Director – Danny Steinmann
Cast – Stephen Furst, Barbara Bach, Sydney Lassick, Lelia Goldoni, Karen Lamm, Douglas Barr
Release Year – 1981
Reviewed by John of the Dead
A few years ago I tried watching all of the 1980 films I could get my hands on, but this one I had not heard of until last night. The Unseen provides a familiar storyline but manages to blend together some zany antics involving incest, wacky characters, and a few decent kills. While it has its moments it also has too many moments where not enough is going on. I liked what I saw but this effort left me wishing it had delivered more tenacity during its horror / kill sequences. Keep reading for more on that later.
TV newswoman Jennifer Fast (Barbara Bach), her sister, and a friend must travel out of town for Jennifer’s TV spot, and a local festival leaves all nearby hotels without vacancy. Left with no other choice, they accept a quirky older man’s offer to stay at his large farmhouse on the outskirts of town, completely unaware of the dangers that lurk within the home – the unseen.
We’ve seen it before with Motel Hell, Vacancy, and all other films where desperate travelers must hole-up for the night at a sketchy establishment; unaware of the trouble they just bought themselves. What happens is the women, in search of the last possible hotel in town, arrive at a now defunct hotel serving as a local museum. The hotel’s caretaker is Ernest Keller, an older gentleman who has been in charge of the hotel since his father passed away 20 years prior. Ernest is more than happy to provide his home as affordable lodging for the two young ladies, and he is sure to mention he has a wife – something that immediately makes him less creepy to them. They accept, but once they arrive at the home something just is not right. His wife, Virginia, is not pleased to see them and seems to be trembling in fear. At the 25 minute mark we learn why Virginia was trembling when she saw the three girls in her home. Someone, or something is lurking the air vents and uses them to kill one of the girls. It seems Virginia feared for their safety and knew their fate when they accepted Ernest’s invitation. The remainder of the film is hit and miss. There are a few more kills but the story just didn’t take off for me. There is a revelation in the third act that I saw coming once the first kill hit the screen, and I am sure you will see it too. I did enjoy the final act, but it left me wishing the rest of the film had hit as hard as it did. The writers wanted to keep you guessing, and unfortunately there wasn’t enough substance to keep me engaged during this development.
There may be a reason why this lack of engagement occurred. When I mentioned the lack of tenacity earlier it seems director Danny Steinnman also noticed that. This is so much the case that Steinnman, disappointed that the final cut of the film eliminated its best scares, had his name removed and appeared under the pseudonym Peter Foleg. Nonetheless, his direction of the film is pretty good. He gets a solid performance from actor Sydney Lassick (Ernest Keller), and he stole the show every time he hit the screen. I did not find the sets used to be very engaging, although I did enjoy the gloomy atmosphere seen during the film’s final sequences. His execution of the horror is OK. I liked what I saw; I just did not see enough of it. I would be willing to re-watch the film with the additional scenes that Steinnman claims were cut as I can only assume, if they were as good as what I saw, this would be a much better effort.
Overall, The Unseen is a film with some good moments but unfortunately they are too and far between. If you are looking for 80s films that went under the radar then this is definitely one of them.