Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Unhinged (1982, dir: Don Gronquist; cast: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley, Virginia Settle, John Morrison, Barbara Lusch, Bill Simmonds)





Don't believe the hype. This is an obscure film, and rightfully so. Few deaths, with very little gore, most of it offscreen. The kind of low-budget horror film where we see the knife or ax come down, then cut to bedsheets or a face splattered with blood. But no actual cutting is seen.

Hey, that's okay. I don't need gore. But there's very little of anything else worth seeing.

Unhinged is the sort of film that's been called "Southern Gothic," expect that it's set in California and filmed in Oregon. So I suppose it's an example of "California Gothic." By which I mean, a once rich and prominent family, scandalized by a dark secret, is now decaying away in a dark, brooding mansion.

In the story, three young women, on their way to a rock concert, experience car trouble. They end up at this mansion. And of course, the body count mounts. (Not a very large body count.)

Much of this film is endless talking, and talking, and talking. Long speeches by a senile matriarch, about how grand the family was at one time. Oh how they entertained! All the interesting writers and artists that would stay with them, in the good old days. The conversations they'd have out on the veranda ... blah, blah, blah.

The matriarch, Mrs. Penrose (Virginia Settle), constantly bullies her dried-up spinster of a daughter, Marion (Janet Penner). Marion later contributes her own speeches -- about the family's dark secrets, her father's scandal, and why her mother hates all men ... blah, blah, blah.

Understand, there are multiple speeches in this film, not just two.

Terry (Laurel Munson), the lead young woman stranded at the mansion, is mind-bogglingly stupid, even by slasher film standards. She suspects nothing, even when her friend goes missing for an entire day. The friend had gone through the woods into town, to find a phone, because the mansion has no phone. Says Terry of her missing friend, "Oh, she knows how to take care of herself. I'm sure she's all right." Dum-dee-dum. Dum-dee-dee.


There's a brief shot of two young women having a conversation in the shower. One is showering while the other woman is drying herself. Evidently, they had to have their conversation in the shower, together, with both of them nude. They couldn't wait until they'd finished their showers, though their conversation is not especially urgent. Of course, it's just a way for the filmmaker to insert a brief nudie shot into the film. And there's another brief nudie shot of Terry showering all by herself at the film's start. That's it for the nudies.

I mention this, because the film's promo material suggests there's much graphic nudity and violence. There's not much of either. Just a lot of speeches given by the two older women, to the two stupid women.


Although Unhinged is just under 80 minutes, it felt much longer. Yes, there was atmosphere. But the story was so slight, the speeches so long and boring, the victims so Barbie doll mindless, and any violence or horror so brief, I was bored.

Unhinged is no classic of the slasher subgenre. Not historically important, not envelop-pushing, and not very entertaining. Slasher completists may want to take a look, and American Gothic fans might even like it, but don't overpay or expect too much.


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