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The Carpenter
(1988)

Director: David Wellington
Cast:
Wings Hauser, Lynne Adams, Pierre Lenoir


It probably goes without saying that for a movie involving some sort of human conflict to be a success, it not only requires certain ingredients, the ingredients have to be of high quality in one way or another. One of those necessary ingredients is the protagonist, or protagonists. Such people need to be individuals that we can care about to a significant degree, since we are following them through the entire movie. But a movie involving some sort of human conflict also needs antagonists, people who provide some sort of obstacle towards the protagonists. The more cunning and evil they can be, all the better. Although it is human nature to be on the side of the movie protagonists most of the times, there are some movies where it is fun to follow the antagonists instead. Many of these movies happen to be slasher movies. This begs the question: Why are the evil people in slasher movies so fun to follow? Well, I think that there are some easy answers to come up with after a little thought. For one thing, the slashers help to provide great quantities of blood and gore in these movies by their frequent killings. Another reason I think that slashers are fun to follow is that the people that they kill tend to be real stupid. I don't know about you, but in real life, stupid people tend to infuriate me. So seeing stupid people getting killed is a great release for me. A third reason why I think slashers are so watchable is that they tend to be crazy people. Insanity is a mysterious force, one that often isn't easily understood. We more often than not watch insanity with a strange fascination, trying to understand it. Why are we sane, but the killer is not? We sit in our chairs in front of our TVs trying to find an answer.

I could probably go on for quite some time listing reasons why mad killers in slasher movies are so popular, but I'll leave it at that. I'll just say that movies like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th will remain as popular for generations to come as they are today. But thinking of those two examples just now has made me realize something - the vast majority of mad slashers in horror movies that are beloved were made around thirty years ago. Finding a mad slasher in a modern day horror movies is kind of a rare thing. This raises another question: If mad slashers are beloved by horror audiences today, why are so few movies are today being made about them? After thinking about this question for a while, I think I have come up with a possible answer. Just about all the various kinds of mad slashers that are possible have all been done to death. Think about it for a little. We've had plenty of slashers who have had their stomping grounds at summer camp, like The Burning and Madman. We've had plenty of slashers who have had their stomping grounds at locations that are isolated enough to be far from help, like Rituals and The Forest. We've had plenty of slashers who have used a holiday as some sort of excuse to kill plenty of people, like Don't Open Till Christmas and New Year's Evil. We've had plenty of slashers who have done their killings on the grounds of some sort of educational campus, like Graduation Day and Final Exam. Believe me, there are other examples that have been done to death, so much so that I think that horror movie producers are now afraid of making new slasher movies because they fear that their new movie will be lost in a sea of very familiar other examples.

Still, I feel that if horror movie producers were to think about it for a long time, they could find a new kind of slasher, or at least one that hasn't been used all that often. I was able to think of one as I was typing the paragraph above this one. Why not have a slasher who happens to be a The Carpenterwoman? Yes, it's been done before, but not all that often to have become stale. And give it an additional twist, like having the female slasher have all of her victims be male. I don't think that has been done before. The slasher movie The Carpenter, a late entry in the 1980s slasher film craze, is further proof that a unique slasher can be conceived. In fact, when I first learned of the movie, I was surprised that its slasher hadn't been done before or since. A demented carpenter using his saws, drills, and hammers to kill his victims? That's certainly unique. Some of you might be thinking of Nail Gun Massacre, but that killer only used one instrument, so The Carpenter still has some originality. In the movie, before we are introduced to the title figure, we first meet a married couple, Alice (Adams, Johnny Mnemonic) and Martin Jarett (Lenoir, Cat City). Due in part to her husband's blatant infidelity, Alice is mentally unstable, and has just been let out of a mental hospital. Martin has decided that the two of them will move to a new home in the countryside. Their new home was purchased as a fixer-upper, so Martin hires a construction crew to finish fixing the home. Alice soon after meets one of the crew, an unnamed carpenter (Hauser, Deadly Force), working alone one night in the house's basement. Despite never being seen when the rest of the crew comes during the daytime, over the next few days he quickly comes across to Alice as a good fellow, even cutting up one of the crew one night when the crew member attempts to rape Alice, and also completely cleaning up the evidence afterwards. Soon after, the carpenter's body count starts to increase. Eventually, Alice starts to wonder if the carpenter could be the ghostly spirit of the original owner of the house. Is she right, or could the carpenter and his acts simply be figments of her damaged mental state? Or is there another explanation?

There were certainly some attributes about The Carpenter found on the front cover of the DVD box that suggested it could give this reviewer an entertaining viewing experience. Most obvious was the revealing that the title figure was played by Wings Hauser, who has played plenty of entertainingly psychotic characters in his career, such as in Vice Squad. Also, the DVD cover indicated I would be seeing the uncut version of the movie, suggesting the movie had some seriously gory violence. Though the back of the DVD box was kind of a cold shower, with its revelation that the movie was Canadian. Still, this was one Canadian production that promised to be a real movie, so I went ahead. It didn't take me very long to discover just how Canadian The Carpenter was. For one thing, like most Canadian films, the film's setting and its characters are made to be American. But the most obvious way The Carpenter was Canadian was that its low budget painfully showed all throughout. Production values were very thin, like the scene where the town sheriff (Ron Lea, Orphan Black) shows up wearing a flimsy uniform that suggests the filmmakers didn't even have the money to rent something from a costume house. But the biggest problem the low budget brings to the movie is that it makes the movie look extremely dated. While The Carpenter was made in the late 1980s, the movie looks like it was made at least ten years earlier. The sets and practical locations look aged, the lighting is subdued, and the cinematography is far from crisp and clear. Even the opening and closing credits of the movie have a distinct 1970s feel to them.

With what I have just told you, you may be wondering if the filmmakers saved their money for the prime ingredients that many viewers will be expecting from the movie - blood and gore. As I said, I watched the uncut version of the movie, and I have to confess that I was pretty bewildered as to why this version of the movie had to be considered "uncut". From what I saw, this version of the movie didn't deserve more than an "R" rating, and that was only because it got some help from some foul language and some (mild) sexual moments. When it comes to spilling the red stuff, the movie severely disappoints. You might think that a scene where both of someone's arms get cut off, or another scene where someone's head gets crushed in a vice, would have the blood and gore just flowing into the camera lens. But the gore and blood level is very low, enough that these scenes could play on network television without any cuts. It also doesn't help that these violent scenes have the wrong tone to them. Director David Wellington more often than not directs the violence in a way that makes the mayhem seem casual, even something like a man getting his eyelids fastened shut with a stapler. Thinking about scenes like these, Wellington may have been trying to play these scenes for laughs, like when the man whose arms get cut off doesn't seem that concerned about his predicament. But the energy level was so low, I did not chuckle or laugh at the mayhem in the least. To be fair to Wellington, not everything about the botched violent parts of the movie was his fault. For one thing, there is less excuse for violence in the script than you might think. I counted only one person being killed in the movie's first half, and the second half of the movie doesn't exactly make up for lost time.

The screenplay for The Carpenter doesn't just fail when it comes to generating enough scenes of mayhem to please its audience. Its central story is draggy, and has a significant amount of plot threads that go absolutely nowhere, such as the one concerning the character of Alice getting a job at a local paint store. The biggest disappointment about the screenplay, however, is the, ahem, construction of the carpenter character. Wings Hauser does try hard with what he was given, giving the character some genuine charm while at the same time being careful to show that his character is dangerous, as well as not laying on the insanity too thickly. Still, there is something unsatisfying about this character. You don't really get a good sense of what this character is after, whether it may be getting a job done, or if he really has a romantic eye on the character of Alice. Part of that latter complaint comes from the fact that while you would think there would be plenty of moments concerning the carpenter and Alice interacting, there are not only very few in number, they are also all very brief in their running time. The movie desperately needs some chemistry in order to give the story some heart. Instead, the movie is mostly one-sided, focusing on the character of Alice. Actually, the focus on Alice is one of the better things to be found in The Carpenter. Despite all those obstacles in the movie I have mentioned up to this point, the character of Alice is often a bright spot in the movie's shabbiness. It's mostly due to actress Lynne Adams, who despite her largely underwritten role manages to make the character of Alice a sympathetic figure. I watched this character with both interest and a hope that she would find happiness at the end. Maybe had the movie been called Alice and focused on her instead of the whole boring carpenter storyline, we might have had something here.

(Posted January 10, 2019)

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See also: The Paperboy, Psychopath, Rituals

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