My parents are preparing to move and so they’ve been cleaning out the attic. This resulted in my mother sending me several boxes filled with some of my old stuff. We’re talking tons of war torn FANGORIA, TWILIGHT ZONE and HEAVY METAL magazines from the early eighties (!!!), STAR WARS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and WARLORD comic books (!!), PRISONER OF CELL BLOCK H, CAT PEOPLE and THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY movie tie-in paperbacks (!) and a slew of tiny self- painted D&D metal figurines… your standard treasure trove of nerdy memorabilia. I mean, what self-respecting teen in the eighties didn’t proudly hang a STILL OF THE NIGHT (1982) poster on his or her bedroom wall?
Included in a package was my dear long-lost stuffed animal, Felix the Cat who (don’t laugh) was once my go-to best friend. Poor Felix was trapped in a hot Texas attic for decades, which left him brittle and falling apart in places. I did my best to mend him but as I sewed him back together it only seemed to create fresh holes and tears. Geez, I wish I never saw TOY STORY because suddenly I found myself being hit with waves of guilt. How could I so coldly leave Felix in a dark box all these years? I did the best I could; I even swiped a jersey off of an unsuspecting Phillies Phantatic doll to hide Felix’s more devastating injuries (it’s sure to cause a loosing streak). Finally I placed Felix up on a high honored shelf where he should be relatively safe at least until I’m dead and gone.
In other words, I know first hand how a person can develop an attachment to an inanimate object and how that totem can seem to establish a personality all its own. It’s all very irrational but the upside of Gepetto-esque magical thinking is that it helps me to better appreciate the greatness that is PIN (or PIN: A PLASTIC NIGHTMARE if you feel the need to fill your marquee). PIN was filmed in good old reliable Canada and released there in 1988 but it didn’t hit my neck of the woods until the following year, bypassing a theatrical run and landing directly on VHS. Horror movies were still cleaning up at the box office at the time so PIN’s no frills release lead me to believe that it must not be any great shakes but oh how very wrong that knee-jerk assumption was. As far as I’m concerned PIN, which is based on a novel by ANDREW NEIDERMAN (the Guy who authored THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE and now fittingly ghostwrites as V.C. ANDREWS) is one of the best, most satisfying, horror films of its decade… or any other.
In fact, if anyone ever asks me what might improve modern horror I think from now on I’ll cut the conversation short and simply say “Watch PIN.” In my mind it’s not about ratings, levels of violence, jump-scares or hype, what makes or breaks a movie often (for me) are the characters. And I’m NOT talking about the old cliché of “liking” a character so that you care if they die, I don’t have to “like” anyone, I just want them to be interesting enough to hold my interest, I just want to partially understand their motivations and I just want to believe they are there for a reason rather than standing as glorified chess piece props. Ironically, not only is PIN’s lead character Leon more intriguing than those you are likely to bump into in most horror flicks but so is plastic “Pin” who only sorta partially exists in a make believe character’s mind. Yep, PIN’s not even real in the fake story he occupies but he’s still more substantial and complex than your standard horror pawn. I also give PIN props for representing schizophrenia as less a gathering of various personalities than the tragic shattering of one.
PIN is like the JOHN IRVING novel of horror films and yes, that’s a compliment. By the time the end credits roll the viewer feels as if they’ve grown up with the characters and have seen them at their best, worst and most vulnerable. We first meet siblings Leon and Ursula as tykes dealing with their parent’s idiosyncrasies (that’s polite for mental illnesses); Ma’s got an OCD cleaning fetish and talented ventriloquist Pa’s repressed enough to let a life size, see-through medical dummy do the talking when conversations turn to sex. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that Dad is portrayed by the phenomenal TERRY O’QUIN between STEPFATHER gigs). Leon’s budding illness allows him to mentally converse with Pin even when his dad isn’t around and when both parents die in a horrible car accident (one in which Pin is creepily present), Leon’s already tentative identity collapses and Pin begins to take the wheel. What’s truly astounding is how sympathetically Leon’s terrifying slip into insanity is handled. DAVID HEWLETT is so remarkable that I’d even feel comfortable comparing him to ANTHONY PERKINS in the PSYCHO films (and I do not do that lightly, folks!).
Speaking of PSYCHO, Leon and Pin easily earn an honored spot within the AVENGERS/EXPENDABLES coalition of favorite horror introverts that assemble regularly in my head. This fine alliance of fright flicks include the aforementioned PSYCHO, A REFLECTION OF FEAR (1972), BAD RONALD (1974), THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976), THE ATTIC 1980) and just to prove I’m not entirely living in the past, 2012’s fantastic EXCISION (which should have landed TRACI LORDS an Oscar nomination if you ask me) and 2014’s underrated STARRY EYES. May I also submit for your approval MANIAC (1980) and its re-do (2012)? After all, gore doesn’t magically erase the psychological plight of that duo. You can say all these folks are touched in the head but I prefer to think of them as courageous visionaries who refuse to let a little thing like reality stand in their way. I suppose one could write reams about PIN but since I’d never expect you to read a longer post than I would, this isn’t the place for that. Instead, I’d just like to nudge anyone who hasn’t seen PIN to seek it out as soon as possible. You never know, it could become your new best friend.