Funeral Home (1981) Review

When young Heather (Lesleh Donaldson) takes a summer job at her grandmother’s bed and breakfast, she finds herself in the middle of several mysteries. At night Heather hears angry voices coming from the basement. And some of the guests vanish before checking out. The biggest mystery to Heather is the disappearance of Grandpa, affectionately called Chalmers the embalmer by the locals. She’s sure the answers to all of the mysteries is somewhere in the basement. Unfortunately for Heather, the killer is also lurking in the cellar.

William Fruet directs Funeral Home with a subtle hand. Instead of drowning the cast and viewers in buckets of blood, Fruet takes a much more atmospheric route (late night thunderstorms, branches scratching on windows, a black cat following the cast, and the old house whispering Heather’s name) to generate suspense. Ida Nelson’s script captures small town life quite nicely, but the big twist ending borrows too heavily from another slasher film. It’s a shame, really, because Funeral Home has an engaging story until the viewer gets hit with the “I’ve seen this trick before” ending.

Funeral Home’s strongest attribute is the actors. Most of the characters are just so damn likable because of the strong performances and the familiar faces. Lesleh Donaldson is the heart of the film. The viewer follows this innocent young girl with pig-tails and doe eyes on a journey into a nightmare. We want to warn her when danger is near. Kay Hawtry, as Grandma Chalmers, supplies the backbone. Hawtry’s character has a strong moral compass and only gets stern with those that cross those boundaries. Thank’s to Hawtry’s acting, Grandma never degenerates into “mean old bitch” territory.

The supporting cast is also very sharp. Alfred Humphreys is Joe, the resident Deputy Barney Fife. Eventhough Joe is something of a town joke, Humphreys plays him smart. Despite the ridicule of the locals and his superiors, Joe never stops digging into the mystery of the missing people. Harvey Atkin could have wandered through the film with VICTIM across his forehead. Instead, Aktin gives Joe much more depth. He’s loud, flashy in a sleazy way, and leaves the wife and kids at home so he can spend quality time with bar tramps. Not a likable guy, but he is a nice contrast to the laid back locals.

Funeral Home is the type of slasher that relies on story and actor performances instead of blood and boobs. Fans of Canadian slashers will enjoy the slasher all-star cast. Donaldson also appears in Happy Birthday to Me and plays the ice skater in Curtain’s most terrifying sequence. Al Humphreys is better known as the practical joker in My Bloody Valentine. Harvey Atkin gets killed by Michael Ironside in Visiting Hours. William Fruet went on to direct the college slasher Killer Party.

Funeral Home (1980) (DVD)

Director: William Fruet
Starring: Kay Hawtrey, Lesleh Donaldson, Barry Morse, Dean Garbett, Stephen E. Miller

List Price: $9.99 USD
New From: $9.99 In Stock
Used from: $4.99 In Stock
Release date November 12, 2007.
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