Funeral Home (1980)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2008-03-23 07:04
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Directed by: William Fruet
Written by: Ida Nelson
Produced by: William Fruet


Reviewed by: Brett H.







“What are you doing on my brand new car, eh?”

Canada’s involvement in the world of horror has been minute, but nonetheless the country I call home has created a high profile horror picture or two, and a whole lot more unknown gems/bombs. The works of David Cronenberg are well documented and slasher aficionados will recognize Canadian blood-spillers like Prom Night, Curtains, and Black Christmas. Canadian horror films are lacking in the world of DVD, but companies such as Mill Creek Entertainment have released a few of these diamonds in the rough on their budget releases. Lethbridge native William Fruet is no stranger to the horror genre, having directed such horror “epics” as Killer Party, Death Weekend and Spasms. As ashamed as I am to admit, I’ve not been acquainted with most of his work. That is, until now.

Heather (Lesleh Donaldson) is on vacation from school for the summer and decides to go and spend time with her grandmother. Grandma Maude Chalmers (Kay Hawtrey) has transformed the family’s old funeral home into a sort of bed & breakfast and needs a little help around the place, even with long-time odd-jobber Billy Hibbs (Stephen E. Miller) kicking around. Billy is very slow and lives out back of the house in an old shed and does well in doing the manly jobs around the place. The man of the house, James Chalmers has been missing for a few years and it’s not really apparent what has happened to him, although rumours fly around like mad throughout the small town of North Hampton that he took off with a woman when Maude was recovering from a nervous breakdown.

Heather fits right in during her stay in the small community as she becomes very acquainted with a boy who had picked her up when Maude’s old truck wouldn’t run and she was left without a ride when she got off the bus. Heather’s stay is mostly pleasant, her grandma is old fashioned and doesn’t exactly trust Heather going out late with her boyfriend, but she lets her be. One night Heather hears voices coming from the cellar, as thought two people were conversing and having a small disagreement. She goes to check it out and ends up knocking over a jar of canned apples. She books it back up to level ground and slips into her bed as though nothing has happened. Grandma Maude emerges from behind a curtain in the cellar and utters to someone… something beyond the curtain. “Don’t touch her, or even go near her! You mustn’t let anyone see you…”

Funeral Home is a very interesting body count film from a time when slashers were quickly going to turn for the worst and become boring and cliché. While borrowing heavily from Psycho in terms of insanity and mystery, Funeral Home manages to bring together the aforementioned film and a cheesy 80s vibe to form a fun little movie. Unlike many slashers of the era, there is a good amount of mystery to the film and there’s actually a story to speak of. Due to Maude’s old ways, there is at least one kill that is morally driven (a couple was living in sin), although that aspect of the film isn’t really important as the mystery is the real motive of the film rather than racking up a plethora of corpses. As a whole, the acting ranges from decent to cheesy, but the styles of clothes are reflective of the times and are sure to get a chuckle out of the viewer. The characters are mostly likable as they aren’t the traditional fucking/sucking/toking slasher characters at all, and the lifelong resident cop is a hoot, no one in the town takes him seriously as they’ve known him since he was knee high to a grasshopper. Characters are not especially well rounded or anything like that, but I’ll take downright Canadian hospitality over generic teens any day of the week.

Further creating a wedge between Funeral Home and the average slasher is the atmosphere. The old house is downright creepy and the director uses night scenes to the film’s advantage. The cellar is the scariest aspect, I would hate to walk down there alone in the middle of the night. It is most definitely the type of place where the mind would play tricks on you and the poor quality of the transfer really adds to this, especially when you know there is a secret held within and no one is allowed down there. If your grandparents had an old house with a creepy basement (mine did), this is the film that will bring back memories because it captures the feel perfectly. When Heather first hears the voices, there is a wonderful shot in which the camera travels all throughout the house and down the stairs into the cellar before focusing in on the silhouette of someone behind it and it is one of the moodiest scenes I’ve seen in a slasher ever. Other parts of film are reminiscent of an old CBC movie and that surely helps make the film feel closer to home. Although the police reference America in one scene dealing with missing persons, a bit later a Canadian flag is seen in the background. Funeral Home has much Canadian flavour and captures small town Ontario perfectly. You know this for certain when Maude scolds a tenant for leaving empties lying around, informing him that this place isn’t a “beer parlour.”

It’s really nice to see the strong Canadian touches in the film and it gives it a nice sense of individuality among a slough of slasher trash. Hell, I can’t prove it but I’d put money on the silver spoon lure used in the fishing scene being a Len Thompson, a staple of every Canadian’s tackle box. The film also much reflects on small town gossip that is present all over this great nation along with a slight clashing of old and new customs and the changing of society. The character of James Chalmers (“Chalmers the Embalmer!”), a former undertaker is interestingly portrayed, as the people of the town think he’s an asshole whereas Maude tells stories of him as though he was a saint. A nice morbid touch occurs in a flashback where it’s revealed that James never let the people he prepared for burial be seen, except in one case. An eight-year-old boy had died and his family was too poor to afford pictures, so he allowed the boy to be photographed. It’s pretty disturbing that the one picture the family has to remember their loved one by is him as a corpse. When the mystery of the secret is unfolded and the killer is revealed, the film does it nearly as good as the best slashers out there and it packs a good jolt. That’s not to say the scenario doesn’t cross your mind during your viewing, but nonetheless it’s a fun little guessing game to participate in.

There is no nudity and it’s not a gore driven film, but the transfer of Mill Creek’s DVD is just taken from a VHS and it’s hard to make a lot out. There’s one scene involving a pickaxe that seemingly has some red stuff, but you can’t really tell. There’s also a few white lines that rise up and down through the picture in dark scenes, but seeing as the movie can be purchased for what averages out to around 33 cents in the Chilling Classics: 50 Movie Pack, I’m not complaining too much. It’d be nice to see everything with more clarity, but that VHS feel really compliments the film. The music is good and succeeds in getting you involved despite the DVD’s audio track being pretty muffled and there are quite a few instances where you can’t figure out dialogue. Overall every slasher fan is going to want to get their bloody paws on this one for repeated viewings, especially if you’re Canadian; and a living room double bill of Funeral Home and Don’t Look in the Basement would be ideal. The movie brings forth a spooky tone and psychological mystery that most slashers simply do not, and yet it still maintains all the wonderful cheese you expect from an 80s slasher. Funeral Home is Canada’s Psycho! Buy it!



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