Unhinged is a 1982 American exploitation slasher film directed by Don Gronquist, written by Gronquist and Reagan Ramsey, and starring Laurel Munson and Janet Penner. The film follows three young women who are taken in by a mysterious family at their rural mansion after getting into a car accident.
|Directed by||Don Gronquist|
|Produced by||Don Gronquist|
|Music by||Jon Newton|
Principal photography of Unhinged occurred in Portland, Oregon, using interiors and exteriors of Pittock Mansion, which were shot exclusively at night; a young Gus Van Sant served as a location scout for the production.
The film appeared on the list of the United Kingdom's 72 "video nasties," which led to an expanded role for the British Board of Film Classification. A remake was made in England and released in 2017.
Three female college students, Terry, Nancy and Gloria, embark for a music festival in rural Oregon. A sudden storm causes Nancy to accidentally crash the car, rendering all three unconscious. Terry awakes to find her and her friends alive, sheltered in a large mansion in the middle of nowhere, owned by the Penroses: the middle-aged Marion, her mother, and their groundskeeper, Norman. Gloria is the only one with serious injuries, so Marion suggests that they spend the night until Gloria is able to leave. Terry and Nancy are invited to dinner with Marion and her embittered and elderly crippled mother. Throughout dinner, Marion's mother rants and raves about her disgust toward men, and how her husband left her for another woman. She also recurrently accuses Marion of bringing men into the home. Later, in a music room, a mysterious man looks menacingly into the windows at the women.
Later that night, Terry finds a human tooth under her bed and later awakes to hear a man breathing heavily upstairs, as though he is masturbating. The next morning, Terry and Nancy take a shower, while someone watches through a peephole in the wall. That morning, Nancy sets off through the woods to reach the town. When she arrives at a rural country road, she is attacked by an unknown figure with a long scythe, who slashes her to death. That evening at dinner, Mrs. Penrose's divulges her views on men and her daughter, while Terry worries about Nancy's absence. That night, Terry once again hears the breathing and goes to investigate. She uncovers the attic, where she finds black and white pictures of two children, and an old tool belt with a dusty gun and machete. She goes back downstairs and sees the man staring in at her through the window, and runs screaming through the house. Marion calms her down and reveals to her that the man is Carl, her developmentally-disabled younger brother. She insists that he is harmless, and Terry goes back to bed.
The next day, Terry goes outside to talk to Norman and asks if he's seen Nancy. Norman reveals that he never spoke with her, and instead tells her a confusing story about two girls disappearing in the woods. At nightfall, Gloria regains her consciousness, and Terry tells her she feels the two need to leave as soon as possible. Terry leaves the room, and an unseen figure attacks Gloria, plunging an axe through her head. Later in the evening, Terry finds Gloria's room empty and asks Marion where she is. Marion suggests she may have gone outside for a breath of fresh air. As she steps outside, Terry is attacked and chased by Carl. She hides in a shed, where she discovers the dead bodies of her friends along with several other dismembered corpses. Carl breaks through the window and tries to grab her, but she manages to escape from the shed and runs back to the house as Carl chases after her.
Hurrying into the attic, Terry takes out the gun and shoots Carl in the head, killing him. Marion rushes upstairs after hearing the noises, and chastises Terry for killing her brother. Terry responds by ordering Marion to look at the bodies in the shed. After a moment of silence, Marion, speaking with in a deep, masculine register, tells her that Carl had nothing to do with what happened in the shed. Terry looks in confusion at Marion, who pulls out a machete. Marion reveals that she is actually Mrs. Penrose's secondary son, and Carl's younger brother, who dresses and presents as a woman. Terry attempts to flee, but Marion knocks her to the ground and maniacally stabs her to death whilst raving about the pressures of pretending to be a woman, and of taking care of her brother and mother. As Terry bleeds to death on the floor, Mrs. Penrose calls for Marion from downstairs, asking if there is a man up there. Marion, covered in blood, responds in her feminine voice: "No, mother."
- Laurel Munson as Terry Morgan
- Sara Ansley as Nancy Paulson
- Janet Penner (as 'J.E Penner') as Marion Penrose
- Virginia Settle as Mrs. Penrose
- Barbara Lusch as Gloria
- John Morrison as Norman Barnes
- Bill Simmonds as Carl Penrose
Unhinged has been noted by some film scholars for its dealing with themes of repression and gender dysphoria. Robert Cettl analyzes the character of Marion, the villain who is a biological male presenting as a female: "Unhinged portrays the society of women as monstrous, perverse abhorrence which corrupts the male and, ironically, consumes itself. The killer, whose aggressive gaze is coded as masculine, considers such young women groveling, subhuman figures, and his crimes are in part expressions of the person he has been forced to become, and the gender he has been forced to adopt. It is self-hatred and gender confusion as much as it is misogyny." Cettl connects this element of the film as being inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).
With a $100,000 budget, Unhinged was filmed on location by cinematographer Richard Blakeslee at the Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon, with additional photography in Forest Park. It was shot dusk through dawn, over 19 consecutive nights. According to director Gronquist, local filmmaker Gus Van Sant assisted as a location scout for the production. Because Pittock Mansion is a tourist attraction and city property, the film had to be shot overnights from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The cast was made up entirely of Portland locals, including stage actresses Janet Penner and Virginia Settle as Marion and Mrs. Penrose; Sara Ansley, who portrayed Nancy, was a model whom Gronquist had found through a talent agency.
In a retrospective review of the film, Blumhouse wrote of the film: "The main issue for most viewers is going to be the film’s rather leisurely pace; the filmmakers apparently attempted to position Unhinged as more psychological thriller than chop-em-up slasher, but instead of slowly building tension and suspense, the script frequently leaves the characters lounging around with nothing much to do except talk and sleep (both of which they do a lot). A tighter edit might have helped speed things along, but considering the film’s ultra-lean runtime of under 80 minutes, I’m not sure that would have even been possible."
In his book Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s, film journalist Kim Newman was critical of the film, calling it a "sickle-slicker slasher so inept that the clapperboard can twice be discerned in the grey murk during a slow fade." In Scott Aaron Stine's The Gorehound's Guide to Splatter Films of the 1980s, he writes of the film: "Although not a bad film, Unhinged is exceptionally slow; the abundance of talking heads actually slackens much of the suspense and tension the film strives to generate. And despite some wonderful plot twists—the above average shock ending is a pleasant surprise—the scriptwriting rarely rises above that of pulp horror, derivative of such films as Three on a Meathook (1973)." Jerome Reuter of Dread Central praised the film in a 2017 retrospective, noting: "While it isn’t the blood-splattered mayhem of Violent Shit, or the psychological portrait of Bill Lustig’s Maniac, it certainly deserves recognition among genre fans as an underrated gem... Unquestionably, the greatest attribute of Unhinged is its pacing best described as a slow burn. The story builds up gradually, and unlike some of its contemporaries, it restrains itself a great deal with its content."
Although the British Board of Film Classification had passed the film uncut for UK cinemas in 1983, the U.K. Director of Public Prosecutions retroactively banned the video release, placing Unhinged on its list of 72 "video nasties", which violated the Obscene Publications Act (as amended in 1977). Unlike other films on that list, the film's few murders were suggested (by sprays of blood) rather than explicitly depicted, and featured few scenes of nudity.
The film premiered on VHS through CBS/Fox Video in 1983. It was later released uncut on DVD in 2004 with an '18' certificate in the United Kingdom. It was also released in the United States in 2005 by Brentwood Home Video. It was released again by Code Red DVD in 2012 as a double feature disc with Murder Run (1983), a film produced by Gronquist; this edition was limited to only 500 copies.
The film was released in a remastered DVD in the United Kingdom by 88 Films in 2014.
A remake of the film was produced in England and released in 2017.
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- Cook, Scott; Wade, Aimee (2014). PDXccentric: An Odyssey of Portland Oddities. Portland, Oregon: Slough Biscuit Press. ISBN 978-0-979-92327-2.
- Gronquist, Don (2012). Unhinged (DVD audio commentary). Code Red.
- Newman, Kim (2011). Nightmare Movies: Horror On Screen Since the 1960s. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-408-80503-9.
- Stine, Scott Aaron (2003). The Gorehound's Guide to Splatter Films of the 1980s. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-41532-8.