s absolutely nothing here that qualifies as “nasty,” except maybe the synth score that sounds like someone noodling around on a Casio keyboard. Sure, we get a few full-frontal shots and some blood-spattered faces, but it’s nothing we weren’t seeing in serious dramas ten years earlier. Maybe the English Parliament just wanted to protect us from such cheap filmmaking. Or they all really hate community theatre.

Anyway…things finally kick back up at the end, when all is revealed in a scene stolen straight out of dozens of other horror films. I won’t give the ending away…but let’s just say J.E. Penner, playing Marion Penrose, gets to fulfill every actress’s dream of being covered with fake body hair and dubbed by a man. The ending is actually kind of violent, surprising only because everything that came before it is so tame. It’s by far the best thing about the movie…kind of like at the Sunday matinee of Gypsy, when everything rallies for the last big musical number and the audience wakes up and gets excited that the whole thing is over.

So, how do you rate something you love/hate? The whole “let’s put on a show!” feeling is pretty appealing…but it’s the only thing appealing about Unhinged. Still, although I don’t plan on ever sitting through it again, I’ll keep it as part of my horror DVD collection. That way the next time I get a hankering to re-live my civic theatre days, I can pop it in and save myself a trip downtown.



  1. Unhinged is truly one of the worst DVDs in my collection, the added comedy commentary track is almost a must when watching the DVD, but unfortunately the commentary is almost as boring and often less funny than the actual movie. I only watched the film a second time to get all $3.00 out of the DVD, but it will likely sit on the shelves for years (decades) before being revisited. Point on review!

  2. Ha ha. Loved the review. I"m sure it would be even funnier if I had actually seen the damn thing.

  3. Dragonmanes:
    YES...the commentary track is so unfunny, I couldn't even stand to leave it on. Glad you only paid $3.00 for it...I paid $3.99, and I'm still not sure I didn't pay too much for it.

    Really...don't bother watching it. The screen caps are all you need to see. Trust me, your finger would get a good workout on the fast-forward button.

  4. Yeah you totally got jipped, but 2 watches will bring you down to $1.33/hr of entertainment, if you can call it that.

  5. When my cult-horror phase started early, I had the chance to pick up Unhinged for only a measly 2 dollars at a Suncoast. The sensationalized tag line caught my eye but upon visual inspection, I found this film to be completely unwatchable. Good write-up though.


  6. Yeah, the box is VERY misleading. I was really excited when I bought it...expecting a long-lost slasher classic. I'm such a sucker for a good DVD cover.

  7. don't worry, i wasn't really considering a viewing ;)

  8. Ha - great review. It almost makes me want to watch it. You had me during the scene with the old ladies, but then I saw that it was boring from that point on. Shame.

  9. How charming that you and your brother think your mother and I sent you off to all those childhood activities in order to make you "well-rounded". Truth is, that is how we got you out of the house for our, shall we say, "private time." Your loving Dad, Ralph Merrye.

  10. Great review! I just found your site. This PDX pile of garbage is oddly entrancing, like a paper hypno wheel, so much so I've watched it like 3 times I think. I actually wrote a review of it also: