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Unhinged
(1982)

Director: Don Gronquist  
Cast:
Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley


One thing that I hope readers of this web site have gotten is that I have a pretty open mind when it comes to movies. So open, in fact, that I insist on seeing movies in their original form whenever it is possible. I dislike every form of censorship to do with movies, and I get angry when I learn about what governments have done over the years to restrict citizens from seeing certain movies. One of those countries, I am ashamed to report, was the country that I live in, Canada. Ever since film started to be publicly shown, there has often been some embarrassing government decree restricting the films that have been shown here. The classic gangster film Angels With Dirty Faces was banned in parts of Canada during its release up here, and for a long time, if you were a minor in Quebec, the law said you couldn't go to see any movie released in a movie theater. As the decades passed, things did improve here somewhat. I was lucky to be born and raised in British Columbia, where the film classification board was quite liberal in many aspects. For example, the "R" rated raunchy comedies Up The Academy and Revenge Of The Nerds were given the equivalent of a "PG" rating, and Rambo: First Blood Part Two got a "14 Years" rating, so I was able to see all three of those movies in theaters even though I was under 18 and not accompanied by an adult. But in other parts of Canada at the time, yikes! It was the worst in the province of Ontario. For example, the Santa slasher movie Silent Night Deadly Night got banned, and so did other fun exercises in brutality like The Toxic Avenger (which the censor board didn't even finish watching before banning it) and William Lustig's Maniac.

Today, the Canadian censors have mostly wised up, and just about any film is allowed to be exhibited in this country, often with ratings a notch or two lower than what was given by the MPAA in the United States. But every so often, a film is forbidden to play in any form up here. In 2010, for example, a touching little exercise called Ravage The Scream Queen was deemed "obscene" by Canada Customs, and it was decreed it could not be imported into Canada even by private collectors of movies. Still, even when I read something like that in the news, I know that I am lucky not to live in certain other countries where censorship, even in this day and age, is a lot worse than it is in Canada. There is Finland, for example. It seems that every other older movie I look up at the Internet Movie Database is listed as being banned by Finland, at least at the time of the movies' initial releases. Then there is Germany. Perhaps thinking that violent films were the cause of Nazism, they have demanded cuts to many movies, and have over the years banned outright movies ranging from Enter The Dragon to Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (though many of these movies were allowed to be distributed in Germany years later.) And there is England, one of the most notorious countries when it comes to film censorship. It's made worse that there are a lot of newspapers and other media outlets that have called for censorship for many movies in the past, which seems to happen every time there's a murder in the country. It never seems to occur to these people that plenty of studies have shown that there are a number of other factors that contribute to criminal activity instead of violent films, such as poverty and lack of certain social services.

The time that was the darkest in England when it came to film censorship was the "Video Nasty" era in the early 1980s. That's when various religious groups, the press, and self-appointed individuals repeatedly expressed outrage over the various violent movies that were being released on Unhingedvideotape in their country. All of this protest resulted in reforms being enacted that made sure every movie released on video first be passed by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification), and under new rules that made it harder for violent movies to be passed uncensored - if passed at all. Over 70 movies previously available for rental were banned, though some over subsequent years have been allowed to be re-released with or without cuts. I've long been curious about these so-called "nasties", and I decided to select one - Unhinged - to see if it was really deserving of being banned, or if those do-gooders were just full of crap. This shot-in-Oregon movie centers around Terry, Nancy, and Gloria, three young women who at the beginning of the movie start on a road trip to get to a music concert. During their road journey, a storm breaks out, and they get into an accident that forces their car off of the road, which knocks out Terry. When Terry wakes up, she discovers that she and her two friends had been spotted and brought back to a mansion in the middle of the forest. The owners of the mansion are the Penroses, consisting of a kindly but creepy middle-aged woman and her overbearing elderly mother. The two Penroses assure the young women that they are welcome there, and offer their generous hospitality. But as you no doubt know, a mansion in the middle of nowhere... housing a creepy family... and the introduction of young nubile women to that environment... the combination of all that that just screams that trouble is around the corner.

I must admit that my hopes were pretty high when I put the DVD of Unhinged into my player. True, I consider the BBFC to be run by a bunch of idiots to this day (and I think their initials really stand for "British Bulls**ters F**king Cinema"), but at least their bans and demands for cuts have brought to my attention some movies with some nice violent and squishy moments, such as when Sasquatch ripped off the genitals of some unlucky dude in the 1980 flick Night Of The Demon. I imagined that this movie would have some of the stuff the BBFC has traditionally been squeamish about, like knives poking risque body parts, fountains of blood, and horses being tripped by tripwires to make them fall. (Okay, since this movie wasn't a western, maybe I wasn't expecting that last one.) However, even though I saw an uncut print, I was sorely let down. Seeing the entire movie, I can't understand how it irked the BBFC enough to have it banned, even though I tried to simultaneously picture the then-social atmosphere of England. First of all, there's only four killings in the entire movie. One killing (by gunshot) is completely bloodless. The first killing of the movie (by scythe) has a few drops of blood, but plays for less than fifteen seconds, and is so rapidly edited that it's hard to figure out what exactly is happening. A third person is chopped up by machete, but the body is off-camera, and we just see some blood flinging up into camera range. Well, the fourth victim gets an axe to the head, and we do see the axe embedded into the victim's forehead, as well as a fair amount of surrounding blood. But all the same, I didn't find it that graphic. I honestly don't know what the BBFC was thinking when they enforced the ban of this movie. The only explanation I can think of was that since this was an independent movie, that by itself made the movie seem more disgusting than one from a "respectable" major Hollywood studio.

So if you are thinking that you're going to get a gorefest with this movie, most likely you will feel kind of disappointed with the mayhem in this movie. As for if the movie offers any other kind of adults-only pleasures, well, there are some. There's no sex in Unhinged, but in the first few minutes we do get to see a somewhat lengthy and full-frontal shower by one of the three young women, and later in the movie at the mansion, we see two of the women simultaneously full-frontal nude in the bathroom in another eye-catching scene. Not taking a shower together, alas, and the attributes of these nude women suggest that the Oregon filmmakers were only able to find local talent, if you follow me... but at least the filmmakers' attempts to deliver some of the goods has to be applauded. But what about the bulk of the movie? Does Unhinged deliver thrills and chills in place of blood spills? Unfortunately, I have to report that the movie fails in being creepy and scary about as much as it does with delivering gore. One of the main reasons for that is that despite only running only about eighty minutes, the movie feels very padded and drawn out. True, at the beginning it seems to be in a hurry, which results in the movie not really giving us a proper introduction to the three young women before they start their journey. But when the women reach the mansion, the movie becomes an exercise in showing us characters hanging around doing little to nothing to advance the plot. It takes forever for the first murder to occur, and we have to wait a long time for most of the other murders to happen as well.

Part of the problem seems to be that there are very few characters. If there were a few more, it not only would force more story to be written, there would also be more potential victims to be slain more frequently. But the movie also doesn't know what to do with the few characters it has; for example, one of the three young women is injured in the car accident, and is not seen again until near the end of the movie. Believe it or not, the character is completely forgotten about by everybody until she shows up again. What we have here is a very inadequately written screenplay, which should have been reviewed and rewritten several times before the camera started to roll. As it is, we get that miniscule plot and weak characters, as well as individual goofs like when someone inside spots someone outside peering into the room's window... while they are on the mansion's upper floor. Actually, I guess that goof is more a fault of the movie's direction, which has plenty of other reasons to nit-pick it. Doubtless the inadequacy of the direction can be blamed on the movie's rock-bottom budget, which results in poor production values like the movie's depiction of rain, which in every shot is always falling at the same angle, always directly in front of the camera, with always the same intensity. But the interest in the movie wanes quickly not because of the cheapness, but by the fact that the movie feels so unbelievably boring. There is absolutely no feeling of tension or fear, and when a character is (eventually) killed, you are looking for the makeup and special effects to entertain you instead of getting involved in the victim's plight as well as wondering who the killer is and why he or she is killing. The movie is so flat, uncontroversial, and uninteresting, many viewers will assume the BBFC banned it to prevent the home audience from watching it and being provoked into a murderous rage of their own.

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See also: Death Weekend, Terror House, To All A Good Night

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