Saturday, November 14, 2009
#73: Pin (Sandor Stern, 1988)
There is a long literary tradition of writers who are also doctors: William Carlos Williams, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Keats, Maugham, Schiller, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and on and on. This tradition doesn't seem to exist in the other arts. For example, not a single practicing physician can be found among the members of successful 1980s hair metal bands. Similarly, the movie and television industries contain very few professional medical men. Sandor Stern is a rare exception. While I don't mean to equate the screenwriter/director of such made-for-TV movies as The Seeding of Sarah Burns, Muggable Mary: Street Cop, and John and Yoko: A Love Story with Williams, Chekhov, and Keats, I do find it interesting that he was a successful family doctor/screenwriter for many years, before becoming a full-time film and TV writer/director.
Stern's background as a doctor attracted him to Andrew Neiderman's novel Pin. Stern adapted the novel into a screenplay and turned it into probably his best work. (I'm making this judgment solely from looking at the titles of his filmography, which include the aforementioned Muggable Mary: Street Cop, Shark Kill, Heart of a Child, and several episodes of Touched by an Angel.) Pin is a truly weird and effective psychological horror film. Stern's directorial style is workmanlike and perfunctory, but the directness and lack of flash serves this particular film well. What could have been a ridiculous, exaggerated, unintentional sillyfest is instead creepy and understated.
Pin's premise sounds ludicrous, so bear with me. Leon and Ursula are a brother and sister who share a close bond because their parents are nuttier than a fruitcake full of nuts. Their mother, played by the hilariously named Bronwen Mantel, is a stratospherically uptight neat freak and their family doctor father is a real piece of work who can't be summed up in one phrase. He's played by Terry O'Quinn, star of The Stepfather (the great original, not the current probably terrible remake) and the inexplicably popular television crapfest Lost. The good doctor has a life-size anatomical model named Pin (short for Pinocchio) in his office with transparent skin so one can see its innards, muscles, and organs. Pin also has a well-endowed model wang. We know this because the doctor's receptionist uses Pin as a sex toy when the office is closed and the doc is away. Here's where it gets even more ridiculous. The doctor is also a skilled ventriloquist, who throws his voice to give Pin the gift of speech and deliver educational messages to his children. In a hilarious and creepy scene, Pin gives the young siblings a birds and bees chat after they're caught with a nudie magazine.
Ursula grows up to be a relatively normal teenager, though she is a lot more sexually active than most 15-year-olds, but Leon is totally whacked, to use proper academic psychological lingo. He believes Pin is real and has inherited his father's ventriloquism gifts, though he doesn't realize he's throwing his own voice. He's become a paranoid schizophrenic with a split personality, and when an accident leaves him in charge of the household, he brings Pin home, makes a flesh-like covering for the dummy, and dresses it in his father's clothes. He gets nuttier and nuttier, and when his sister asserts her independence by getting a job at the library and dating a nice young man who wants her to commit her brother, Leon lets his freak flag fly, vengeance-style.
I realize a movie about a crazy ventriloquist who thinks a medical dummy is real sounds like the stupidest thing ever, but this movie works. Pin is creepy, suspenseful, understated, blackly comic, and nicely performed. Stern is hardly a masterful visual stylist, but he's made a dark, interesting psychological horror film here. I liked it.