Unseen, The (US - DVD)
Gabe Powers was told not to look in the basement, but he went and did it anyway
A television reporter (Barbara Bach) leaves her ex-spots star boyfriend (Doug Barr), and heads to Solvang, California with her two friends/co-workers to cover a Danish festival. When there is a mix-up at the hotel and they are left without rooms, the girls accept the invitation of a friendly museum owner (Sydney Lassick) to board at his large farmhouse. But unknown to the women, some thing is living in the basement, and it’s watching them (as is their friendly host and his mournful wife). Their stay soon becomes a horrific nightmare when, one by one, they encounter…The Unseen.
The Unseen is pretty unremarkable in most respects, existing mostly to fulfill horror cinema’s never-ending inbred mutant cycle, but it stands above the crowded pack in a few key respects. Though the film is completely devoid of any narrative suspense or shock, single scenes feature a surprising degree of suspense and even a bit of genuine shock. There are some definite bits of unintended hilarity throughout the film (the first murder is rife with Jaws inspired body whipping), but anything written by Kim Henkel (who is not credited) and co-starring Sydney Lassick can’t possibly have been intended to proceed without any dark or ironic comedy, so there’s quite a bit of spot-on intended humour as well. The whole last act is a constant push/pull of complete goofiness and creepy effectiveness. One of the more surprising intended comedic elements is found in the efforts of the relatively unknown Karen Lamm (who plays Karen), who’s dialogue is often so witty it seems culled from an entirely different script.
The film is memorable because it cannot be tonally confused with many other movies outside of the ‘70s and ‘80s era. At times it appears that the filmmakers are going for genuine class by including ‘adult’ sub-plots concerning realistic relationships and shattered dreams. The majority of the film is also shot to emulate Hitchcock, though the final effect is closer to a really classy TV movie. The scene where Lassick experiences the script’s unseen back-story via aural flashback is especially Psycho-esque, even featuring a reveal on a severely decomposed corpse. The last act, and a few of the more horror-centric scenes are much less high-brow, and much more entertaining, but the classy bits play rather quickly, and one would struggle to find the time to grow bored. The behind the scenes story seems to differ from source to source, but we know that director Danny Steinmann asked to have his name removed from the final film after a series of production battles. How much of the final film is questionable, but there is a chance that the shifts in tone are a product of many hands in the pot. However, looking back at the only other Steinmann film I’ve ever seen, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, it seems that wacky tonal shifts are part of his MO.
The Unseen is mostly in-keeping with Code Red’s good but not fantastic prints (not to stereotype the studio, who does their best with some less than reputable titles). On the positive end of the spectrum is a generally clear and widely colourful anamorphic transfer. Details are a bit rough, but far from VHS bootleg levels. On the less positive end of the spectrum is a whole lot of grain and noise. The print is also clearly affected by print damage artefacts too, but these and the film grain are actually kind of charming, and likely couldn’t have been lessened much even by a major studio interest. The noise is the issue. The brighter colours are sometimes blocky, edges are occasionally doubled with enhancement, and blends are on the lumpy side. At about the 8:32 mark there is a shift in the print’s overall look (not to mention sound). It appears that the rest of the print was taken from another source altogether, and there appear to be a few seconds of film missing (it doesn’t look like we miss anything important to the story, or even particularly exciting). There are other shifts in quality that are less obvious, but there’s still a lot of inconsistency in darkness, black and white values, and hue intensity. In all the post 8:32 stuff looks better, and clearer, but the black levels are lacking a bit throughout the rest of the print.
The Unseen is presented in a perfectly acceptable Dolby Digital mono audio track. The track is a bit roughed up with minor distortions, specifically hiss and high end distortion. The dialogue and pertinent effects are clear enough to understand the whole way through, though a bit muffled throughout. Again, things change rather abruptly at about the 8:32 mark. As the print becomes a bit lighter the soundtrack becomes a bit sharper, and loses a little of the hiss. The film’s score, by Michael J. Lewis, is a constant source of ripe anti-drama. It’s exceedingly old-fashion for a film from 1980, and overplays every scene. Occasionally an electric guitar buzzes into the track, but mostly it sounds like a made-for-TV flick from the late ‘60s. Besides Lassick’s hysterics the music is the track’s loudest element, and despite a bit of high end distortion, along with a lack of real bass, it’s the track’s most clear element.
Code Red’s two disc set begins with a relatively informative commentary featuring actor Stephen Furst, and producer Tony Unger, moderated by film historian Lee Christian. The behind the scenes turmoil is the most interesting part of the track. Christian prods Unger for the dirt, and though seemingly hesitant the producer mostly complies. Furst doesn’t appear until the end of the film, so he’s not to vocal about the production, accepting general niceties concerning the cast and crew. I grew a little bored after about an hour, but my ears perked up when Unger recalled working with a very young Ian McShane.
Next up is an interview with actor Doug Barr, who is best known for his work on the television series Fall Guy. Barr’s role is pretty small (one of those ‘classy’ additions to the otherwise slimy plot) so his memories aren’t the sharpest aside from having the hair torn off of his leg for the scar appliance. Besides being generally pleasant, Barr also recalls his role in Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing. This is followed by an interview with Furst, who surprisingly doesn’t entirely repeat himself from the commentary. It’s not all new news, but there’s something there, including a story about why he didn’t get along with the generally maligned director. The only real bad thing about the interview is the location, which is apparently right next to a very busy street. The disc ends with an art gallery, a trailer, and trailers for other Code Red releases.
Disc two starts with an interview with make-up supervisor Craig Reardon ( Goonies, Dick Tracey, Deep Space Nine). Reardon was handed the job by effects giant Rick Baker (who he worked for on most of Baker’s high end ‘80s work), and came into the film as a man for hire, not a name make-up guy (which he was not at the time). He’s not too full of praise for the finished film, but has some fond memories of the process, along with some interesting and not so fond memories. The interview is also valuable from the standpoint that Reardon offers a slightly different view on the treatment of director Steinmann, without even meaning to. Reardon is a good enough talker he fills the elongated time without boring his audience. This is followed by an interview with Tom Burman, one of the film’s re-writers, who is credited with creating the Junior character. Burman is clearly not a very big fan of the film, or of horror in general, but apparently can be credited with many of the film’s ‘classier’ elements. Later he was offered make-up but turned it down. The disc ends with an image gallery from Reardon’s private collection.
The Unseen has a pretty funny imdb page in that it’s full of pseudonyms and is missing a lot of uncredited collaborators. The behind-the-scenes mess shines clearly on the screen, but the schizophrenic nature ends up putting the film a few hairs above a million other similar films. Code Red does its best with the less than impressive source material, and produces a perfectly watchable anamorphic transfer, featuring bright colours, and a perfectly listenable mono track, featuring generally clear dialogue and music. The extras are a little DIY in nature, but informative, including a commentary and three sizable interview segments.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 19th August 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Extras: Producer/Star Commentary, Cast and Crew Interviews, Trailer, Stills
Easter Egg: No
Director: Danny Steinmann
Cast: Barbara Bach, Stephen Furst, Doug Barr, Sydney Lassick
Length: 89 minutes
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