Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the unseen (1981)...

"The Unseen" is one of a number of fairly obscure, long out-of-print horror films that has recently been released on DVD by Code Red, a company that really needs to move to New York and hire me now.  They've also been behind the releases of "Boardinghouse," "The Dead Pit," "Sole Survivor," "Don't Go in the Woods," and an impressive handful of others.  The Code Red catalog represents a fairly broad array of different films, but they all occupy a similar space both in terms of quality and cultural significance.  I'd characterize the Code Red slate as "liminal" films, in that they are all in-between in terms of the above elements.  They're films people have heard of, and in many cases, horrorphiles are aware from seeing their VHS boxes in video stores throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but they're films that not many people have seen.  But they're films that not alot of people have seen because they aren't very good.  Not altogether bad, not altogether good, exactly sort of in between in cinematic terms.  

This is a kind of shadow cinema, representing genre offerings that at one time were quite plentiful, that played in theatres in many cases, prior to the rise of home video.  It's good to see these gaps filled in, these films that have been unavailable for so long, which I suppose could lead to a comment about how "The Unseen" has in fact been unseen for many years.  But that would be, y'know, bad.  And in many ways, "The Unseen" has been unseen because it is, in fact, a very irritating movie.  Ultimately, it kind of pulls together, but, really, this is a very annoying film.

The main problem with "The Unseen" is that it features far too many scenes in which one character is shouting at or speaking to another character who does not respond in turn.  This, I know, is a very specific complaint, but it's what struck me most about the film.  There's one really long sequence in which on of the villains, played by Sydney Lassick, hallucinates that is being spoken to, lectured really (or, to be really specific, having the plot of the movie explained to him) by his dead father.  It just drags on, and then at the end- we're shown that the father is dead.  So there's no real point to the scene, except to explain plot elements.  It isn't like "Psycho," were this sort of thing is built into the story, that the eventual revelation becomes something integral.  There are also several scenes of Lassick shouting at his sister/wife (Lelia Goldoni), who does not respond.  Oh yeah, there's incest in "the Unseen," so there's that.  

In general, pointless action drives "the Unseen."  There's the dead father scene, shouting at people who don't answer...There's also a scene where one of the main characters gets her scarf stuck in a grate, and instead of trying to take the scarf off, she just tugs at it, for several minutes, despite a bevy of other scarf liberating alternatives available to her.  "The Unseen" also greatly overestimates the power of grates.  In the afforementioned scene, the girl is killed when she is pulled by the scarf into a grate.  In an earlier scene, another girl is decapitated by having a grate fall on her neck.  Granted, I'm not a grate expert, nor have I ever been killed, nor have I ever killed anyone else, so I don't have specific information that I can use to counter these claims of the power of grates, but I feel very strongly that it takes something more powerful than, like, the equivalent of shutting your hand in a car door to take the head off.  It's my impression, and this is not so much the fault of "the Unseen" but of movies and TV in general, that it's actually fairly difficult to kill a person.  That's why we all don't accidentally do it all the time in the course of our day-to-day lives.   So, I dunno, that's what struck me while watching this movie...

The head severed in a grate scene has other problems that are worth noting.  For one thing, it's entirely bloodless.   True, there are matters of taste and decorum, but this is a film where the killer turns out to be a retarded inbred manchild in a diaper, so I don't know if taste is an issue.  The head-severing itself is portrayed somewhat obliquely, as the sequence is intercut with the butchering of a chicken, so in fact the only real indication we have that a head is being severed is that, at the end of the scene, a chicken's head is severed.  But it doesn't work to oblique when something relatively confusing is happening.  Because in watching the scene, we don't automatically assume that someone's head can be cut off with a grate, y'know, the covering of a heating duct in an old house.  So supposed cleverness just becomes obscurity, and ultimately incoherence.  Another problem is that shortly after the killing, another character, who is supposed to be a reporter, wanders into the scene of the crime, and remains completely oblivious of the (admittedly bloodless) severed head of her friend (actually, I think it might be her sister), on the floor, in front of her, making this character (the star of the film, no less, played by Barbara Bach) the worst reporter in any movie ever.

Despite being kind of loud and annoying, "the Unseen" isn't such a bad film.  It moves along at a quick pace without dragging too much up to the climax, which plays out not entirely unlike the finale of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," in spirit if not in content.  The portrayal of the killer (who, oddly enough, is played by Stephen Furst, who just prior to this had played Flounder in the hit "Animal House," and whose makeup here seems to be at least partially based on Alfred E Newman) is also troubling here, since it is made clear he is the idiot product of inbreeding, and basically has the mentality of the child.  In the final moments, he's shown to be tragic and perhaps even slightly well-meaning, but this is of course after he's killed two young women for basically no reason.  Well, technically I guess the grates killed them, so I guess the point is that the "monster" isn't in fact the killer, and that the "villain," since I suppose there needs to be one, is Lassick, who goes insane trying to maintain the coverup of the existence of his idiot inbred son.  Furst is also a comedian, and it's clear from his performance, which comes off as an odd cross between Harpo Marx and a gorilla.  Only wearing a diaper.

Also, it should be noted that the toilet seats in the old house where most of the "the Unseen" takes place are the same as the ones my parents have in their house.

Watching the debate tonight, meanwhile, has been really depressing.  Our country is in deep trouble.  I still really like Obama, but fuck, I think we need to elect Superman or something if we're going to fix anything.  So, yeah, I dunno.  Watch "the Unseen," maybe.  It's better than getting punched in the face.  But this is really another in-between movie, in-between bad and good, just kind of there, with some merits and many debits.  Did it really need a 2-disc set, though?  Anyway, who cares?  Happy Halloween, or something.

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