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American Gothic (1988)

DVD Cover (Trinity Home Entertainment)
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 / 10
6 votes
Horror, Slasher Film
John Hough John Hough
Sarah Torgov Sarah Torgov
Terence Kelly Terence Kelly
Mark Erickson Mark Erickson
Caroline Barclay Caroline Barclay
Mark Lindsay Chapman Mark Lindsay Chapman
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Review by Chad
Added: August 02, 2007
It's time once again for a blast from the past, and this time around, we find ourselves with one of those 80's slashers that nearly everyone who grew up during that era has seen (or at least, seen sitting on the video store shelf). What sets this one apart from the rest of the pack, however, is the fact that it isn't exactly your typical slasher; yes, it is one by the very definition of the word, but how many slashers feature senior citizens doing the killing? Oh, and how many of them feature both Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo (the original Lily Munster) in the leading roles?

This particular adventure begins when a group of young teens (isn't it always young teens?) decide to board a small plane and head to an island getaway for the weekend. They end up on an island alright, but thanks to some plane troubles, it's not exactly the one that they had in mind. They soon discover that the island is deserted save for an eccentric couple who refuse to be called anything but Ma and Pa (Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo) along with their "children" - Fanny (Janet Wright), Woody (Michael J. Pollard), and Teddy (William Hootkins) - who act and dress like kids but are easily in their forties. That's a great way to spoil the weekend, but at least people don't wind up dead, right? Well, wrong... these teens start dropping like flies once Ma and Pa find out about their wicked ways, and it's up to Cynthia (Sarah Torgov) - the leader of the group - to get the survivors off the island alive.

Alright, so it doesn't exactly sound like the most horrifying slasher of all time, but it does take itself fairly seriously for the most part. That's the biggest shocker of all, especially considering the subplot about the "children" that springs up towards the middle of the running time. In the end, however, it turns out to be another one of those typical slashers that littered video stores during the eighties: a group of characters are introduced, a set of villains appear, people die, it ends with a bloody showdown between the lone survivor and the villains, and we wrap things up with a nice little bow on top. That's not a bad thing for fans of the genre, but those of you expecting to find something original or groundbreaking will probably be disappointed.

One thing that I particularly enjoyed about the film is something that may or may not have been intentional. You see, in most movies of this nature, we're supposed to side with the "innocent" people and hope that they can manage to get out of whatever mess that they find themselves in. Well, the gorehounds in the audience may disagree with that, but I'm sure you get my point. Anyway, that is far from the case here as I found myself siding with the seniors in scene after scene, and when the killings started up, I thought that they were completely justified if not a little over-the-top. These teens were just flat out disrespectful to their elders: mocking them, smoking at the kitchen table, refusing to eat the food that was served to them, digging around in their house, and even wearing their clothes as a joke. We're even supposed to feel sympathy for one character because she let her newborn child die by leaving it alone in the bathtub while she talked with her boyfriend on the phone and cooked dinner!

I mentioned that I wasn't entirely sure whether or not this was intentional, and while I realize that it sounds like it is on paper, the way that it's presented leaves it all up in the air. The director could have been setting up justification for these killings, or he could have simply been trying to present these characters as being "cool" to the teenagers who would fill the theaters or pick this up on VHS. What's that saying that they have down in the deep south - something about "he needed a killin'" - that excuses murder in the eyes of the law? Well, it applies perfectly here.

Overall, it's a fairly entertaining film for fans of these eighties slashers and it may have a few flaws, but the perks balance things out. The gore isn't up to snuff for the genre as its both minimal and far from original, but on the other hand, there's actually an enjoyable storyline here that goes beyond "a group of girls decide to have a slumber party and a killer shows up." Plus, it was a treat and a half to watch both Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo ham things up in their roles, and their names alone make this worthy of a rental at the very least. 7/10.
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Edd #1: Edd - added 08/02/2007, 09:28 AM
Super duper great film.
Tristan #2: Tristan - added 08/02/2007, 09:58 AM
Watched this with the lady friend. Loved it.
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