Embalmed 1981 Review
Directed by: Howard Avedis
Starring: Bill Paxton, Christopher and Lynda Day George, David Wallace, Mary McDonough
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know nowadays when you walk in to a newsagent or petrol station and see a box on the counter that says DVDs £4.99? 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 lost some friends and made some enemies before the introduction of the Internet, because it has arguably the most misleading cover artwork ever. Just look at that picture. I mean jeez…
Now this flick has already got a reputation for being somewhat campy and there’s a (very good) review on Hysteria Lives, which outlines all its cheesy parts (it has many), but so as not to bore you with the same comments, I decided to go in with an open mind and give you the low down on its 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 after her every night too. Is she really as deluded as her mother makes out or is there a killer stalking her?
If you have a glass in your hand, you may want to put it down before I say this. Embalmed actually manages to be extremely good in places and has moments that are just downright creepy. 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 taut and the heartbeat on the soundtrack keeps the tension at a compulsive level. There’s a very good stalking sequence 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 identities very well. She came across as both suspicious when necessary and then charming much later and boy was she packing a bod in that negligee. I didn’t rate Mary McDonough (formerly known as squeaky clean Erin from the Waltons) too highly and felt that she overreacted at times 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 in this early role, taking the part to the borders of normality and then breaking them down with his eagerness to steal the limelight. He did very well with what he was given and added life to a bemusing script and it was exactly what the film needed.
In fact it’s the screenplay that is the film’s main blunder and the key reason as to why it’s become regarded as silly and not worthy to share a place amongst its more sinister counterparts. The dialogue is totally off the wall and although this can be highly amusing in places, it takes some of the impact away from the times that the flick could have been really scary. After a fairly good build up and the creation of an unsettling atmosphere, the final scene takes all that had been good and completely ruins it. 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 the last five minutes are a lesson in how not to end a feature and for me, completely destroy it from a scare-factor standpoint.
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 producers prior to filming? 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’s 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 I wondered if the black masses were part of another branch of the story? Now this doesn’t feel like a half-finished feature and there’s no gaping holes that I recall, but I always imagine myself as a screenwriter and if I keep reading over and over what I’ve written, I would almost definitely only include big scenes if they had a purpose. There is a pay off for the seance stuff, but it doesn’t seem like a very good one. The problem that we have with Embalmed is that it’s not very popular, so no one has really bothered to look too deep in to the stories behind its making. 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, whilst for me I thought it was quite creepy and I rather enjoyed 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 in to slashers and the living dead were always second best, so I actually got a nice surprise. But just look at that cover again. Nowadays, people would sue…
Final Girl √√
Posted on November 24, 2011, in Pure Eighties Cheese, Slasher and tagged 1981, 1983, Bill Paxton, Christopher George, Embalmed, Hot Chicas, Lynda Day George, masked killer, Mortuary, Slasher, uncut, Whodunit?. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.