Review Date: December 25, 2011
Released by: Scorpion
Release date: November 8, 2011
Widescreen 1.77:1 | 16x9: Yes
One thing that is going to be lost on tomorrowís 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 todayís Netflix generation.
Since 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 didnít have the high profile of a Childís Play
or a Friday the 13th
, the cover was nevertheless intriguing, with Wings Hauserís 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. Iíd 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, thatís for sure.
Okay, so this chick is on a bed in some apartment and starts cutting up a dudeís suit jacket. Then she gets sent to a sanitarium (good thing those people never saw when I pissed on my brotherís toys when I was six). Then shortly after sheís 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 manís Judd Nelson) are trying a fresh start in a different home. Martinís a successful businessman somethingorother with enough money to really spend to the tits on renovations. He hires a competent team of help, but itís the work thatís being done off the clock thatís 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.
Martin 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 heís actually been drinking from the hands of temptation, carrying on with some blonde 7-out-of-10. So wait, let me get this straightÖAlice gets sent to the loony bin for cutting up a cloth and this guy thinks itís perfectly fine to have an affair but a few days after? I donít understand the logic, but thatís probably the least pertinent things to question in The Carpenter
So 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, heíd just kill them and continue renovating. Thatís dedication. So now heís revived somehow, occupying a physical space (none of this Shocker
shit) and well, not really doing all that much. He saws a dudeís arms off, drills a guy and shoots nails through another, but theyíre usually just for incidental reasons. He just wants to work on his house.
The 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 Iím not really sure what we actually get. Kind of like Canadaís other 1988 offering, Pin
, we get this movie that on the surface should be a horror movie but really is something different inside. Itís got a lot more psychology to it, kind of getting into the head of the bored housewife (the Donít Be Afraid of the Dark
thing) and weíre 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, letís be honest here, would have been awesome) we get a kind of dreamy deconstruction of manners.
Itís 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. Itís 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
, Prom Night
so unsettling is that theyíre all so damned nice. Add The Carpenter
to that list too, and I think itís 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 (ďI donít like to leave things half doneÖif youíre going to do it, do it right.Ē) and even when heís killing people he does it in a soft, comforting voice. Heís 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 doesnít. The guy gets lit on fire, and even then heís still polite!
Itís not just Wings Hauserís performance thatís a little off in the other direction. The whole movie has this kind of wavering tone where youíre never sure if itís a horror film, a domestic drama or a fairytale romance. Itís just weird. Perhaps thatís what youíd expect from Director David Wellington who wrote us the crazy canuck film Zombie Nightmare
. Or maybe itís 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 itís 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.
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. Itís 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
, Iíd 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
, itís 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.
Scorpion 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 thereís 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 itís pretty serviceable. The colors are very saturated. Reds are vivid but hold their own without smearing, other than when theyíre 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 arenít 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 thatís probably never really had one.
The, um, build of this soundtrack is pretty bland. Itís a flat Dolby Digital 2.0 track without any directionality and with a generally muted range. Occasionally during the aforementioned reel changes thereís 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, weíre talking a low-budget Canadian VHS staple from 1988, so what weíre getting here is more than fine.
Compared to a lot of movies in Scorpionís repertoire, Iíd say thereís 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 Katarinaís Nightmare Theatre and some other Scorpion trailers and thatís 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 Iíd 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 Katarinaís short little introduction. Itís 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 weíre 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.
is another weird little nicety from Canada, with one of the most kindhearted killers youíll 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
. Itís a really weird blend of dreamy drama, slasher horror, unrequited love(!) and, um, home sweet home. Itís not a great movie, but itís at least an interesting one. By the same account, Scorpionís work here is nothing utterly commendable, but theyíve 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 wonít find this flick on Netflix any time soon, and for those of you who miss the ďbox of chocolatesĒ kind of whimsy of the old video box era could do a lot worse than tooling around with The Carpenter
Movie - C+
Image Quality - B
Sound - C+
Supplements - C-
- Running time - 1 hour and 29 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
- Katarina's Nightmare Theater option
- Katarina's trailers