If you’re hungry for the elaborate squishy kills usually associated with early eighties horror, THE UNSEEN might leave you high and dry. This throwback with its crusty Victorian homestead and basement full of family secrets walks in the long shadow of PSYCHO even going so far as aping its superior’s voyeuristic eye for bathing blonds.
Beauty BARBARA BACH stars as ace reporter Jennifer Fast, hot on the story of the century, documenting a North California Dutch street fair. (Wait ‘till the big wigs see her footage of the red rider wagons handsomely decorated in aluminum foil!) Although obviously a mover and a shaker, Jennifer is denied a hotel room due to no fault of her own and is left along with two tag along, doomed-from-the-get-go pals to rely on the kindness of strangers to put a roof over her head. Strangers don’t come any stranger than pot bellied jittery stutterer Ernest Keller (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST escapee SYDNEY LASSICK), but when you’re desperate, you’re desperate and who wants to be left on the street when there are crazed Dutch revelers about? Jennifer is unaware that her estranged boyfriend Tony Ross (DOUGLAS BARR of DEADLY BLESSING & THE FALL GUY) has followed her and her friends. Thanks to a football injury, he’s about as useful in the events ahead as a screen door on a submarine, but he does make a fine chauffeur.
Once in the Keller home we are introduced to my favorite character in the film, Ernest’s wife/spoiler-alert sister Virginia (LELIA GOLDONI), an obvious graduate of the VERONICA CARTWRIGHT school of self-composure. Soon Jennifer’s pals are being tugged into (eat your heart out THE BOOGENS!), and bashed in the face with, heating vents and it’s gleaned that Virginia’s basket case disposition is warranted. As it turns out Flounder from ANIMAL HOUSE (STEPHEN FURST) is trapped in the basement condemned by a local witch’s curse to perform RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER to an audience of zero for all of eternity. O.K., that’s not true, he’s the Keller’s incest spawn and I know you’re not allowed to say “retard” anymore, so let’s just say he’s special. In this case special means stopping just short of dropping to the ground like CURLY from the THREE STOOGES and spinning about in a circle screeching a-woo-woo-woo! It also means when you clock a chick in the skull with a metal heating grate she’s done.
This is where THE UNSEEN kind of looses me. All of the sudden we are meant to feel sympathy for the monster baby who KILLED TWO PEOPLE and transfer our fear over to his far less threatening Daddy Ernie. What’s the point of that? Did they think they would receive an image award from the disability advocacy community? That ship sort of sailed when Flounder shoved a teddy bear down the front of his diaper, went for a joyride on what I think was a vacuum cleaner, and then dived into the nearby pile of garbage that he uses as a bed.
As disappointing as this too-little-too-late I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY-type insincere display of a conscience is, I have much love for THE UNSEEN. For a movie with the paltry body count of a mere four (that’s including the villain AND a decapitated chicken!), I think it’s really special.