Friday, January 2, 2009

American Gothic Review

American Gothic

The year is 1988 and another classic horror movie came out, and for years I passed by it on the video store shelf, but eventually mustered up the courage to see it. That film is none other than American Gothic.

The movie has a simple plot. A group of twenty something’s are going out on a vacation when their plan has an emergency landing, causing them to get stuck in what is the middle of nowhere. The crew stumble upon a cabin where a strict biblical family lives and things really get bad for them overall.

They discover that the elderly couple have middle age children, but they act and dress like little kids. The father and mother are overtly Christian and really take things to the extreme. As time progresses in the film, they are all slaughtered, leaving an interesting ending for everyone to enjoy, and no I didn’t spoil this one.

Here is a trailer for American Gothic:

The movie really has subpar acting. The actors try to be serious, but they really blow their lines and their decisions are mired by poor acting. The best acting is done by the family who play their roles so well. Ma and Pa are genuinely scary and the kids are surprisingly good, and over the top in their roles.

The scenes are kind of dreary, even though they are in what appears to be the Northwest forest, it just doesn’t seem lively at all. The movie even gets boring towards the middle and you really hope something is going to happen, then the glass ceiling shatters on you and we start to see things go down from bad to worse.

The people involved are constantly trying to get away, as things progress from creepy to deadly. There is some great gore effects, especially one scene where a girl shoves a unicorn into the eye of a victim. It is a great scene and overall good stuff in the effects department. The scene involving a basement full of “human dolls” is also equally as creepy and insane. I haven’t seen something like that in recent memory, except for the short lived horror television movie “Cabin by The Lake” which featured human gardens under water.

American Gothic Ma

Why Is American Gothic Scary?: This is an interesting question. The movie doesn’t terrify me at all. I am not overtly threatened by the film, nor do I fear the woods or the people that live out there. However, there are some genuinely scary notions cast throughout the film.

If you follow along you see madness settle in our one character, Cynthia. Cynthia is so traumatized by the loss of her child (we learn through flashbacks) that the sequences that involve her friends being slaughtered create a stigma for her mind and she really has problems overall. Towards the end of the film she becomes more and more desensitized, and you begin to cheer for her as she becomes the final girl in the film. Just like other 80’s horror movies, this one has a great twist ending and really does have a good revenge theme at the closing. The scary part is the real cases in history where madness caused someone to start killing. Some might be quick to cite films like, “The Amityville Horror” , “The Number 23”, “Identity”, “Secret Window”, or “Terror Train” as films that share the madness of the villain and overall turn of the hero. The difference here is that the villains are not figments of imagination or identity crisis’s in general. The slow moving madness of Cynthia really parallels a lot of cases in our world. For instance, we can claim that Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy were all criminally insane and are examples of how far out your mind can get to the point of killing. It is scary how much trauma can manifest itself into the current situation and turn your mind into a complete psychopathic state of being. We see this in Cynthia, and her transformation through the film, as subtle as it plays out is insane.

Adult children scare me. They should scare you too. I’m not talking about the adult children found in movies like, “Jack” or the man child movies like “Step Brothers”, “Grandma's Boy” and other comedies perpetuating the stereotype that any adult that plays video games is automatically immature. I’m talking about psychologically disturbed individuals that believe they truly are children. I’ve never met any adult children in my lifetime, but this movie sure makes things insane. The parts that really showcase scary motives is how sexuality is treated. There are two children that are having incest, but we are lucky not to see them. They make references to sex in their dialogue with each other and they treat it as a disgusting act that for whatever reasons they are drawn to.

What makes things even worse in the sexuality department is that there is a rape scene involving necrophilia. This is punished however when Pa finds out what has happened, he beats the living daylights out of his grown up son, and it is an interesting scene to note. Over thinking this film is easy, as these character traits are a psychology project in themselves, and they really create the synapse for terror in this film.

Outside of these two examples, it is a terrible thing to be lost on vacation. It is even worse considering that this movie does not cite futurism at all. There are no cell phones, no computers, no internet, no phones even! There is no electricity or modernity to speak of. The scariest thing about the film is when you really allow yourself to get caught up with the time period. What would you do if you had no gps, no phone, no comforts at all? Could you survive this plot?

After viewing this film and thinking about it, I really considered what I would do. I would have tried to swim for it, the landing of the plane occurs on a lake or the beginnings of an ocean. I would rather swim and drown than to be bludgeoned in the head with a unicorn spike or get thrown off a cliff while on a swing set. Oh modernity! I probably would drown, I have no stamina, I’m a sitting duck.

American Gothic came out in 1988, it is among one of my favorite films of all time. It really reminds me of a lot of other horror movies out there, and it does stand alone as an interesting take on a lot of scary themes. While most people might think it is only a slasher, it really provides an interesting twist on the genre. In the long scope of things, it’s not that great at all. It’s a subpar slasher film at best, but I like it. This one is going in the guilty pleasure pile, as it really has some cool sequences, and isn’t as well known as some other films. I recommend American Gothic if you’re a fan of 80’s horror, just don’t expect a big budget or anything overtly crazy. There are some good spills, a good twist at the end, and an interesting look at a horrible situation.

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  1. Wow - one of your all-time favorites, huh?

    With that said, I will definitely add it to my Netflix Queue!!

  2. It's a personal thing dude, don't get carried away. It's got sentimental value for me, but might not hold up too well. So don't hold it against me if this thing tanks.

  3. I like this movie too. Although it isnt the scariest film or the goriest, I think that it has something that makes it worth seeing again. I have it on dvd and I would enjoy watching it again.

  4. i saw this movie when i was seven months pregnant. when i saw the part with the mummified baby i lost it. i liked the movie, but having kids makes the effects worse on you. I had nightmares months after of a crazy lady chasing me around a big opened building carrying something wrapped in a blanket. my children are a little older now so i'm thinking about seeing the movie again in order to overcome this ridiculous disturbance i have for this movie.


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A writer first, cat lover second, and some other stuff too. Human, with lots of faults, and terrible communication.
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