Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Unseen (1980)

You know the feeling you get when you discover a hidden gem of a movie? When you are incredulous that it never garnered that much attention and want to yell from the rooftops about the underappreciated genius of the film?! Well, I had never heard of the 1980 film The Unseen before and the premise made it sound exactly like a diamond in the rough whose virtues I could extol to the masses…errrr, well, it didn’t exactly turn out that way, but at the same time I still kind of liked the film!

The Unseen starts with a reporter named Jennifer (Barbara Bach) storming out of the Los Angeles apartment she shares with her injured ex-football star boyfriend Tony (Douglas Barr). It seems that Tony’s unrealistic drive to get back into football after a knee injury is driving Jennifer batty. She leaves on assignment and heads to north to Solvang with her camera woman Karen (Karen Lamm) and gal pal Vicki (Lois Young) to cover the Dutch settlement’s annual parade. The hotel apparently lost their reservation and since all the other hotels in town are booked, they are forced to look for lodging a tiny city 30 or so miles from Solvang. A seemingly kind museum owner, Ernest Keller (Sydney Lassick) offers them rooms in his large home, where they meet his “wife”, the nerve-wracked Virginia (Lelia Goldoni). After getting settled, Jennifer and Karen head back into town to cover the parade while an ill Vicki stays at the Keller’s to rest up. Unfortunately for her, something or someone that lives in the basement crawls up through the heating vents and tries to drag her down to “play”…but her head gets crushed in the process.

Meanwhile, Tony has followed Jennifer to Solvang, intent on resolving their issues. As they hash it out over dinner, Karen heads back to the Keller house and ends up much like Vicki did before her. We also learn about Ernest’s upbringing and that he takes “keeping it all in the family” a little too literally. By the time Jennifer arrives back at the Keller’s, they are more than ready for her to meet little Junior (Stephen Furst) in the basement.

The Unseen started out on a positive note, with three gung-ho, smart and likable ladies who will stop at nothing to get the story of the century about the little Dutch settlement that could! The first half of the film moves at a quick clip, with likable characters and their unfortunate decision to stay with the creepy Keller’s. There is a sense of unease around the couple, their home and what lurks in the basement. The first “kill” scene is entertaining, if a little over-the-top in how Vicki wildly reacts as she desperately tries to claw her way to safety as “something” drags her down an old-fashioned heating grate. The second kill is even better, as it involves a scarf tantalizingly dangling over another heating grate, just waiting for someone from below to grab hold of it and yank. Be warned, though, there is hardly any bloodshed and a very paltry body count, so don’t go looking for a gorefest with this one or you’ll be sorely disappointed.

While the first half of the film has an excellent set-up, the second half just doesn’t pack the same punch. By the time Jennifer arrives back to find a seemingly empty Keller house, the pacing starts to slow down and the last half of the film feels dragged out. It’s like they only had 10 minutes worth of story but dragged it out to 40 minutes. These last 40 minutes are spent in the basement while our heroine is lorded over by the overgrown, inbred lovechild of the Keller family. Of those 40 minutes, at least 15 are spent on showing the man-child gleefully clapping his hands and stuffing his teddybear down his soiled and no longer tight or white tighty-whities, all the while his chubby man-boobs peak through the remains of a tattered T-shirt. You gotta wonder how the heck he actually fit into the heating ducts in the first place! I also didn’t like the fact that he lost all scariness as soon as they decided to show him. It’s like all of a sudden, despite the fact that he’s already killed two people, we are supposed to feel sorry for the “special” guy. From then on the movie looses any momentum and tension it might have had as it presents its most menacing foe to be the tubby man of the house, Ernest. Plus, I can’t really feel sorry for the Final Girl because upon escaping the basement she didn’t even bother to lock the loony family in with the huge padlock that was hanging by the door. Instead, she went and hid in the chicken coop!! Obviously, she’s not the brightest bulb in the bunch…

The best scenes in the film featured the disturbing interactions between Ernest and Virginia. Right off the bat you know something ain’t right with the pair…and in a creepy scene featuring Ernest and the disembodied voice of his dead father you learn why. From then on it is just uncomfortable to watch the two together! The acting by Sydney Lassick as the over-eager Ernest and Lelia Goldoni as the unstable Virginia was certainly the best in the film. They played extremely well off one another and really made you squirm in your seat!

I wouldn’t call The Unseen a “gem” of a horror film, but despite its flaws it is still a neat little film that horror fans may enjoy. One the plus side, the presentation of the taboo subjects of incest and inbreeding is downright creepy, but on the negative side the tame killer and kills are mediocre and drag the film down. Overall, though, I’d say The Unseen is at least worth a rental!

Buy it on Amazon!

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