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When six friends fly off on a weekend getaway and are suddenly plagued by engine trouble, they're forced to land on a remote island. Looking for shelter, they're grateful to encounter Ma and Pa and their children - an eccentric family living in the island's backwoods. But what begins as simple hospitality turns into a terrifying race for survival as the friends start disappearing one by one ... and turning up dead. Written by
When you have the talents of an Academy Award winning Actor (Rod Steiger) and a classic, beloved sitcom star (YVonne DeCarlo), and an Academy Award nominated star of Bonnie and Clyde, (Michael J. Pollard) you have to expect a good movie, as one would think that established actors such as these would be wise in their script choices. While American Gothic certainly isn't Bonnie & Clyde or In The Heat of the Night, for an 80's horror film it isn't bad. In fact, it sticks out among the countless teeny slasher flicks that dominated the decade for several reasons, least of which is the plot, which has been used in some shape or form in countless slasher flicks released before and after American Gothic.
A group of six vacationing friends, including, Cynthia (Sarah Torgov), a woman who has been traumatized by the accidental drowning of her baby , land their small plane on a seemingly deserted island after some engine problems with the craft. After some exploring, they find an old house occupied by an odd, extremely religious family who seem to be stuck living in the 1890's, headed by Ma DeCarlo and Pa Steiger. Their "children" are in their thirties and forties, yet still act like they are little kids. The daughter plays with her dolly and the two sons entertain themselves by playing on a swing and playing hide and go seek. This would be enough to make me find ANYWAY I could off the island, but the group sticks around to eventually tick the family off by going against the strict "morals." Well not a lot of guess work to what transcends, but there is a twist at the end of the film that is refreshing to see and to mention anymore would spoil the plot. But let's just say things get bloody and characters are disposed of in variety of creative and disturbing ways. Along the way, the film does provide a few memorable, downright creepy scenes, including the "swing" and Fannie's (one of the "children") baby, as well as things that are not blatantly stated, but hinted at (infantcide, incest, necrophilia) What sets this film apart from other slasher flicks of the time period is that it does make an attempt at some character development., particularly for the character of Cynthia, whose troubled past explains her behavior toward the end of the film. There is also the sense that this filmed was geared toward a more mature horror audience, as many of the clichés that are steeped in most 80's slashers are not utilized here, which is refreshing. The characters themselves are not teens, and for the most part, behave realistically. The theme of isolation and uncertainty also works extremely well here, as the island presents a challenge not often found in horror films. It offers opportunity for crisp cinematography Still, not all is perfect, as the performance are a mixed bag, ranging from typical slasher film cheese to Steiger's over the top performance (did he think he was going to win a second Oscar for this??) to the very reserved and pitch-perfect De Carlo, who really outshines the rest of the cast. And while most of the deaths are creative and effectively done, one involving a jump rope was somewhat cheesy and had me cringing for all the wrong reasons.
Overall, this is one of the better entries into the genre to come out of the late 80's and really is a must see for horror fans. Younger viewers may be turned off at how dated the films looks (even though it was released in 1988), but there is enough creepiness and disturbing things here to feast upon.
My Grade: B
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