Many people come up to me and they say: “Hey, Suicide Blonde. The movies you review are so interesting and at times obscure. How ever do you decide what to review?”
OK, I exaggerated a bit. It’s really Mr. Suicide Blonde, turning to me with a bewildered expression and saying, “OK, tell me again. WHY are we watching THIS?”
Well, I do have a method of choosing what films to review. Several methods, actually, that meet with varying levels of success.
“I liked that actor in [fill in blank]. I’ll watch something else he’s been in!” This is probably one of the more successful methods, mostly because if the actor in question brings the fun, it’s time well spent even if the movie itself has problems. It doesn’t hurt to have low expectations, of course.
“That ad/trailer/commercial creeped me out when I was a kid. Now I’ll finally watch the movie.” I’ve a fascination for late 1970s/early 1980s horror films, from back when I was old enough to be intrigued by the ads and commercials but too young to see the movies themselves. I still haven’t manned up enough to watch Magic, though.
“Look! Ennio Morricone composed the score!” Yes, I’ve actually used this as a reason to rent movies. It’s worked out well so far though I don’t plan to be a completist because (a) Ennio hasn’t always been choosy about what movies he scores, and (b) I’d have to watch Salo.
“They filmed this movie in a place I like/used to live in!” Now this is where my method turns to madness. You’d think I’d have learned from watching Surf Nazis Must Die, which (a) was filmed in my old residence of San Pedro, California and (b) stunk. But no, I had to rent The Unseen, which (a) was partially filmed in one of my favorite towns, Solvang, California, and (b) was not that great. (Better than Surf Nazis Must Die, though, and if that isn’t damning with faint praise I don’t know what is.)
The Unseen opens on a strange note: lingering shots of an ominous sunrise, the interior of a house, and so on…and all the while accompanied by some odd, heavy breathing. Just when you start wondering if it’s going to be like THAT scene in Mulholland Drive, we find out it’s some guy lifting weights. A helpful close-up shows that he’s had a knee injury, and soon a woman comes in and looks at him. They exchange silent, rather baleful glares and she leaves.
The woman is TV journalist Jennifer (Barbara Bach) and she, along with two other women, is headed to Solvang for a Danish Days festival (and if she’s smart, to get some great pancakes there while she’s at it). Unfortunately there is a problem with their hotel reservations and the town is booked solid, so they go in search of a room. They’re offered one at the home of Ernest Keller, a local museum proprietor who has a large house out in the country. It’s a bit awkward at the Keller house because Mrs. Keller (Lelia Goldoni) is weepy and seems to be teetering on the brink of hysteria, but the trio soon make themselves at home despite the creepy, clanky noises coming from the heating grates in the floor. And if you can’t guess there’s some thing down in the basement making those noises, you’ve never seen a horror movie before.
The Unseen has a bit going for it, in its first half. It’s nice to have there be a logical reason for people to stay at the Old Dark HouseTM. The relationship between Ernest and Mrs. Keller is intriguing even after some details about it have surfaced (you’ll recognize character actor Sydney Lassick from Carrie and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among others). And while the body count of the movie isn’t high, there being so few characters, the first couple deaths are unsettling. The movie does for heating grates what It did for storm drains.
Unfortunately, the movie falls completely apart in its last third. Much of this is due to Barbara Bach as Jennifer. The character is almost a cipher (we don’t even learn her name for nearly half an hour) and the one bit of character development she’s given makes her completely unappealing. Bach is pretty but not nearly a strong enough actress to overcome the paper-thin character, and she spends a good chunk of the movie incapacitated from what looks like a very minor injury, cowering, and gibbering incoherently with fear. Add to this the fact that the “unseen” beast is far less terrifying than one of the other characters, and in fact is almost pitiable rather than an object of fear. It’s not his fault that he is the way he is.
It’s not a complete waste of time but it’s not very scary or interesting either.
However, somebody at Code Red thinks this movie is just dandy, because it’s been given a two-disc edition, with extras that include interviews with some of the cast, a still gallery, trailers for The Unseen and other Code Red releases, and a commentary with cast member Stephen Furst, producer Anthony Unger, and film historian Lee Christian. This plethora of extras is all the more amazing considering that the film itself is given short shrift with a poor video transfer and muddy soundtrack. Why? Who can say.