Halloween Hangover 2011 : “The Carpenter”

Posted: November 26, 2011 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Once in awhile, your friendly neighborhood Trash Film Guru is exposed to a film for the first time that reminds me of exactly why it is that I love these largely-forgotten B-level (at best) cheapies ohhhh so much, and  director David Wellington’s 1988 canuxsploitation mini-masterpiece The Carpenter is the most recent example of exactly what I’m talking about here.

You probably know how it goes — we’ll sift through dozens, if not hundreds, of less-than-memorable examples of cinematic flotsam and jetsam in order to find that one diamond in the rough, and friends have I ever found one here. Although I freely admit that many loyal readers of this blog (come on! There surely must be some!) won’t share my enthusiasm for this extremely quirky straight-to-video ghost (I think — more on that later) story from north of the border, those of you who do get into the mellow, dreamlike vibe this flick exudes from the outset are going to be on a Carpenter high every bit as all-consuming as the one I’ve been on since first seeing a couple of weeks ago.

What’s so special about it, you may ask? First off, we’ve got Wings Hauser — or, as well affectionately refer to him around these parts, Wings Fucking Hauser, because he’s such a bad-ass — in his best role since Vice Squad. Next up we’ve got the surreal, like-it-or-lump-it nature of the production itself, as briefly alluded to at the outset. Sure, Wellington and company throw a lot of shit at the wall in an effort to see what sticks here — part comedy, part Lynchian absurdist nightmare, part gorefest, part low-grade soap opera, The Carpenter confidently, and nearly seamlessly, blends genres left and right in an effort that some may call haphazard, but others will appreciate for its sheer bravado and for the consistently ethereal tone it maintains throughout these numerous changes.

On the surface, things seem simple enough — Alice Jarrett (Lynne Adams) is released from a psychiatric hospital following (apparently yet another) nervous breakdown to find her college professor husband has purchased a large fixer-upper out in the country and is employing a stereotypically lazy union crew to remodel this new money pit. The strange thing is, even though the uniformly mulletted  (oh, wait — I think they call it “hockey hair” in Canada) construction brigade isn’t getting much done during the day, at night Alice starts hearing the whirring of buzzsaws and the pounding of hammers and downstairs and finds a solitary carpenter (Hauser) working away to his heart’s content. Alice quickly beings anticipating these nocturnal visits and , in between watching our guy Wings work away in a state of self-induced blue-collar tranquility and listening to his pithy lectures on the value of an honest day’s labor, finds herself falling in love with her mysterious midnight laborer.

She slowly builds up more and more self-confidence, taking a job at a local paint store and tackling many of the household fix-up projects herself, eve as she becomes aware that her husband is carrying on an affair with one of his students. All in all, personal drama (that she’s beyond even really caring about) aside, things are looking up for our heroine. Her rather over-pprotective beau even has a habit of sawing off the arms, or otherwise “dealing with,” those who would cause her harm, such as horny off-duty workers from Carpenters and Remodelers Local 1182.

And yet — is anything here exactly what it seems? Alice’s mental state is far from sound, and she’s recently taken to cutting up and dumping the anti=psychotic meds she’s been prescribed. Her sister, while admittedly overbearing, is genuinely becoming more and more concerned with her fragile mental and emotional state. Her husband’s mistress is pregnant. And just when the questions seem more plentiful than any answers that might or night not be forthcoming,  cheeseball local sheriff J. J. Johnston (and you just learned everything you need to know about him right there) shows up at the door and tells Alice a little story about the guy who used to own her house — a carpenter who was sent to the electric chair (the only non-Canadian wrinkle in a story that’s Canuck though-and-through otherwise) after he killed some repo agents who showed up to take possession of the place when he wasn’t keeping up with his payments since he was too busy working on it rather than going out and finding paying jobs.

So do we have a ghost story on our hands here? It would seem so, but when the shit hits the fan in the film’s final act, it’s clear that others also see Alice’s capenter friend, and the physical damage he ultimately causes to the house is very real. So if it’s a concrete, cut-and-dried explanation of exactly what’s going on here that you’re after, you’re bound to be sorely disappointed. That being said, if, as mentioned earlier, you’re already going with this film’s singular-yet-scattershot flow (a contradiction, I know) you’ll be more than willing, by that point, to just accept the fact that easy answers aren’t on the menu here, as long as the whole thing just sort of feels right and/or consistent in its admitted inconsistency (yup, contradiction rears its head again).

And finally, of course, we’ve got Wings Hauser (again — but you knew there’d be more to say about him, didn’t you). His screen time is limited, but his coolly psychotic menace, hiding beneath a veneer of everyman working-class charm, is the glue that really holds everything together here. It’s another singular performance in a career that’s too often mocked for his numerous less-than-stellar, self-parodying choices vis- a- vis some of the roles he took on. Seriously, though, when this guy was on — as he absolutely was here — nobody could touch him. Wings Fucking Hauser indeed. This guy will show up with roses at your door and try to rape you with a broomhandle  five minutes later.

A couple months back, the fine folks at Scorpion releasing finally put this forgotten gem out on DVD as part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line, hosted by former WWE “diva” (whatever that term even means anymore) Katarina Leigh Waters. Extras are, sadly,  non-existent apart from the intro and exit segments from the hostess, but the widescreen transfer looks pretty solid and the stereo sound mix is more than serviceable.

So do yourself a favor — give The Carpenter a go. You may not find it to your liking — although I’m sincerely hoping you do — but there’s no denying that this flick has a tempo and flavor all its own, and if you find yourself drawn onto its admittedly quirky wavelength, I think you’ll be stopping back here to thank me.

Comments
  1. Chris says:

    I have the carpenter unrated promotional copy not for sale printed on the actual VHS sleeve unopened (super rare ) for sale 4 $700

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s