Directed by: Howard Avedis
Starring: Bill Paxton, Christopher and Lynda Day George, David Wallace, Mary McDonough
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If you’ve been fortunate enough to walk into a petrol station or a newsagents during the last twenty-years in the UK, chances are you’ve seen the boxes they have on counters that contain cheap DVDs. This Is not a trend that’s exclusive to Britain, as I’ve come across similar concepts all over the world. Well, back in the late eighties there used to be bargain buckets of VHS where you now find those budget discs. I was always a fan of horror flicks and I remember that in one such place, I found ‘One Dark Night’ and ‘Embalmed’ at an affordable pocket-money price. Both had equally as gratuitous zombie box art, but upon watching them later, I discovered that only one of them had any actual zombies in it. Embalmed must have made some enemies before the introduction of the Internet, because it has arguably the most misleading cover artwork anywhere ever. Just look at that picture. I mean jeez…
Now this flick has already got a reputation for being a bit cheesy and there’s a (very good) review on Hysteria Lives, which outlines all the silly parts (it has many). So as not to bore you with the same comments though, I decided to go in with an open mind and give you the lowdown on the film’s other ‘strengths’
Since her father died (murdered in the opening by an unseen assailant with a baseball bat), Christie has been suffering from nightmares and she has been sleepwalking. It doesn’t help that a masked loon in a cape is stalking her everywhere she goes too. Is she really as deluded as her mother makes out or is there a killer on the loose?
If you have a glass in your hand, you may want to put it down before I say this. I actually really enjoyed watching Embalmed and found to be, believe it or not, downright creepy in places. It’s blessed with a neat score and although maybe a tad too dark, the scenes inside Christie’s house are suspenseful and foreboding. It’s hard to find this movie in its totally uncut format, but one or two of the murders are very well staged and the heartbeat on the soundtrack keeps the tension at a compulsive level. There’s a sharp stalking sequence about halfway through, where Avedis makes great use of the killer’s heavy breath, and the embalming pipe is an authentic tool for gooey murder.
The performances interchange from campy to pretty decent constantly throughout. I thought that David Wallace was solid and Lynda Day George carried two opposing identities comfortably. She came across as both suspicious when necessary and then charming much later and boy was she packing a bod in that negligee. Mary McDonough (formerly known as squeaky clean Erin from the Waltons) let the side down a bit by going OTT when she should have just played it straight, but Christopher George was at his grisly best in his final cinematic outing. It’s Bill Paxton that steals the show here though, by taking an eccentric character to the borders of normality and then breaking them down with his eagerness to steal the limelight. You may not enjoy his performance as much as I did, but you can’t say he didn’t give it his all
It’s the screenplay that is the film’s biggest weakness and the reason behind the accusations of extravagant cheesiness. It doesn’t seem content being either Glen or Glenda and sets up moments that are bordering on gothic suspense, only to ruin them with some gobsmackingly inept dialogue. Another example of this ‘tone-changing’ can be found at the conclusion, which after a credibly tense build up, just falls to pieces in the final scene. I was really enjoying the momentum as the killer sat all the corpses in chairs like the identical set-up from Happy Birthday to Me, but then it’s like the intelligence vacated the project and stupidity crept right in. It’s hard to understand what the screenwriter was thinking, but I’m guessing that by this point, he had smoked one blunt too many.
There’s a subplot involving the mortician and his taste for black masses that edges on a supernatural sheen, but never really drives it anywhere, and I wondered if that was due to the loss of interest from the producers halfway through the shoot? Now I have been told – and by a pretty good source – that this was originally intended to have a very big budget and that there are a lot of scenes (including some more blood) that never made the final print. Now whether this will ever see light of day is another matter, but could the black masses be part of another branch of the story? Embalmed doesn’t play like a half-finished feature and there’s no gaping plot-holes that I recall, but I always imagine myself as the screenwriter and I would definitely only include big scenes if they had a purpose. There is a pay off for the seance stuff, but it serms like a half-hearted one. Almost as if, the filmmakers didn’t have the budget to do what they really wanted? The problem that we have with this film is that it’s not very popular, so no one has really bothered to look deep in to the stories behind its development. The fact that it is not on DVD means that any chance of getting our questions answered is still a long way off. Perhaps we never will.
I guess in a way that Embalmed can be whatever you want it to be. For some its a cheese three-course meal that is extremely funny, others say that it drags too much in the hands of its characters. Me, well I thought it was pretty good and I rather enjoyed watching it. Director Howard Avedis would return to the cycle with They’re Playing with Fire, which was a tad more nonsensical than this.
One more thing, I was not one of those that picked this up expecting a zombie gore flick and was totally disappointed (I am sure many of you were). I was always more of a slasher nut and the living dead were simply second best, so I actually got a nice surprise. But just look at that cover again. Nowadays, people would sue…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√