Title (Brazil): `Os Anfitriões' (`The Hosts')
American Gothic (1987)
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Title (Brazil): `Os Anfitriões' (`The Hosts')
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
Basically, you've got a group of 6 friends traveling in a small, private plane that spits and sputters along until something finally gives and they have to make an early landing in the water near an island. As it turns out, there's something burned out in the plane's electrical system and the group finds a place for the night to set up tents and wait till morning to seek help.
Morning comes and we learn a little more about the characters, especially Cynthia, who was just released from a mental hospital before the trip. We soon find out why she is so distraught mentally. Seems she decided to leave her baby in the bathtub while she went to answer the telephone and by the time she comes back, the baby has drowned. The group begins to search the island for any signs of life and find a big old house in a clearing perched high above the water near a cliff. They enter the house, thinking it's abandoned, and begin going through everything. They find clothes, an old-fashioned radio that still works and they begin to dance around the house to the sound of the music. Then an old couple appear in the doorway and the fun suddenly stops. Ma and Pa seem very hospitable and offer them a place to sleep for the night as Pa says he's got a friend coming in by boat in the morning that could help them.
We soon find out that Ma and Pa are religious fanatics. They also have 3 "children" who appear to be 40-50 years old but act like young kids. One of the children, Fanny, has a baby she keeps in a crib in her room. But something is wrong with this baby... and the whole family. One by one the group of friends are killed off in very inventive ways until only one remains...
I really enjoyed this movie and it is definitely a "sleeper" film of the late 80's. This is a hard to find film, but well worth watching if you can find it. I highly recommend this to all horror fans, especially those of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'slasher' films.
The story starts with a group of six, (one of which is a former mental patient) heading off on a camping trip. When they are forced to land their plane on a small island, one stays behind, while the others decide to look for signs of life. They soon find an old house. Thinking that the place is deserted, the group walks in and makes themselves at home. About ten-minutes later, Ma and Pa come home to find the youngsters dancing and playing. At first, Ma and Pa seem like the old fashioned, hospitable couple, but trouble starts when one of the girls doesn't finish her plate and Pa nearly has a stroke when another girl lights a cigarrete. Despite these atrocities, Ma and Pa are still hospitable enough to let them stay the night. Pa says he has a friend coming with a boat who may be able to help them. Another ruckus arises when the group heads off to bed. Pa makes it clear that if they are not "hitched", the boys are to sleep with the boys and the girls with the girls. This is turning out to be a fun trip, indeed.
Pretty soon, the girls meet Fanny. Fanny is Ma and Pa's daughter who is anticipating her 12th birthday. But that's kinda strange considering that Fanny looks to be around 50. We are then introduced to Fanny's brother Woody (played to perfection by Michael J. Pollard) and Teddy (some annoying fat guy). They aren't much younger than Fanny but are on the same maturity level. It's all down-hill from here folks. Pretty soon, kids start getting picked off (in true slasher fashion) one by one and it becomes clear that Pa's friend is not coming because Pa has no friends. Some of the deaths are pretty inventive (the swingset death is a riot) but it becomes pretty tiresome. This all goes on until there is only one left. Who? You guessed it. The mental patient. She may just be a little too smart for Ma and Pa to handle.
All in all, this is a bad movie with an awful reputation. The performances are way over-the-top (thanks to Steiger) and the film has this really grainy look to it. However, there is a dark atmosphere that gives the whole thing this creepy feeling. At times, it is even a little scary. Fanny gave me the creeps. The best performance of the bunch was Michael J. Pollard. He had very little to work with, but the few speaking lines he has (when he's not running around, laughing like a maniac) are well done and wholly believable.
On my scale of a 1-10, I give it a 7. It is a pretty original treatment of a tried and true formula and although it does draw from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it really worked for me. If you enjoy this movie, you're likely to enjoy Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses" due out pretty soon, now. Michael J. Pollard plays a similar character, from what I hear.
The movie is about a group of friends who are going on a trip when their plane breaks down so they are forced to land in the middle of nowhere........ Soon to find a house where they are greeted by an older couple who let the group of friends stay in their home....... very creepy,twisted things start to happen! The plot line may seem cheesy but this movie is far from it...must watch!!!!!! This movie is definitely one of the best horror films I've ever watched. I'm not sure where you can find this movie I recently tried renting it from Hollywood Video and Blockbuster but neither of them carried it....maybe Netflix?
The story-line, at first, doesn't seem to offer much. We have a group of young adults who decide to go on a holiday to a remote island. Their plane breaks down and they have to land on an unknown island. While investigating it, they stumble upon an empty house. Not so empty, it seems, as the odd old couple Ma and Pa appear at the doorstep...
This movie shows a lot of similarities with THE Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE. There the family consists of cannibalistic madmen; in American Gothic they are catholic fanatics. While TCM is a suspenseful and sickening screamfest, AG relies more on its creepy atmosphere and disturbing themes.
Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo both give a decent performance as the weird and threatening Pa & Ma. As the movie progresses we discover that they also have some 'adult children' who behave like 12-year-olds while being actually around 50 years old. A good thing is that they are not introduced at the same time, so after a while you start wondering how many more of these freaks there are in this family. Their performances are also rather eerie. The rest of the cast is however pretty bad.
So this family has been living on this island for many years following one motto: All outsiders are sinners and must die, in God's name... And so they do (one highlight amongst the killings involves a swinging rope and the edge of a cliff). I do find, however, that the killings could have used a little more on-screen gory bloodshed considering the brutal nature of them. But the corpses do tend to 'hang around' (pun-intended). Other disturbing themes this movie has are necrophilia and incest. Though we never get to see these acts, the idea alone is sick enough. Further more it raises questions about parental education going horribly wrong and obsessive religious behaviour.
A lot of movies have a character in it which has had a traumatic experience in his/her life, which is explained to the viewer often by annoying flashbacks, which have completely nothing to do with the main story-line. I hate it when that happens. American Gothic also has such a sub-plot involving Cynthia. The bad thing: It's executed very poorly and the subplot itself is an insult to the intelligence of every young mother. While bathing her baby (in a full-size bath) Cynthia rushes off to answer the phone downstairs. Then she has to run to the kitchen to check on a stew which was cooking in the meantime. I think I do not have to say what happens to the baby... The good thing: the traumatic experience runs through the movie like a continuous thread (stupid at first; clever & gruesome in the end). The ending itself is rather good, so I won't give it away. But I can tell you this: After almost every youngster is killed, you'd expect this movie to end, but it doesn't. It goes on a little bit longer providing us a few surprises.
One final word about the musical score. Over the opening credits we hear this ridiculous theme along the lines of the DALLAS TV-show. Very bad and totally not suitable for this type of movie. But when our youngsters arrive at the island, the soundtrack changes using dark cellos, undefinable scraping sounds, drowsy slide guitars,... And it works, all adding up to the creepyness of the movie.
If you stuck with me and read this review, I think you can understand my mixed feelings about this movie. And though I do not consider it to be a bad movie, I can't recommend it as a masterpiece either. All I can say is: give it a try, it has something going for it, you figure out what.
...Now if I could just get my hands on that other controversial John Hough movie: THE INCUBUS... He got me curious with this one.
Up until this point, we assume that this is only a very peculiar family, but the truth is that Ma and Pa are religious fundamentalist who condemn and punish everything that is disapproved by the Bible, and they have trained their "children" to be that way too. As it is expected, the young friends and their modern lifestyle don't quite fit with the family's traditional values and it doesn't take long for the carnage to begin.
"American Gothic" is one of those films where it's very hard not to like the killers more than the victims. The family members are judgmental and self-righteous, which are two qualities that many people dislike, but it is also evident that they simply don't know any better as a consequence of living in seclusion and having been trained to strictly obey the Bible. At first, Ma and Pa actually seem to mean well, since they offer shelter without expecting anything in return. However, this so-called act of kindness could also be explained through the Bible, which they seem to follow unconditionally ("Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless"). It is uncertain whether Ma and Pa were being nice out of kindness or if they were only obeying the book, but regardless of their primary motives, they help the young friends nonetheless. On the other side, these ungrateful bastards show no respect, they laugh at the family's lifestyle, make fun of the obviously mentally ill "children" and expect the family to adjust to their lifestyle, so in the end, one sort of expects them to die horribly. Even though the modern audience would most likely relate to the young friends, at the same time, it is easy to understand why the family members were out to get them. It is evident that the family doesn't kill just to please the Lord, they also get pleasure from it but they are immune from prosecution due to insanity and still less offensive than the young group. The other reason to like the family of lunatics more than the young friends, is that the family members are actually funny and likable due to their hilarious insanity. Crazy characters tend to be more appealing, at least compared to these nasty and generic young characters. I wouldn't exclusively blame "American Gothic" for providing unlikeable victims, as this is a common thing in slasher films. Perhaps, in some cases, it is intentional and we are supposed to root for the bad guys or even take these films as a cautionary tale with some kind of moral, like in this case "Don't be a disrespectful jerk to those who have different values" or "don't barge in and expect the others to adjust to your own ways".
"American Gothic" provides a few funny moments and lines, which in some cases seem intentional and in other cases not. For instance: I think the family members, especially Fanny, are supposed to be somewhat humorous. I refuse to believe that these over-the-top characters were not deliberately written to provide a few laughs. The acting on the other hand, is one of the things that had me chuckling once or twice and I don't think this was supposed to happen. The beautiful Yvonne De Carlo plays the part of Ma and she does it very well. Rod Steiger on the other hand, mostly gave a solid performance, but I also found his acting to be over the top sometimes, which provides this film with a nice campy nature. Actress Janet Wright basically steals the show with her performance of Fanny, the daughter. Not only she manages to be deliberately funny, she also portrays a character that is somehow likable in a condescending way (sort of like a mental patient claiming to be Napoleon, maybe?).
As for the gore, there really isn't much and towards the last minutes, we get a lot of murders in a very short period of time, but it seems rushed and it is hard to appreciate them. I think this is a little bit disappointing, as gore and creative murders are usually expected in films like this. The low amount of gore doesn't ruin an otherwise entertaining film, but it sure gives the feeling that something is missing.
This film goes to a safe place by using the classic formula of a group of moronic friends becoming stranded in a deserted place and ending up dead. "American Gothic" goes out of its way to avoid being too generic and makes a noble effort to stand out, by offering a very colorful family of villains and it works pretty good, even if it's unintentionally funny for moments. We also get a far-fetch twist towards the end, which I won't spoil, but I will say that I found it a little bit unnecessary and rushed, although not enough to ruin a film that is mostly fun and respectable.
'American Gothic' is a genuinely frightening and offbeat kind of horror film. It's not a slasher flick, but has the feel of one. Like a backwoods kind of horror movie. The family is truly creepy and lives in seclusion, away from the modern world. Yvonne De Carlo and Rod Steiger were brilliant as "Ma" and "Pa". All of the acting was effective, but the one stand out for me was Janet Wright as "Fanny". Just so creepy throughout the entire thing as a 40 something year old woman looking and behaving like a young child. There is some gore in this as well, nothing too over the top, but well done nonetheless.
There is an interesting backstory to our main character involving her being responsible for the accidental drowning of her baby. It ties into her mental state and interactions with the family very well. I recommend this!
The set-up works very well, and the isolation of the island our ultimately doomed party finds themselves stuck on makes the unlikely scenario play out as plausible. Things get a bit tricky when they encounter their murderous hosts, however, and the film stumbles a bit by not capitalizing on a great opportunity to build some suspense once our future victims find themselves in the family's lair. Our first introduction to Ma and Pa is pretty much enough to reveal that something is clearly out of whack with them, and once we meet their certifiably insane daughter Fanny it gets hard to believe that our protagonists would opt to stick around and let their impending fates play out. The film would work much better if it initially presented the homicidal clan as deceptively benign, and there might be some actual scares on hand if the macabre and sickening truths of the family were less thinly veiled. This seems like a wasted opportunity, and it's one of the main reasons this otherwise entertaining offering stays mired in the "decent" category.
Once the predictable slasher elements begin to unfold, American Gothic loses some of the steam it builds up to that point. While the film's first death is certainly an original and mirthful bit of mayhem, the killings that follow it are largely rote, textbook fare and offer nothing that will get fans of the genre too excited, unless you've been jonesing to see someone have their eye gouged out by the lance of a pewter knight figurine. The splatter on hand is disappointingly paltry, and only Fanny's eventual come-uppance generates any shock value on that front.
Far more impactful are some of the grisly nuances of the family's skewed domestic existence. Fanny's "baby" is a horrifying addition to the proceedings, as is the incestuous implications of a particularly unsettling conversation between her and one of her dim-witted brothers. Ma and Pa's brimstone-spewing religious zealotry is likewise a nice touch, and adds another portion of mental instability onto their already full plates.
The film loses itself at times, especially in regard to Paul, the lone member of the stranded group who remains at their campsite instead of venturing into Ma and Pa's picturesque house of horrors, who isn't mentioned or checked on until after the gang has spent a full two days soaking in the family's sickness. It isn't until things get totally screwy and the body count has already begun that any of our unfortunate castaways even think of him, and by that point in the film, we've pretty much forgotten about him as well. Since he isn't noted during the course of events that play out in his absence, the eventual discovery of his body doesn't really pack all that much of a punch, even though he is granted one of the grislier deaths in the film.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of American Gothic is that it is the only movie in the 80's slasher canon that features two actors with Oscar-winning fare on their resumes, Rod Steiger and Michael Pollard (from In The Heat Of The Night and Bonnie And Clyde, respectively). Predictably, their performances are the strongest of the ensemble, although Sarah Torgov ably holds her own as our lone survivor and heroine. Janet Wright should also be mentioned for her indelible rendering of Fanny, who pretty much steals the show as the most disturbing character in the film.
The thoughtful back-story given to Torgov's Cynthia makes the rather abrupt shifts in her character easy to swallow, and seeing her align with the group responsible for slaughtering her friends becomes the most chilling aspect of the movie. Unfortunately, her eventual emergence from this trance to get revenge on Ma and Pa and their backwoods brood unfolds in a terse and hurried manner, so we don't really get as much of a payoff as we end up hoping for, save for the afore-mentioned brutalizing of Fanny. While Cynthia's rage toward Ma and Pa's "little girl" makes sense in the course of the story, from a viewer's standpoint the balance of revenge seems just a bit uneven when you consider how relatively easy her sadistic necrophiliac brother Teddy gets off.
The film ends on a nicely bleak note, again echoing Texas Chainsaw Massacre by picturing our heroine as damaged beyond repair as the credits roll. This subtle and untidy finish leaves a sour taste behind, and provides a fitting denouement to a movie that relishes in its most unpleasant aspects.
American Gothic is not a must-see, but in its best moments it is a largely intelligent and sufficiently original take on a tested formula. There are enough ghoulishly engaging moments to ensure that this film won't be forgotten as soon as you eject the disc, and for that alone it stands out amidst a very crowded decade for the genre. Definitely worth a look, but don't expect to find a classic here.
The family doesn't take kindly to swearing, fornicating or smoking, and many of the guests meet unfortunate ends when they don't follow the family's rules. But one guest has a tragic past that she turns to her advantage.
"American Gothic" is interesting strictly for its big-name stars plumbing the depths of their careers. As a B-movie, it rates a C. I was never bored, but I was never captivated, either. "American Gothic" is so bad it's ... well, just very average.
HIGHLIGHT: One character is goaded by the `kids' into riding on a rope swing hanging over a steep cliff only to have one of them cut the rope with an axe and send him soaring far out into the rocky sea below.
It's possible to be stranded on an island and meet strange seemingly "backwards" people who seem innocent enough, but have a twisted view of what's right and wrong, and an insane idea that they are in charge of other people's actions. I've known people like Ma and Pa, who you wouldn't want to mess with if you pulled off the faux sheep cover.
Every inch of this movie could have happened to any one of us, the insanity, the self-righteousness, the hideousness, the out-of-this world notions--well maybe not every piece. I mean, what parents would allow their adult children to behave that way?
The most amazing way that this movie affected me, was that I cheered Cynthia on in the end---and that scares me, because, like I said-- "It could have happened to me....or you!!"
If you want to be baffled and scared to death, watch "American Gothic". It will make you think twice about the people you come in contact with.