A minor, very minor footnote in the slasher genre, Unhinged finds renewed life, so to speak, via DVD release from IndieDVD.
It offers a simple, derivative tale. Three college girls head off for a rock festival (though that fact is hardly made clear). During their chatty trip, they drive off the road for some reason and when they wake up find they are guests in a creepy house (Portland, Oregon's tourist attraction the Pittock Mansion). The household is overseen by an angry woman in a wheelchair and her daughter Marion (J. E. Penner). When the three (only three) girls start vanishing, there is a small sum of suspects to confound the viewer: the wheelchair bound matriarch, a mustachioed gardener, and?that's it. Slowly the girls are picked off one by one, and in the film's final scene, the remaining girl confronts evil, learning the ghastly secret of the house.
Unhinged is a blend of The Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th and William Castle's Homicidal. Even to list these influences, however, is to spoil the ending, which is about the only barely enjoyable thing about this film.
Made in 1982, Unhinged enjoyed little if any theatrical distribution. Instead, director and co-writer Don Gronquist chose to join the video revolution, then just gaining speed, and the film was distributed on tape to stores and sold to individual purchasers. Video seems to be the perfect medium for the film, which is poorly photographed and sound-recorded. In fact, it is also poorly acted, and indeed poorly everything.
Unhinged has something of a reputation as one of the controversial "video nasties" of the '70s and '80s. But its salute to giallo films is in vain. In fact, the film is hardly violent at all. There are only three scenes of violence, one for each girl, and they are very tame by both the standards of today and even of the times. For the most part, this is a talky film, with long, aimless scenes padding out its 79 minute running time. There hasn't been this chatty a genre film since Creation of the Humanoids. Unhinged fills a minor gap in film industry, but only as a footnote about a group of regional filmmakers seeking entry into the film business through the classic use of exploitation films.
VIDEO: Unhinged comes in an only-adequate full-frame transfer, which is murky, grainy, and shaky, like the original, and not from the cleanest source print in the world. Available credits list a host of cinematographers whose IMDB credits are otherwise nil.
SOUND: Unhinged also has an only-adequate stereo track. If this were a better film, that would be a problem. Instead, it sounds like a typical drive in movie of its era, with garbled, watery sound that does nothing for Jon Newton's effectively creepy electronic score.
MENUS: Musical, animated menus spoil the few moments of violence in the film. There is no scene selection but there are 30 chapter breaks for the 79 minute movie.
PACKAGING: The disc comes in a keep-case adorned with a graphic image of a bloodied female face, announcing the original uncensored version of the film. Inside, there is a four-page insert, with a reprint of what is described as the (rather busy) original poster, a short article about the British crackdown on video nasties in the '80s, and an ad for other IndieDVD discs. The disc's label is an attractive white, with miniature reprints of three stills image in blood red.
EXTRAS: Unhinged comes relatively laden with extras, given its impoverished origins. There is a feature length audio commentary track conducted by five critics and filmmakers, billed as a "comedy narration" by "The Detractors." The quintet consists of Kim Morgan, the popular reviewer for the Portland Oregonian, David Walker, a movie reviewer for the local alternative paper Willamette Week as well as publisher of Badazzmofo magazine, Brian Vandiver, described on the box as a freelance writer, Shannon Wheeler, described as "too much coffee man," and finally Mike Prosser, a filmmaker. This is a chaotic supplement and provides further testimony for the fact that crowds don't typically make for good yak tracks. The five talk over each other, no thought is completed, and eventually they devolved into separate groups to "discuss among themselves." The level of the discourse rarely reaches above comments on the stars' hair, how "hot" they are, or how this or that girl gives the male viewer a "woody." Walker at least perceives the film's roots in giallo, but is never permitted to finished those explorations, but the always insightful Morgan hardly gets a word in at all, swamped by all the interruptiions. She''s a good sport about it, but you can almost hear her peevishly stamping her platform boots in frustration at all the testosterone in the air. A second supplement consists of Gronquist and Penner's appearance on a local daytime news show called Live at Noon (5:43). Gronquist is fascinatingly inarticulate, or nervous, and only an act of profound masochism could have impelled him to approve this feature for the DVD. He seems incapable of directly answering queries from the show's host. Also, the presence of Penner makes this supplement a spoiler, so watch it last. There are trailers for two other IndieDVD movies, one also by Gronquist. In addition, after the movie's credits, the film's "banned" poster is displayed, but sideways.
Final Thoughts: In contrast to its obviously undue reputation as being one of the "worst" video nasties, Unhinged is in fact a tame, often incoherent, amateurish, derivative commercial effort. Its interest lies solely with horror film completists, historians of Portland, Oregon, and fans of the commentary's clique.