88 Films dig their heels further into the UK genre market this week by unleashing yet another cult favourite, with Portland indie journeyman Don Gronquist’s moody slasher mystery UNHINGED receiving a welcome DVD reissue. It’s without doubt a step up from any previous disc too, from Platinum’s discount PAL VHS transfer, to Brentwood’s Stateside release – you know, that one with the obnoxious ‘comedy’ (in the loosest sense of the word) commentary. Bleurgh…
Don’t be expecting anything swanky though. For those spoilt by the pin-sharp picture and high-end sound of the recent slew of spiffy special ed blus from Arrow and Scream Factory et al, 88’s no-fuss package will likely horrify; Unhinged is just as rough and ready-looking as ever, thanks to no HD elements being available to create a new master. Still, with two presentations of the film to choose from – a 4×3 open matte or an upscaled anamorphic widescreen version – and an informative talk-track with Gronquist himself, it’s definitely the way to go. Its rock-bottom price tag is just the sweetener.
One of Blighty’s infamous Video Nasties, Unhinged’s inclusion in that notorious line-up is just as nonsensical as the rest of its condemned compadres; perhaps even more so as, unlike the grue excess of CANNIBAL FEROX and FACES OF DEATH, Unhinged eschews artery-splitting mayhem in favour of a handful of off-screen blood splashes. As noted by critic Calum Waddell in 88’s liner notes, its undue attention was probably more down to its stunningly morbid artwork – lovingly reproduced here – than anything particularly explicit within the film itself.
Of course, that’s not to say Unhinged is an easy ride. It’s far from it; a dark, tonally depressing cocktail of familial madness, repression and aberrant sexuality. Like Ruggero Deodato’s landmark gut-muncher CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and Romano Scavolini’s harrowing proto-HENRY, NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN – two of the smartest, and most uncompromising, of the Nasty canon – there’s much more going on thematically than just simple, box-ticking exploitation. Unhinged is elevated cheapjack horror.
Drawing too from the old dark house and psycho-biddy subgenres, Unhinged finds a trio of totty (Laurel Munson, Sara Ansley and Barbara Lusch) sheltering at an isolated, brooding mansion after a car accident. Their hosts, the Penroses, are hospitable but off, with prudish daughter Marion (J.E. Penner) domineered by her screeching, man-hating mother (Virginia Settle). Soon, a killer is prowling the Penrose grounds and, as the body count slowly starts to rise, so too do the skeletons that come creeping out of the deep, dark family closet…
It’s not quite classic stuff: Though atmospheric and showing a great flair for uncomfortable detail, Gronquist’s direction is, even with such a scant seventy-odd minute run time, a touch lax; especially so during Unhinged’s more standard dramatic moments. The performances too range from the overdone to the undercooked, with only Penner (who’d later appear in, of all things, HOMEWARD BOUND) producing a thoroughly credible turn. Nonetheless, Unhinged remains a minor of gem of sorts; it may be a little unpalatable for anyone expecting a FRIDAY THE 13TH-style popcorn crowd-pleaser, but for us schlock nuts who like our stalk and slash a little left of center a la FUNERAL HOME and THE UNSEEN, it’s just the disquieting tonic.
DELIRIUM REVIEW – 6/10