Grindhouse Fest: Unhinged (1982)

-Grindhouse Fest is the special section in Celluloid Dimension where you can discover all the goodies…and baddies from the golden age of exploitation cinema. Have fun!

Unhinged (1982) Directed by Don Gronquist

Against all odds, the precarious economy of this exploitation chiller manages to flesh out a formidable, genre-bending screenplay with only an ostensible amateurish filmmaking, taking advantage of the crudeness of its squalor and capitalizing on the paucity of professional craftsmanship. Absolutely everything should have gone wrong with this impecunious project, yet it is one of those precious instances in which scarcity – material and immaterial – is an integral component of a film’s idiosyncratic effectiveness, without its lack of resources it would not have been what it is, a magisterial, adventitious great piece of horror cinema. Don Gronquist’s uncanny, twisty film is a sick tale of misandry that has the same corporeal and psychological preoccupations as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. However, you don’t discover this until its gnarly, malicious, gory apotheosis.

At the outset, Don Gronquist’s offbeat prose performs a convergence of classic and modern genre tropes and is as much a silly slasher as it is an atmospheric, anachronistic gothic shocker. Three young girls get into a car accident on their way to a rock festival, the three injured girls are assisted by a local man who takes them to the nearest house in the middle of the woods – an eerie, old French Renaissance-style mansion – in the isolated residence they are hosted by the owner, a haughty, pedantic old woman who lives alone with her inhibited, obedient adult daughter. The classic modern hybrid approach to storytelling is more of a sleight-of-hand device than a literary mechanism to keep everything merely intriguing; while the gloomy atmosphere of the mansion and the abnormal behaviors of the matriarch with her submissive daughter sensationalize its macabre simplicity, the mediocre elliptical transitions and the secrecy of the mise-en-scène are crafting, cooking up an unexpected, show-stopping climax that assaults us at the most vital stage.

Unhinged brims with atrocious acting and very poor dialogue, but this is offset by a manipulative but silently lethal narrative backbone, a well-written film with such a rock-solid dramatic foundation that you forget about the infuriatingly lifeless dialogue. What makes it strikingly, uniquely creepy is its radical commitment to providing unanticipated frights with nothing more than an artless film canvas. The staging has an expressionistic quality that to the rhythm of a throbbing, energetic synthesizer subverts the limited scope of low-budget filmmaking and broadens it, not limitlessly, but offers you a considerably larger horizon than usual.

One of the boldest Video Nasties, not in its wanton display of senseless violence nor in its tawdry exploitation of voyeurism, but in its very unorthodox take on a misandrist tragedy with misogynistic patriarchal origins. The great pseudo-Hitchcockian revelation may err on the side of being too hostile and pathological for contemporary sensibilities, but its sentiment is clearly more genuinely critical than obnoxiously patronizing, thus leaving open the door to a great and legitimate debate about the psychosocial aims -beyond the purely exploitative- tightly contained in this unhinged horror made by esoteric filmmakers.


Matteo Bedon

Written by

Editor and Official Film Critic at

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