Thursday, October 4, 2012

Funeral Home (1980) dir. William Fruet

a.k.a. Cries in the Night

Logline: Young Heather (Lesleh Donaldson) is off to Grandmother's house for the summer, bringing everything short of her red cap. Grandma Maude Chalmers (Kay Hawtrey) lives in an old funeral home recently converted into a bed-and-breakfast, and it would be a pleasant place to spend the night if it weren't for those sounds coming from the basement...

Crime in the Past: Grandpa Chalmers, the funeral home owner and operator, gets drunk a lot, threatens kids with corpses, and carries on an illicit affair with a woman who is decidedly not Grandma Chalmers. The latter reacts accordingly, if a bit excessively.

Bodycount: 4, embalmings were 'Buy 2 Get 2.'

Themes/Moral Code: Funeral Home's moral code is one staunchly in opposition to extramarital affairs. The inciting incident bringing about Grandma Chalmers' psychosis and her murderous tendencies is her husband's traipsing about with another woman, for which transgression they both earn their deaths before the film begins. This moral judgement is reinforced throughout the film as well, specifically through the example of Mr. Browning, a traveling business man lodging at Grandma's B&B with his nagging floozy mistress away from his wife and children. It's not as if this mistress, Florie, is painted in pleasing or sympathetic shades-- she cruelly teases and flirts with a mentally retarded groundskeeper, flashes her "goods" off to all the hunky local teens, and insults small town living at every opportunity. When she and her lover are pushed over a cliff by the killer while caught snogging in their car, it doesn't exactly feel like an injustice.

An interesting theme emerges from the fact that even though Grandpa Chalmers was a raging drunk susceptible to bouts of infidelity, you'd never know it from the way Grandma Chalmers speaks of him. Throughout the film, Grandma Chalmers is engaging in a sort of "sprucing up" of memory by attempting to alter or obscure the true grim history of her husband and their marriage. As we see with Grandma's repeated protestations of his kind nature, the fact that her husband's preserved body is stashed in the flower cellar, and her home's transformation from a mortuary into a country get away (as if placing flowers among the funerary decor will alter its inherent morbidity), Grandma Chalmers is attempting--without success--to freshen and dress up the living memory of things that there's no hiding the nature of: the dead, corrupt, and rotting. More on this below.

Killer's Motivation: Based on the above, Grandma Chalmers' motive should be apparent: she's murdering those who violate her moral code, those who slander her husband's memory, and those who pry too close to her business. But I've yet to mention the fact that Funeral Home is content to embrace its Psycho influence by having Grandma carry on conversations with herself and go a-crossdressing whenever she launches into her slashing (displacing her own personal guilt in the crimes onto him, like Norman could do with Mother). Interestingly, her mania and dissociative disorder allow her to playact as her murdered husband and rewrite him into her own desired image--as a violently pious man, in sad contrast to his actual illicit behavior.

Final Girl: The loose Red Riding Hood parallel holds strong: Heather is loyal to a fault, inquisitive without suspicion, and ineffectual in preventing her own fate. She's an amiable protagonist, with a breezy youthful charm, if never quite a captivating one or a model of perseverance and ingenuity. Her most interesting and inexplicable quirk is her terror at the sight of all cats and those felines' ingrained, hissing hatred of her. Their hostile encounters recur until the film's conclusion, when one jumps into frame while Heather is lying prone, awaiting death, and somehow saves the day. A deus ex feles, let's say. The film freezes on this little pout prior to the credits rolling. Awh.

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese:  I dig Funeral Home. At four kills, it's rather low-key, but its quaint rural humor and hazy fairytale atmosphere carry it through. The general resemblance of certain plot points would make it a nice companion feature for Nightmare Maker (1982). (Also worth noting is that Slashtober is four for four with female killers). Canadian director William Fruet would go on to direct the giddy supernatural sorority house slasher Killer Party (1986), and his star Lesleh Donaldson would develop into a bit of a mini-scream queen, with roles in slasher classics Curtains (1983) and Happy Birthday to Me (1981). Intriguingly, Donaldson was only fifteen when Funeral Home was filmed, adding a believable sheen of fresh-faced innocence to her performance and furthering that delectable fairytale association. A slasher for before bedtime.

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