Thursday, 18 February 2010


Dir. Sandor Stern

As children, Leon and Ursula Linden (David Hewlett and Cynthia Preston) are given lessons by their father’s medical dummy ‘Pin’ – as in Pinocchio - voiced by their emotionally vacant ventriloquist father (Terry O’Quinn). When their parents are killed in car crash it seems as though the teenagers are now free of their oppressive upbringing. Things take a turn for the dark and twisted however when Leon’s obsession with Pin becomes increasingly disturbing; eventually the young man starts dressing the dummy in his dead father's clothes and insisting that visitors to the house meet him. Eventually, Pin begins telling Leon what to do. And who to kill…

A heart-warming and tender-footed tale of one man's love for his, erm, anatomy dummy... That ends in - A Plastic Nightmare!

Opening with a placid and vaguely spooky piano-led score and exhibiting a stately creepiness akin to a bland Made-for-TV thriller, Pin gradually unfolds as an intriguing and fascinating psychological study of a young man’s plummet into madness, brought about in part by his stifling childhood, frigid parents and his inability to relate to anyone. Equal parts tragic, unnerving and absurd, Pin will most likely not resemble anything you’ve ever seen before.

As the emotionally detached and obsessive-compulsive parents Terry O’Quinn and Bronwen Mantel provide convincing performances – never veering into melodramatic histrionics. They ensure their perpetually simmering emotions are always kept just beneath boiling point – so that we know they are there, ready to explode at any minute. The early scenes that introduce us to the Linden family exude a sterile, odd atmosphere that proves quite taut. To begin with, Pin resembles a rather dark Hallmark family drama, complete with teen pregnancy, domestic violence and child abuse. The focus of the script though, remains squarely on the psychological turmoil the youngsters undergo at the hands of their parents. The mother has covered all the furniture with plastic sheets (a plastic nightmare indeed!) and she and her husband handle the children as though they were brittle dolls – no affection or warmth is shared, the relationships are all cold, clinical and sterile.

The scene where a young Leon spies on his father’s nurse as she secretly pleasures herself with Pin is decidedly uneasy and boasts a really high ‘what-the-fuck!!??’-factor. It charts the beginning of Leon’s obsession with and eventual ventriloquism of Pin. As the quiet and confused Leon, Hewlett exudes just the right amount of restrained aggression and quiet menace. He lingers between gently protective older brother and unsteady psychopath. As the long-suffering and relatively normal sister, Cynthia Preston is likable and grounded.

Stern effortlessly exploits the Freudian notion of 'the uncanny' - where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, making it feel uncomfortably strange - for all its worth. Like all good ‘dummies’, Pin looks immensely creepy. The tension garnered from shots of him just sitting in a chair is highly effective. The scene in which the parents are killed in a car crash is also rife with a slow building tension, enhanced by the shots of the dummy 'sitting up' in the back seat. After the death of the parents, an aunt with ‘bad health’ comes to stay. She dies of a heart attack when startled by Pin and the scene in which this happens is tense, chilling and though mildly ridiculous, still creepy and alarming. In a moment reminiscent of a scene from Argento’s Tenebrae, Pin rises up from behind the bed where the dead aunt lies, only for Leon to then rise up from behind him; the image almost resembles someone shedding a skin.

While co-habiting siblings whose relationship is slowly deteriorating recalls Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Pin never traverses that far into parody or camp, though it is not without its moments of black comedy and outright ridiculousness. One moment that destroys the uneasy tension is a brief and incredibly cheesy montage of Leon and Pin ‘hanging out’ as their friendship blossoms. When Leon and Marsha (Helene Udy) get back to his house after an awkward date, the lights go off and Pin menaces her in the dark in a moment that proves just as ridiculous though curiously creepy as the aunt’s demise. Locked in the house, Marsha becomes increasingly panicked and is chased around in the dark from room to room by a wheelchair-bound Pin. Why she doesn’t just go upstairs is anyone’s guess. In a cheeky reference to Canadian genre cinema, the film they watched in the cinema was Scanners.

One of the standout scenes that illustrates the psychosis nestling in the dark and twisted heart of this dysfunctional family unit comes courtesy of an after dinner poetry reading. Gathered around the fire, Ursula and her beau Stan (John Pyper-Ferguson) listen with increasing concern and horror as Leon recites one of his recent poems – a revelatory meditation on rape and incest. This is one unconventional household!

The ending, as set up in the opening scene, is a tad ludicrous, but if you’ve invested yourself in the story it is bound to strike a cord. Pin is a disturbing, blood-dark funny and unconventional drama with lashings of psychological horror and populated by amiable characters who aren’t stock types.


The Film Connoisseur said...

Sounds like an interesting watch, I remember the film from when I was a kid, Id see the box at the video store but it was a film I never got around to renting. I always walked right past it. But now, it sounds like a movie Id like to watch, thanks for that review!

davidfullam said...

Lord knows, I hated this film. But the ending was (at least in my opinion) rather moving. If the rest was more like the last few minutes, I wouldn't be so hard on it.

James said...

Connoisseur - It is worth checking out - such an odd little film with enough twists and blackly comic moments to maintain your interest.

David - Yeah, I agree - it was strangely moving. I think Pin really benefits from decent, effectively restrained performances that help build up a fair amount of pathos. Leon is quite the tragic figure.

Shaun Anderson said...

This is a blast from my video rental past - remember having this little chiller rented for me by parents when I was about 12, and it remains lucidly remembered. I remember seeing this, "Society", "Anguish" and "The Gate" in rapid succession. I feel all nostalgic now.

Carl (ILHM) said...

I learned of this one from the 101 Best Horror Movies Youve Never Seen, and I was pleasantly surprised! It is just a weird, quirky film that is quite unique and enjoyable. Great review as always James!

Guillaume said...

I agree that the ending is striking,the fate of Leon is really sad and disturbing,but somewhat logical.
The film works rather effectively as a psychological drama,thanks to the fine performances and writing...overall an underrated little gem.
Have you ever read the book/novel?
I don't know if it's good,if the film is faithful to the novel,i'll be curious to read it..

James said...

Shaun - glad to have provoked such nostalgia!

Carl - This was indeed weird, quirky, unique and utterly enjoyable. Despite the potential for ridiculousness - I was inclined to take it all quite seriously (mostly!), no doubt thanks to the spot on performances.

Guillaume - I have not read the book - though I'd be interested in seeing how faithful the film is to it...