31 Days of Horror: Film 5: Funeral Home (1980)

It’s time for the 31 Days of Horror: 2014 Edition. For those of you who weren’t around for last year’s journey, the plan is to watch at least 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and review them all. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy my journey down the rabbit hole.

Some movies just need to be trashier. That’s not a fact that some people are willing to admit, and it’s definitely not true of all films, but some of the low-budget horror flicks from the early ‘80s were actually a little too competently made. Funeral Home is just such a movie.

The film opens with Heather (Lesleh Donaldson) arriving in a small town to help her grandmother Maude (Kay Hawtrey) convert the titular location into a bed and breakfast. In an early scene, the exposition falls like boulders in a landslide as Maude explains how her mortician husband disappeared, leaving her with no choice but to turn the funeral home into a “tourist house,” otherwise she would lose it to the bank. Maude has trouble believing her husband would have approved of strangers wandering through the home, but she sees no way around it.

While Maude abrasively deals with the guests, Heather wonders just why her grandmother keeps the cellar door padlocked. And hey, whose voices does she hear coming from the cellar? Could the voices be connected to the several people who have gone missing in the town over the last few years? While she’s asking herself questions, just what did happen to her grandfather? That it takes Heather nearly the entire ninety minute running time to put together the clues does not speak too highly of her intelligence.

Funeral Home is not interested in upending viewer expectations. Director William Fruet and screenwriter Ida Nelson have a formula—ripped straight from maybe the most famous horror film ever—and they intend to stick to that formula, damn the boring consequences! In all honesty, they do a decent job of hitting the expected beats and turning in a fairly polished piece of work. And that’s the problem.

Everyone involved in the production seems to think they’re making a classy mystery. But the story and budgetary constraints don’t really fit with such lofty ambitions. Moments of the cheaper, sleazier movie Funeral Home should have been peek through: an obnoxious pair of guests (Harvey Atkin, Peggy Mahon) are played for vulgar laughs, a mentally challenged handyman (Stephen E. Miller, looking and acting a bit like Donnie Wahlberg trying to play “Benny” on L.A. Law) lurks in the background, a bizarre subplot finds Heather being stalked by a black cat that she responds to with disproportionate terror.

But just when it seems like an odd beat or actual turn to horror movie darkness is going to take the film in a more interesting direction, everything comes back to the easily solved main plot. Any fun to be had with the film comes from Hawtrey’s over-the-top turn and watching the best damn performance I’ve ever seen given by a cat. In all seriousness, I could never get my cat to do all the things on cue that “Mitten” the cat does in Funeral Home.

Other than some impressive feline acting, the film is something of a chore to sit through. The moments of horror are too few and too tame to make an impression and the entire plot is telegraphed by the five minute mark. It’s so stale and generic, not even Mitten’s magnetic screen presence can save it.

You can contact me at obsessivemovienerd@gmail.com and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.

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