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  Unseen, The Grate Mate
Year: 1980
Director: Danny Steinmann
Stars: Barbara Bach, Sydney Lassick, Karen Lamm, Douglas Barr, Lois Young, Lelia Goldoni, Stephen Furst, Maida Severn
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jennifer Fast (Barbara Bach) lives with her boyfriend but the relationship has hit a rocky patch, so much so that she storms out of the house that morning to go to work without sharing a word with him. She is a reporter for the local television news here in California, and today is heading off for a small town whose Danish population are celebrating their annual festival, so jumps in the car with her colleagues Karen (Karen Lamm) and Vicki (Lois Young). However, once they reach the place, they find there's been a mix up and they're not booked into any hotels - so what now?

How about an old place out of town where they can stay for the night with a middle-aged gentleman and his sister who are in absolutely no way suspicious? What could possibly go wrong? When you know Texas Chain Saw Massacre scriptwriter Kim Henkel and special effects genius Stan Winston had a hand in this screenplay, then you'll be all too aware that something is up at that isolated country house, but then again, even if you seen horror movies lasting back to The Old Dark House in the early thirties and beyond then you be suspecting there was more than a hint of trouble for the three girls. There was trouble for director Danny Steinmann too when the final cut was taken out of his hands.

So he did the only reasonable thing and had his name taken off the credits, not that many were as bothered as he was as The Unseen went pretty much forgotten, with Danny's big break slipping away leaving nothing but a Linda Blair exploitation flick, Savage Streets, and a Friday the 13th instalment as his legacy before disappearing from view. Here he showed he had talent with the build up of mood, which was just as well because nearly all the action was occurring at the last half hour, the rest a very slow acumulation of uneasy detail as we in the audience latch onto the dodgy stuff that was going on. Oddly, until something terrible happens the trio of ladies don't twig at all.

Which makes it a surprise for them, if not for you. Some didn't have the patience for The Unseen, but if you didn't mind the more deliberately paced chiller then you would be rewarded with a development that wasn't so much a big twist as a variation on the old hidden maniac relative yarn much preferred by many a shocker since time immemorial (or that's how it felt, at any rate). One bonus was seasoned character actor Sydney Lassick, probably best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, here at his most Lassickiest as the initially pleasant older chap who turns out to be a real nasty piece of work, as we realise when we watch him spying on Vicki as she takes a bath - his perverse behaviour only escalates from there which leads us to the mayhem of the ending.

Which naturally takes place during the archetypal dark and stormy night, though what you might not expect was that the film appeared to be a proponent of abortion in its own bizarre and admittedly extreme manner. Jennifer is keeping her pregancy a secret from her boyfriend and has planned a termination, but more importantly we see what would happen if an abortion was not carried out when it really should have been, which in frankly overstated developments results in a lot of murder. Not to give too much away, Lassick's dodgy museum owner has gotten rather too close to his sister (Lelia Goldoni, selling the concept with a performance of genuine anguish), which has given rise to the secret in the cellar, essentially a giant baby of sorts. These latter sequences are bizarre for that reason, and if it's not as gory as you'd expect then it certainly picks up speed in the manner of a gradual runaway train. Music by Michael J. Lewis.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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