Let me just start by saying- I don't know if it's all the horror movies I've had on my brain for the past few weeks or what, but I've been plagued by bad dreams the last few nights. After Alice, Sweet Alice, I had an incredibly realistic dream in which I woke up from a deep sleep and figured out that there was someone lurking downstairs in my house. And last night I dreamt that Ernest Borgnine was chasing me with a chainsaw, trying to kill me. And not just any chainsaw, but a big round one that had knives attached- so if he couldn't get close enough to cut me up, he could at least stab me from a distance. Hmm. This month could do some serious damage to my mental health, which some would say is in a precarious place to begin with.
Now, on to today's viewing, which rocked my face off, y'all- the 1988 freakfest American Gothic! Now, I don't know why I'd never seen this before. I remember seeing the box art on numerous occasions, but I guess I always assumed it would just be another ho-hum slasher and so I never took it home. What a fool I was- a fool, I tells ya- to pass by a movie featuring Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo. Yvonne De Carlo! Bah. Better late than never, I suppose.
We begin our sordid tale at a mental hospital, where Cynthia (Sarah Torgov) is being released into the custody of her husband Jeff (Mark Ericksen). While the doctor won't commit to saying that Cynthia's "cured", he feels she's ready to go home. Jeff promises to whisk her (and some friends) away to the island where they spent their honeymoon.
So Jeff and Cynthia hop into Jeff's Cessna/seaplane with four friends, off for a weekend getaway to a remote island. Unfortunately, the plane starts spewing black smoke and they have to land on another island. Uh oh. The group sets up camp for the night, and starts rockin' out to the boombox they've brought along. It's not where they'd hoped to be, but hey, like Rob (Mark Lindsay Chapman) says- "Woods are woods". How very glass-half-full. The next morning, Jeff diagnoses the plane's problem as an electrical burnout, and he can't fix it. Double uh oh. Paul (Stephen Shellen) stays behind with the plane while the rest of the group leaves to explore the island in hopes of finding someone to help.
Eventually they come across a house- hooray! Inside, the house looks as if it's still the 1920s. And no one's home at the moment, so the gang does what anyone would do in a stranger's empty house: they put on some Mary Pickford style clothes, crank up the Victrola, and dance. Soon enough, the front door opens, and there stand Rod and Yvonne to spoil the fun- or as they like to be called, "Ma" and "Pa". They don't go in fer none a that fancy stuff, like names, ya see. While Pa stands around and glares at everybody, Ma gets downright sweet and makes everybody a big dinner. Around the dinner table, things begin to slide from quaint to what the-?. Nope, they ain't got a radio or nothin'- they don't believe in them fancy contraptions. And oh, how Ma loved seeing them all dancing- anyone heard-a those new steps- that new dance- The Charleston? Cynthia has been pushing her food around her plate, not eating much, and gets severely admonished by Ma- "Don't you want to be a member of The Clean Plate Club?!". Sweet. Ma's crazy. But she's not the only one--
While exploring the downstairs, Cynthia comes across a room full of toys. The room belongs to the daughter of the family- meet Fanny. Fanny likes to play with dollies. Tomorrow is Fanny's birthday! She's gonna be 12! And so this movie has taken another turn, deeper into Weirdsville- you see, Fanny is 50 years old if she's a day. But there she is, in a dress with a bow in her hair, talking about her birthday in a child's voice. Ruh roh, Raggy.
Pa assures the gang that he's got a friend coming tomorrow by boat, who can help with the plane or at least give them a lift off the island. So, instead of heading back to camp to inform Paul, who's all alone...despite all the absolute what-the-hell?-ness of this house...the gang decides to stay the night with Ma, Pa, and Fanny. Everyone is ordered to bed at 8:30. The boys and girls sleep in separate rooms: no devil's play, no cussin', and no "but"s!
Early the next morning, Rob goes for a walk, and sees Fanny pushing someone in a swing, out over the edge of a cliff. It's brother Woody! Yes! Another member of this wacko family! Woody, too, acts like a child, but looks no younger than 40. Would Rob like a ride in the swing? Foolishly, Rob says yes, and the siblings strap him in. Higher and higher they push him, out over the long drop. Rob begins to panic, understandably, and wants to get out. In a sing-song, Fanny and Woody tease him...Woody climbs atop the swingset, and at just the right moment, cuts the ropes. Rob flies out into the air, ass still in the swing, and drops to his death. Oopsie.
Yup, we've taken a few more steps down into the basement of lunacy. We learn through flashbacks that Cynthia was in the mental hospital because she accidentally killed her baby- she left the baby unattended in the tub while she went to answer a ringing phone and tend to a pot of sauce bubbling over on the stovetop, and the baby drowned. Jeff's an awfully good husband and keeps telling Cynthia that while the baby died, it wasn't her fault...even though, you know, it kinda was. Fanny finally convinces Cynthia to come to her room to meet her baby...and when the blanket is pulled back, Fanny's "baby" is revealed to be a blackened, mummified corpse baby! Yeeaaagggh!
We then get to meet the last sibling in this family (yes, there's one more), Teddy. Lynn (Fiona Hutchison) is out having a cigarette and comes across the siblings playing jump rope. Lynn, at least, tells it like it is and calls these three all kinds of names- weirdos, freaks...right on, Lynn! But that name calling gets her into trouble, as she gets strung up a tree with the jump rope.
Jeff has finally gotten it through his head that help isn't coming, and they all need to head back to camp. He sends Terri (Caroline Barclay) off ahead, while he and Cynthia get in a little smoochie smoochie. Fanny is spying on them through a hole in the wall, however, and decides she wants Jeff. Ewww! Fanny storms in and makes it clear- by "wants", she means "wants to kill" and stabs him in the eye! Hey! You mean the 50-year-old acting like an 11-year-old really IS crazy? Cynthia runs to Ma for help, but Ma just calls 'em all "wicked girls" and threatens her with some knitting needles. Cynthia takes off, and Ma finishes off Jeff with her needles instead.
After a big, silly chase involving Fanny being held hostage with a flare gun, Terri and Cynthia discover Paul- poor, uninformed Paul- in a boat with an axe in his head. They freak out. Fanny takes Cynthia back to the house, and the boys chase Terri. They catch up with her, and Teddy breaks her neck...then gets ready for a little necrophilia action. As if the killing alone wasn't enough- sheesh! Even Woody is grossed out by this, and runs home to tell Pa.
When Teddy eventually comes home, Pa gives him the whippin' of a lifetime with a switch, as the whole family watches and chants "In the name of God, in the name of God...". Cynthia is watching, too, and just when you thought this movie couldn't get any weirder, she starts chanting along with them! Yep, in that moment, she becomes a member of the family. She ends up with a dress to match Fanny's, she finally becomes a member of the Clean Plate Club...and she gets to meet Fanny's collection of "big dollies". In the basement, Fanny's big dollies are hanging from the ceiling- there's Rob...and Paul...and Jeff...all of Cynthia's friends are there, and some other people who have visited the family, too. And Cynthia couldn't be happier. In fact, she's fitting in very, very nicely with her new family. Fitting in, that is, until Fanny wants to give the char-baby a bath. Cynthia has a flashback to her own baby's bath, and flips out even harder.
She goes on a total rampage, and, in a gruesome bit, smashes in Fanny's head with the metal washtub, killing her. She finds and kills "naughty Woody", she stabs Ma to death with her knitting needles, she gives "naughty Teddy" a scythe to the neck, and finishes off Pa with a shotgun blast in the back.
The movie ends with Cynthia in Fanny's room, rocking the baby's crib and singing softly...
Oh, man, I loved this movie. Creepy fun, cheesy fun, twisted, sick fun...and did I mention Yvonne De Carlo? This movie gets 8-and-a-half out of 10 char-babies.