Monday, August 18, 2014

B-Movie Review: "Pin" (1988)

It's a weird psychosexual thriller from Canada about a dude who thinks a medical mannequin is alive. And it's actually one of the better horror films from the late '80s you've never heard of before. 

I've been Jonesing for Halloween since February, and with the All Hallow's Eve season (which, as far as I am concerned, lasts from Labor Day until Thanksgiving) soon upon us, I decided to drudge up an old VHS favorite for all of you kooky kids.

Periodically, I will get comments from dudes asking me for a decent, unsung horror flick from the '80s, that probably WON'T make their girlfriends think they are psycho barfola perverts. Indeed, it's a rare animal, that Degenerate Cinema heyday, safe for girlfriend-consumption horror flick that don't suck, but "Pin" is certainly just such a celluloid endangered species.

The film starts with a bunch of kids eyeing this creepy old abandoned three-story house. One of the kids gets dared to climb the trellis, and he peeks behind a white sheet, uncovering what appears to be a very life-like dummy. Then, the dummy blinks, and seems to telepathically tell the kid to vamoose. Scared shitless, the kid runs for his life, and we flash back to 15 years prior.

So, there's this super-white family out in the burbs. The dad listens to Perry Como, and he makes his two kids -- Leon and Ursula -- count backwards from 100 by sevens every evening. He's a doctor, who keeps a very creepy medical dummy -- you know, the exposed tissue Vitruvian Man type mannequin -- in his office. As something of a ventriloquist, he's convinced his two kids that the dummy, named Pin (get it?) is actually alive, and he uses it as a kind of prop to discuss sex ed with them.

The mom of the family is your hyper-bitchy OCD type, who slaps Leon around for tracking mud in the house. Some of the neighborhood kids make fun of him, so he decides to head to his dad's office, after hours, to seek some sage advice from the dummy. A nurse walks into the room, so Leon has to hide. And then, the NURSE PROCEEDS TO HAVE SEX WITH THE MEDICAL DUMMY. Watching in rapt horror/awe, this apparently turns Leon into some kind of grade-school psychosexual maniac.

Leon goes home, slaps Ursula for calling Pin a dummy, and then his mama takes away one of his girlie mags. This leads to a lengthy talk about the birds and the bees from papa, and from there, we skip a few years into Leon and Ursula's high school days.

Leon, who now looks like Ed Cullen, is basically an asexual metrosexual, while Ursula -- who bares more than a passing resemblance to Taylor Swift -- is pretty much the town slut. While Ursula and her boyfriend of the week make the sign of the odd-toed ungulate in the backseat of a Volvo, Leon decides to "rescue" his little sis and pummel the crap out of her beau. Then, Ursula tells her sibling her period is late.

...and just when you thought you were well-adjusted, too!

Diagetically, Ursula and Leon are supposed to be 15, but I'm pretty sure both actors were about 30 when this thing was filmed. Hoo-ray for Dawson Casting! The two go to Pin for some advice about Ursula probably being preggers, and what do you know, now Leon is throwing his voice to make Pin "talk." Following an OB-GYN check up from Doctor Dad, the two kids start looking into college applications. Then, the father heads to his office, and hey, Leon is there, just talking to Pin like a weirdo.

Creeped out considerably, dad takes the mannequin with him while he and his wife drive like maniacs to a conference. Of course, they wind up crashing (due to Pin's meddling, perhaps?) and Ursula and Leon have to cope with being orphans. Apparently, they're not too saddened by their ma and pa's passing, as they celebrate their memory by yanking all of the plastic covering from the manor furniture and eating pizza.

At this point, Leon decides to put Pin in a tuxedo, and Ursula coincidentally decides to start doing some research on schizophrenia. Then, Aunt Dorothy decides to move in, and Leon moves Pin into the attic. One night, they hatch a plan to scare Dorothy to death, by leaving Pin in her bed like a horse head. Of course, the stunt gives their auntie a heart attack, and once more, Leon and Ursula find themselves the sole occupants of the spacious residence.

Leon makes beef stroganoff for dinner, and wheels out Pin, who know has realistic human skin and a blonde wig stapled to his plastic noggin. Ursula makes a snide comment, and Leon DEMANDS she apologize to Pin.

Working at the library, some dude named Stan hits on Ursula, and they go out on a date. Envious, Leon exacts revenge by going out on a date with some random skank. Leon and his gal pal start making out, and then Leon sends PIN IN A MOTORIZED WHEELCHAIR TO ATTACK HER. Ursula gets home early and saves her, and tells Leon that Stan is coming over for dinner the next evening.

At dinner, Leon brings out Pin and then, he recites a poem he wrote about raping his sister. Needless to say, Stan thinks his girl's sibling is cuckoo bananas, but Ursula doesn't want to do anything because she knows he'll wind up in a nuthouse.

So, Leon invites Stan over for drinks the day after. Of course, the hooch is poisoned, allowing Leon to pummel his sister's boyfriend half to death with a horse statue. Freaked out, he goes to Pin for advice, who tells him to hide the evidence. Leon then wraps up Stan in plastic and buries him under a woodpile.

Ursula gets home, and Leon lies about Stan's whereabouts. During dinner, Leon talks about dad a lot, and then she hears Stan's wristwatch go off, which wouldn't you know it, was the one piece of evidence Leon forgot to pick up!

This leads to the film's climactic death struggle, ending with Ursula lunging at her brother with a fire axe. Police then find Stan's not quite dead body, and the film concludes with Ursula visiting Leon in an insane asylum, where he's basically turned himself into Pin.


The film was directed and written by this Canuck named Sandor Stern, whose worked on a ton of TV shows and a few of the "Amityville Horror" flicks. Interestingly enough, the movie is based on a novel penned by Andrew Neiderman, who was also the dude who wrote "The Devil's Advocate."

The guy who played Leon, David Hewlitt, has gone on to have a pretty prolific career in sci-fi tinged fare, probably best known for his appearances in "Cube," "Splice" and the "Stargate" TV show. Cynthia Preston, who played Ursula, has been in a million billion TV shows, probably best known for her stint on "General Hospital." Her last big movie role was in 2013's "Carrie" remake, which as a reminder, sucked.

Oh, and the dad in the movie? He was played by Terry O'Quinn, whose probably best known for "Lost" and his role in "The Stepfather" films. And according to the Wikipedia, the guy who actually voiced Pin was Jonathan Banks, who is probably better known as Mike from "Breaking Bad."

Over the years, "Pin" has garnered something of a cult following, and for good reason. While it's hardly anything I'd consider the decade's best, it's certainly a well-above average horror flick that eschews the cartoonish gore for a more suspenseful, semi-psychological thriller pace.

This is one of those rare films that actually manages to give me the willies. Really, the trick to a good horror movie is the build-up: I mean, once all of the crazy shit starts happening, it's too chaotic to really be considered horrifying anymore. "Pin" really excels at building up dread, as Leon's psychosis delightfully grows from "mildly crazy" to "oh shit, this muddafuggah's out of his gourd." Pretty much the entire movie, there's this really uncomfortable feeling up in the air, where you just KNOW the dude's going to snap and his sister's too nice to really address it early on.

It may not be "Exorcist III" levels of scary, but the film no doubt knows how to give you the heebie-jeebies. In short? It's pretty much the perfect pre-Halloween flick to get you in the mood for what is undoubtedly the best time of the year.

Three stars out of four. Jimbo says check it out.


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