Movies From the Black Lagoon: The Unseen

Movies From the Black Lagoon
The Unseen - 1981, Rated R

One of horror cinema's oldest plot devices (the monster in the basement) anchors this well produced effort that didn't get much screen time upon its initial release. What a shame, but the 80's were so preoccupied with franchise monsters (Jason, Freddy, etc.) that little gems like this often got short shifted.
The good news is that it's now available in a deluxe two disc set courtesy of the good folks at "Code Red" films, who have made it their mission to resurrect lost movies of the 70's and 80's.
It all begins benignly as we meet a trio of female journalists (who look more like Victoria's Secret models) named Jennifer, Karen, and Vicky. Their assignment is to cover a Danish heritage festival in Solvang, California (a real location that attracts tourists to this day). Their trip hits an immediate snag when the overbooked hotels in the region have no rooms to rent. They stumble upon an ancient hotel in a neighboring town but the proprietor (a garrulous fellow named Ernest) notes that he has converted the building into a museum and no longer lets out rooms.
Ernest is eager to help, however, and offers the ladies a room at the home he shares with his wife, Virginia. They hastily (make that way too hastily) agree and head out to Ernest's farmhouse where they meet the demure Virginia. These two are a real pair and seem to have missed out on the time-honored process of socialization. One talks too much, the other too little, and it's obvious that these folks have been socially isolated since childhood. Vicky opts to stay at the house while Karen and Jennifer head out to the fair - huge mistake.
While the others file their story Vicky hops in the tub where she is ogled, via the keyhole, by Ernest who has obviously never seen a model/reporter engage in the time honored tradition of good hygiene. Meanwhile, there are strange sounds emanating from the floor grate (this film does for floor grates what "Jaws" did for salt water activities) and poor Vicky soon discovers that something is lurking under the house. In town Jennifer runs into her estranged boyfriend and the pair opt to hash things out while Karen heads back to the house - huge mistake numero dos. Karen can't resist a bowl of fruit perched on a coffee table but sends it to the floor with an awkward grab. While retrieving grapes she finds herself prone over a grate and her scarf, dangling from her throat, proves to be all the bait the cellar dweller needs.
Ernest comes home and flips out when he realizes that there will be no more peep shows in the guest bathroom. His solution to the problem turns out to be bad news for Jennifer who finds herself locked in the basement and face to face with the unseen. It's a great climax that finally sheds a light on what is down in the basement and where it comes from (Hint: Ernest and Virginia have had marital relations and wed although they are related). The finale features plenty of the red stuff and lots of tension as Ernest turns out to be the true villain here and every character teams up to finish him off.
This one's a corker and it offers up plenty of fine characterizations while never skimping on the tension. The actors are letter perfect with Sydney Lassick anchoring the film as Ernest. He's probably best remembered as the anxious Cheswick, in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Here he gets to play the lead, hitting one out of the park as the socially challenged and deeply damaged son of an abusive father. He's the bad guy for sure but Lassick makes it impossible to just write him off as a one-note villain. Stephen Furst (Flounder from "Animal House") also deserves credit for his final reel appearance as the creature in the basement. It's a touching performance and entirely credible despite the fact that he's not allowed to speak and must perform all of his scenes in a soiled diaper. This one doesn't try to reinvent the wheel but it does offer up plenty of tension and a solid scenario that holds up a tired premise and breathes new life into it.
Best Line: "If you continue to not listen to me I will become very cross with you."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@pennswoods.net.