Review Date: October 16, 2008
Released by: Code Red
Release date: 8/19/2008
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Let this introduction be a tiny little ode to the genius of Sydney Lassick. First discovered in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
, heís been working ever since until his death in 2003. Cuckoos Nest was an unprecedented launching pad for the careers of virtually every inmate, with a list including Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif, Will Sampson, Vincent Schiavelli and of course the bumbling Cheswick. Lassick could do one role, himself, but he could do it so well, elevating countless genre films, from Carrie
to The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington
and Donít Tell Mom the Babysitterís Dead
with his nebbish neuroses. Despite a healthy career as a character actor, Lassick reportedly kept his job at a trucking station throughout his life in showbiz. Itís fitting, since no other actor seems so oddly regular and apart from the Hollywood mold than Lassick.
Heís been in some classics, but his biggest chance to shine was as the lead in The Unseen
. As most people joke now though, the film itself was mostly unseen too, leaving Lassickís legacy to a small crypt of loving devotees. His legacy finally lives on though, with Code Redís two-disc treatment of Danny Steinmannís first feature film (and his ticket to Savage Streets
), The Unseen
. Remove your hat and bow your head, for itís time to enter the basement and pay respect to that most interesting of high pitched, balding, portly and gap toothed of actors.
Three hot television reporters come through a small city to get coverage of their annual parade. Thereís Jennifer (Barbara Bach
), her sister Karen (Karen Lamm
) and Vicki (Lois Young
), and they seem to be having a blast. The shoot goes well, although one of Jenniferís old flings, the failed football star Tony Ross (Douglas Barr
), crashes their party when he turns up at the parade. When the girls find out they have no place to stay, though, guy troubles become the last of their worries. All the motels are booked for the big parade, and the girls need a place where they can undress to satisfy the slasher filmís nudity requisite.
Luckily the girls run into nebbish museum owner Ernest Keller (Sydney Lassick
), who gracefully offers them a place to stay at his nearby farmhouse. He shares the farmhouse with his seemingly psychotic near-mute sister Virginia (Lelia Goldoni
). Itís a big place for two people, which is why he welcomes the girls with open arms. When we start seeing point of view shots from the heating ducts and tortured breathing on the soundtrack, itís pretty clear that thereís more than just a twosome living at the Keller ranch.
One by one the girls are quietly killed by the creature living under the floor and within the walls. Heís not the only one in on it, though, since that little bundle of neuroses, Ernest, seems to be egging the little critter on. Thereís clearly family dysfunction abound, considering Virginiaís traumatic tantrums and Ernestís crazy confessionals to his mummified father. All the family secrets are revealed, though, when Jennifer stumbles into the basement. Itís there that the truth becomes known and death becomes a reality. Itís there that the unseen horrifically comes into full light.
If Blood Rage
, with its non-stop body count and endless carnage, is the slasher equivalent to chugging a beer, then The Unseen
is the slasherís Chardonnay. It takes forever to get going, with television reporters who havenít a clue about their job, mushy melodrama about a stagnating football injury and an endless wait until the first kill, but once Lassick and his unseen partner in crime, played by Stephen ďFlounderĒ Furst, kick it into crazy for the last half, it goes down oh so good. Itís a dysfunctional family sparring for the ages, with Lassick and Furst constantly trying to one up the other with inexplicable eccentricity. Those two make the Bates family look like the Waltons. Even the sis kicks up the hysteria for the delirious debauchery of the final act.
Thereís no question Lassick steals the show from the paycheck-cashing headlining ladies, making his character both bizarrely kind and bizarrely brazen. He has no qualms in helping out and no shame in spying on nude women through a keyhole when he should be doing laundry. Even at the end, when heís setting up Bach for death, his actions seem so oddly sincere. Itís something only Lassick can pull off, and his oddball way of chewing the scenery is rarely matched in cinema. When Furst comes in with all his retarded paroxysms, slapping his head and laughing like a fool, he adds a fun tension to all of Lassickís perturb. In the fantastic final moments, the movie literally becomes a scene stealing game of one-upmanship, with each actor constantly forcing the other to up the level of screen madness.
Lassick does all his crazy on his own, since he was built by God to forever be eccentric, but Furst does it with the help of a giant diaper and some convincing facial molds by Craig Reardon. Basically, the effects here by Reardon would go on to inspire his Sloth creation in The Goonies
. In fact, even Slothís mannerisms owe a tip of the hat to Furst and The Unseen
. Again though, even if the start seems slow, once everyone shuffles into the basement, itís all frantic fun, even from Reardonís side, culminating in a blood spurting shotgun blast.
Directed to success, once again, by Danny Steinmann, the man proves with his three for three batting average that despite the completely different nature of his films, they all possess a captivating je ne sais quoi. Although most of his colleagues would go on to deride him as being a spoiled, bullying drug addict (more on that in the extras), he has managed to write and direct three films completely separate in structure and execution, yet all united in a perverse energy. Considering his crews were all completely different, thereís little denying that he himself possesses some maverick sort of mastery of genre cinema. Most people may not want to side with that though, so for everyone else, The Unseen
ís success deservedly rests on Lassickís jittery shoulders.
Code Red presents The Unseen
in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, encoded in progressive scan. The source material is in pretty good shape, with only light instances of specking and blemishes throughout. There is the occasional scratch line on the right side, but it is very soft and marginal. There is a grain present throughout, and the colors look a bit muted. Everything just looks a little washed out. The film itself employs a more muted color palette, but even still, flesh tones seem a little too pink and white a bit grey. One other problem is the occasional brightening and darkening of the image during a few sequences. The switch only takes a moment, but it is a noticeable fluctuation. The transfer is thankfully progressive, although there is still interlaced combing between chapter stops. Overall, for a film of this age and obscurity, it has been preserved acceptably by our brothers at Code Red.
Mono in three languages. No problems at all with levels. Vocals and music cues register The Unseen
is presented in English mono, and it sounds just like a low budget early eighties mono track. Thereís a fair hiss to the entire proceedings, and the music registers a tad quiet compared to the effects track. Overall though, there are no drop outs and dialogue is clear if a bit flat. Not a stand out track, but it will do.
Danny Steinmann is a douche bag. Now, as a viewer, I can say what I know, and that's that he made three feature films, and each one stands out in the diverse genres they cover. If the extras on this two disc Code Red release tell me anything, though, it's that the man was despised by all his collaborators. Flounder talks about how Steinmann negligently electrocuted him when he had promised he would protect him during a complex pyrotechnic take. Effects man Craig Reardon said he was indecisive, constantly asking for major makeup changes at the last minute. "It's great, but too small." The co-writer, Tom Burman, thought Steinmann a lazy bully, using his father's wealth to not only direct the film, but steal Burmanís ideas as his own. Yes, if we are to go on extras alone, and with two discs and plenty of variety it seems pretty conclusive - Danny Steinmann is hard to work with, to say the least. But assholes can still make great movies...just look at Vincent Gallo.
Code Red has done a fantastic job, once again, with this two disc release, bringing together Stephen ďFlounderĒ Furst, Tom Burman, Craig Reardon, and actor Doug Barr together to elucidate every recollection about the film imaginable. The first disc belongs to the actors, with Flounder and Doug Barr both offering vastly different takes on their experience in The Unseen
. Each actor gets a video interview, but Stephen Furst also chimes in with a worthwhile commentary moderated by Lee Christian. Furst is always open to talking about whatever, and has an affable way of speaking. The two have a nice back and forth, and there's quite a bit of fun and info throughout. In video, Flounder recollects about having to be in makeup non-stop, and how, being a heavyset man, it was often tough to resist all the catering on set, much to the chagrin of the makeup designers. When he's not talking about makeup, he's talking candidly on how he lost all respect for Steinmann, but how he still appreciates the film to this day. Doug Barr plays a totally marginal part in the film, but yet his contributions are just as important here, offering up some nice stories about Barbara Bach, his career with Craven and as a director in his own right, and how he endured through a few mishaps on set. Both extras run a tad shy of ten minutes each and are hugely entertaining. Code Red's getting much better at editing these pieces, too, complete with clips and transitions now for a much smoother flow. Kudos, Bill!
The first disc is rounded off with promotional material for the film, with the theatrical trailer, a still gallery and the requisite Code Red trailers. This time Code Red includes Terror Circus
, Night Warning
and The Visitor
to their usual cue. There are always delights on their horizon. The second disc is devoted entirely to the effects crew, with lengthy interviews with both Burman and Reardon. Burman actually worked extensively on the story, and credits himself with much of the plot used in the final product. He talks about how the story made no sense before he came aboard, and how when he left the production there was a dispute over whether he could retain rights to the main character. He was promised money, but paid none, and his experience is nothing but bitter. He offers a very honest and enlightening look at the business, and demonstrates that even through hardship he has persevered as one of the premier television effects men. Reardon experience isn't as bitter, he was paid and he is generally proud of his work. He talks in even greater length of every effect used in the film and how it was achieved, from the clay molding of Flounder's face to the nail impalement of the finale. The talk about how the gunshot effect at the end was totally botched, and his description of Danny Steinmann's reaction, is priceless. Reardon too would go on to a long and healthy career, building the similar looking Sloth in The Goonies
, and his account here of his first job is a real keeper.
The second disc is rounded off with a nice little gallery of make-up tests and production photos captured by Mr. Reardon during the duration of pre-production and the shoot itself. Everything included on this disc is really great, Code Red's no frills, no cuts approach to supplements is really resulting in a new kind of honesty and directness in film history. That said, it would have been nice to get a viewpoint from both sides, since Steinmann really takes a beating in these extras. He was available for the Savage Streets
extras, but was apparently too costly and too tough to track down for this release. Tough break, but since Steinmann is now apparently making the rounds at horror conventions, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before he gets the final word in. Perhaps on a Friday the 13th
is a curious film that takes a long time to get rolling, but once the crazy Sydney Lassick and Stephen Furst face off, itís a freak fight for the ages. You should be able to laugh through the clunky first half until the real entertainment starts to pay off in the end. The image and sound quality are acceptable, if not stellar, but Code Red outdoes themselves with their two discs of candid extras. Donít expect any Danny Steinmann love, though. If you like Psycho-esque motel mania, or have been enjoying riding the Code Red train, then I raise you two smokes that youíll like this one, too. Sydney Lassick would like that.
Movie - B
Image Quality - C+
Sound - C+
Supplements - A
- Running time - 1 hour 29 minutes
- Rated R
- 2 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Audio commentary with star Stephen Furst and moderator Lee Christian
- Interviews with actor Douglas Barr, Stephen Furst, effects man Craig Reardon and co-writer Tom Burman
- Still gallery
- Make-up tests gallery
- Theatrical trailer
- Code Red trailers