Pin: A Plastic Nightmare (1988)

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*. What a strange and uncomfortable film. And yet undeniably effective.
*. Canada doesn’t get enough appreciation for its great little horror movies. Everyone knows the name of David Cronenberg, but there are also lots of other quirky classics like, for example, Ginger Snaps, Cube, and this movie. All in all, horror is probably the genre Canada does best.
*. Pin takes its mythic chassis from Psycho, only Leon is the repressed young man whose personality is split with a plastic anatomy dummy rather than the effigy of his dead mom. Like Norman hiding his violent self behind “mother,” Leon hides his psychopathy behind Pin.
*. So the story itself doesn’t break a lot of new ground. But it’s handled in such a surprisingly thoughtful and mature manner that it stands head and shoulders above the ocean (I was going to say pool) of crap that flooded screens in the 1980s. I mean, I don’t think we even see a knife being brandished once. “Pin” may be a killer, but he’s no slasher.
*. Yes, the psychologizing can be heavy-handed. We get it that mom was a neat freak and dad was . . . Terry O’Quinn. So authoritarian and odd. Plus seeing the nurse use Pin as a sex doll would have scarred anyone, and attending his sister’s abortion might not have been healthy for Leon either. But I give the script credit for presenting us with this much back story and making it interesting. I mean, we never do find out what Norma Bates did to little Norman.
*. A man chopping wood is almost always a bad sign, isn’t it? At least that’s what I thought when I saw Leon with his axe building up the wood pile. It made me think of James Brolin in The Amityville Horror. I only learned later that the script for Amityville Horror had been written by Sandor Stern, who wrote and directed this movie. So maybe it’s just a personal association.
*. The cast is great. David Hewlett looks eerily plastic himself, especially with that haircut. He also has the ability to tilt his mouth at a striking angle. Cyndy Preston isn’t just a scream queen as Ursula but someone we can relate to.
*. They did a good job with the dummy, and an even better job casting Jonathan Banks (probably best known as Mike Ehrmentraut on Breaking Bad) as Pin’s voice. With his flat reasonableness he reminded me a bit of Hal in 2001, the computer that goes insane. I also like how Pin seems to become progressively bossier and less empathic as things go on. With his final words, doesn’t he even display a certain contempt for Leon?
*. Ah, once again with the old, bizarro-world cliché of being trapped in a house where all the doors are locked from the outside. It takes Ursula coming home to rescue Marsha. Now how much sense does that make?
*. Oh, these introverted families and their isolated homes. Gothic nightmares all play the same way (the author of Pin, Andrew Neiderman, became the ghost writer for V. C. Andrews after her death, and wrote the stage adaptation for Flowers in the Attic). “A good job is worth more than the money, it’s good for the mental health,” their aunt tells the new orphans. Good advice. At least a job will get you out of that damn house.
*. I can understand why this wasn’t a bigger hit. It’s too quiet and understated for its own good. And yet it’s presented with real professionalism throughout, and despite its familiarity in so many regards (the Psycho angle, the evil-mannequin angle, the gothic horror angle), it has a unique feel. Horror in the ’80s wasn’t all bad. It’s just that sometimes you have to look hard for the good stuff, and only find it hiding someplace weird.

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