Terry Morgan (Laurel Munson) wakes up, has a shower and prepares to face the day when her mother calls, concerned about her because Terry is off to attend a rock concert tonight which involves a long drive through the lonely forests of Oregon. She reassures her mother that she's old enough to look after herself, then her two friends Nancy (Sara Ansley) and Gloria (Barbara Lusch) pull up outside in their car and she has to bid her farewell. Off they go, exchanging banter and looking forward to the evening's entertainment, though it's a long drive, oh so very long, long long long...
Oops, they've crashed. So began Unhinged, a variant on Psycho which beat Psycho II to the cinema screens by a short distance, but befell an unfortunate fate in the United Kingdom. That was where there was a moral panic about video nasties, horror films that simply by the act of watching them could breed twisted minds and bloodthirsty violence in real life, not something supported by scientific fact but who cared about that when you wanted a soft target to blame on the social unrest of the early eighties in that nation. Thus many who have heard about this film being on that list have ended up disappointed.
That was down to it being one of the mildest of the banned shockers, with a good half of the movie over before there's even the smallest splash of blood, and even then most of the gore jammed up against the end of the film which to be fair was a lot more memorable than what had gone before it thanks to a foolish twist finale. For the most part, however, director Don Gronquist did his best to create an atmosphere of dread, and he did that by concentrating on the worry that someone somewhere is watching you without you being aware of it. After the crash, the three girls are taken to a large mansion in the woods, ostensibly to recover.
This is where that paranoia about some creepy voyeur begins to establish itself thanks to some reliable devices such as hearing heavy breathing on the soundtrack or a closeup of a eyeball peering through a hole in the wall at the young ladies who only slowly wake up to the danger they are in. Then again, pretty much everything here happens slowly, which is either a test of the patience, evidence of a rather amateurish talent, or - and this is presumably what Mr Gronquist would prefer to be regarded as - a skillful build up of tension using sound and vision making the best of reduced means. He certainly got his money's worth out of the overcast, rural locations, which carry an oddly British chill about them.
Another thing he got his money's worth from was Jon Newton's music, with a seriously overdone electronic score not allowing any moment of silence to go by when it could be filled with a bleep, bloop or some other funny synth noise: amusing or irritating? Like a lot of Unhinged, it was down to personal taste, though one thing that might be agreed on was the acting from some selected Oregon locals wasn't the best, with the three girls the worst offenders in the wooden line readings stakes. Actually, it was only two of those actresses who were sticking points as the other one remains offscreen in bed after the accident as she recuperates, the other couple provide the nudity for the unseen pervert to get off on, who we have to assume is the brother of the sanest mansion occupant, Marion Penrose (Janet Penner). Her mother (Virginia Settle) is possibly senile yet still orders her about in a Mrs Bates kind of way, and that's not the only parallel with Psycho. You could watch this for the meagre thrills, but you'd be better off watching for a pleasingly eerie quality; that was about it, though.