Carpenter, The

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  1. rhett

    rhett Administrator

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    [​IMG] Reviewer: Rhett
    Review Date: December 25, 2011

    Format: DVD
    Released by: Scorpion
    Release date: November 8, 2011
    MSRP: $14.99
    Region 0
    Progressive Scan
    Widescreen 1.77:1 | 16x9: Yes
    1988

    inline ImageOne thing that is going to be lost on tomorrow’s younger generation growing up without video rental stores is whimsy of walking the rows of box covers. Usually organized by genres, even just a walk through the aisle, be it horror or comedy, was like an instant transport into the feelings and emotions of your choice. My scariest memories about movies from when I was a kid was not from the movies I watched, but instead the covers I saw and the back images and descriptions I read when I walked the rows of Superior Video back in the late eighties. Now, we get a small pixelated postage stamp image of a movie, a two sentence description and the ability to just stop a movie whenever (I remember muscling through some scary stuff back in the day just so I could return it and get it out of my house well before my 7 days were up). A movie like The Carpenter would be lost on today’s Netflix generation.

    inline ImageSince it was a Canadian film and I lived in Canada, The Carpenter was a pretty ubiquitous movie on store shelves when I was a kid. While it didn’t have the high profile of a Child’s Play or a Friday the 13th, the cover was nevertheless intriguing, with Wings Hauser’s back to us looking menacingly out towards a house brandishing a hammer and screwdriver (sadly, Scorpion opted for a more traditional shot of Wings Hauser just looking crazy face forward). I used to just try and imagine what a movie like this would be about. It was pretty awesome in my head. A guy commissioned to renovate a house just starts going crazy, tormenting the family inside and killing everything in sight with power tools. I’d imagine something like Driller Killer meets Unlawful Entry. Watching it all these years later, I see the power that video stores, with their big physical boxes filled with titillating images and cogent bylines, could have on the imagination. Because believe me, The Carpenter is nothing like you could ever dream up, that’s for sure.

    The Story

    inline ImageOkay, so this chick is on a bed in some apartment and starts cutting up a dude’s suit jacket. Then she gets sent to a sanitarium (good thing those people never saw when I pissed on my brother’s toys when I was six). Then shortly after she’s let out, and we find out that she, Alice (Lynne Adams from another 1988 Canuxploitation flick, Blood Relations) and her husband Martin (Pierre Lenoir, the French, poor man’s Judd Nelson) are trying a fresh start in a different home. Martin’s a successful businessman somethingorother with enough money to really spend to the tits on renovations. He hires a competent team of help, but it’s the work that’s being done off the clock that’s most impressive of all. Late in the night, Alice wakes up to find a whistling, chipper carpenter (Wings Hauser, Vice Squad) going to town fixing the basement. He also successfully shoots a mouse across the room with a nailgun. Clue number one that the guy has a couple, erm, screws loose.

    inline ImageMartin continues on his daily routine oblivious, and the other renovators kind of shrug all the off-hours renovation work to possibility of some college-kid scabs looking to take away their overtime. Alice, though, is intrigued. The man is handsome, polite and his glass is always half full. Martin might not care because he’s actually been drinking from the hands of temptation, carrying on with some blonde 7-out-of-10. So wait, let me get this straight…Alice gets sent to the loony bin for cutting up a cloth and this guy thinks it’s perfectly fine to have an affair but a few days after? I don’t understand the logic, but that’s probably the least pertinent things to question in The Carpenter.

    inline ImageSo it turns out the unnamed toolhand with the wholesome demeanor is actually a convict who got the chair a few years ago for murdering a bunch of guys in the very house Alice lives in now. Apparently he loves his handiwork so much that he forgot to pay the bills, and when collectors would come to his house, he’d just kill them and continue renovating. That’s dedication. So now he’s revived somehow, occupying a physical space (none of this Shocker shit) and well, not really doing all that much. He saws a dude’s arms off, drills a guy and shoots nails through another, but they’re usually just for incidental reasons. He just wants to work on his house.

    inline ImageThe original VHS cover and the no-frills title suggests a slasher movie or at the very least a blank from hell movie (The Mutilator, The Paperboy, etc.) but I’m not really sure what we actually get. Kind of like Canada’s other 1988 offering, Pin, we get this movie that on the surface should be a horror movie but really is something different inside. It’s got a lot more psychology to it, kind of getting into the head of the bored housewife (the Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark thing) and we’re even treated to a lengthy scene deconstructing the mythos of Paul Bunyan (I guess because, um, Wings Hauser also wears flannel?). Instead of just giving us a rote slasher (which, let’s be honest here, would have been awesome) we get a kind of dreamy deconstruction of manners.

    inline ImageIt’s often tough to describe the je ne sais quoi of Canadian film, but I think one thing that sets it apart is usually that its characters are so polite. It’s not a haughty formalism like one would find in British film, but more just kind of hohum pleasantries and overall banality. I think what makes the killers in The Pit, Pin, Prom Night, Rabid and Deranged so unsettling is that they’re all so damned nice. Add The Carpenter to that list too, and I think it’s a testament to Canadian manners that we were able to harness a guy like Wings Hauser, who by all accounts is one strand short of being Gary Busey, and make him such a low key murderer. His performance in this movie is just bizarre. He speaks in platitudes (“I don’t like to leave things half done…if you’re going to do it, do it right.”) and even when he’s killing people he does it in a soft, comforting voice. He’s not your usual Craven-esque resurrected dream monster, but instead just a nice guy with a job to do. You keep waiting for him to snap, but he doesn’t. The guy gets lit on fire, and even then he’s still polite!

    inline ImageIt’s not just Wings Hauser’s performance that’s a little off in the other direction. The whole movie has this kind of wavering tone where you’re never sure if it’s a horror film, a domestic drama or a fairytale romance. It’s just weird. Perhaps that’s what you’d expect from Director David Wellington who wrote us the crazy canuck film Zombie Nightmare. Or maybe it’s tantamount to the good-bad duality of writer Doug Taylor, who in the span of a couple years wrote both the dreadful In the Name of the King and the mature Splice. Or maybe it’s just that indefinable quality of Canadian cinema, where movies were made as far away from Hollywood as possible, freed from adhering to any kind of conventional wisdom.

    inline ImageThe Carpenter really flubs scenes with suspense, failing to create any kind of build up before some hackneyed gore effect and most puzzlingly of all offers little to no catharsis or release. That kind of ebb and flow of buildup and payoff is central to horror, but despite having all the surface qualities of a scare flick, The Carpenter offers little of the sort when all is said and done. It’s a weird movie though, and considering a year later in 1989 Hollywood would make two other revived-electric-chair-serial-killer-in-a-house movies in The Horror Show and Shocker, I’d like to think that The Carpenter at least gets props for creating its own little path. As we tire from celebrating the traditional Canadian horror films like Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, and Ginger Snaps, it’s these weird little movies like The Carpenter that are proving to define its legacy not as one that piggybacked off American trends and tales, but instead cultivated weird little stories of their own.

    Image Quality

    inline ImageScorpion presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, a ratio probably nobody has ever seen given that the film was pretty much born to VHS. It was definitely shot on film, though, and you can tell that by intermittent sequences where there’s a flurry of dust and debris on the print, likely at the parts in the movie where the reels would be spliced together. There is mild dust throughout, but it’s pretty serviceable. The colors are very saturated. Reds are vivid but hold their own without smearing, other than when they’re supposed to like during the scene where Alice shoots red paint all over her body. Most of the Wings Hauser stuff takes place at night with a lot of darkness around, and this transfer holds up pretty good against it, with deep, solid blacks and detail still preserved in the shadows. The movie is a little soft at times, partly owing to this transfer, but I think a lot of it has to do with the odd flirtation this movie seems to have with a dream-like aesthetic. Scenes that look to be a dream aren’t hazy, but scenes that have no reason being a dream look like they were shot through a veil. I dunno. Canada. Overall, a nice presentation of a movie that’s probably never really had one.

    Sound

    inline ImageThe, um, build of this soundtrack is pretty bland. It’s a flat Dolby Digital 2.0 track without any directionality and with a generally muted range. Occasionally during the aforementioned reel changes there’s some analog scratching as the track momentarily conforms together. A few scenes exhibit some hiss. Everything is audible and the track is generally clean despite dialogue having a somewhat limited range. Again, we’re talking a low-budget Canadian VHS staple from 1988, so what we’re getting here is more than fine.

    Supplemental Material

    inline ImageCompared to a lot of movies in Scorpion’s repertoire, I’d say there’s more to say about The Carpenter than a lot of their other films, but alas all we get here is a small little segment of Katarina’s Nightmare Theatre and some other Scorpion trailers and that’s it. I would have loved to have heard David Wellington talk about just what the hell he was going for with this oddity, and similarly I’d like to know how Wings Hauser decided to approach a power-tool wielding serial killer with such aw-shucks kindness. The film is playable with or without Katarina’s short little introduction. It’s amusing enough with a few power tools jokes and a little setup on the career of Wings Hauser, but by no means required viewing. Hey, at least we’re getting a commentary with Humongous, right?

    The cover mentions the film is uncut, but having never seen the film before I'm unable to comment on how this differs from previous releases. It's a pretty tame movie, but I'd imagine if there were snips it would be from the scene where Wings saws off a guy's two arms. The scene looks pretty long here, so I'm guessing that's where the meat lies. Thanks, Scorpion, for digging for uncut elements.

    Final Thoughts

    inline ImageThe Carpenter is another weird little nicety from Canada, with one of the most kindhearted killers you’ll ever likely to see inside a movie with an overall tone that has as much rhythm as Steve Martin does in those opening dance sequences in The Jerk. It’s a really weird blend of dreamy drama, slasher horror, unrequited love(!) and, um, home sweet home. It’s not a great movie, but it’s at least an interesting one. By the same account, Scorpion’s work here is nothing utterly commendable, but they’ve done a decent job with the source material and at least shot a little material to frame the film with a bit of extra content. You won’t find this flick on Netflix any time soon, and for those of you who miss the “box of chocolates” kind of whimsy of the old video box era could do a lot worse than tooling around with The Carpenter.

    Rating

    [​IMG] Movie - C+

    Image Quality - B

    Sound - C+

    Supplements - C-


    Technical Info.
    • Colour
    • Running time - 1 hour and 29 minutes
    • Unrated
    • 1 Disc
    • Chapter Stops
    • English Dolby Digital 2.0
    Supplemental Material
    • Katarina's Nightmare Theater option
    • Katarina's trailers
     

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