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!
Edith: DENY IT, YOU SLUT!
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.
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.