American Gothic (1987)

American Gothic (1987)
Article 6039 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Rod Steiger, Yvonne De Carlo, Sarah Torgov
Country: United Kingdom / Canada
What it is: Encounters with strange families

Several young adults taking an airplane trip find themselves stranded on an island whose only inhabitants are a family of God-fearing homicidal maniacs.

The beginning of this movie emphasizes that one adult has undergone the traumatic loss of her baby who drowned in a bathtub, a situation in which she herself was partially to blame. Given at that time I thought this movie was going to be just another slasher film of sorts, I thought this detail would prove to be just another pointless attempt at character development in a subgenre that has little use for it, but as a complete viewing made clear, this isn’t your usual slasher fare; at the point where most movies of this ilk are just finishing up, this one has a twist that adds a whole new act to the proceedings, one in which the death of the baby plays a crucial role in how the final act unfolds.

As a result, I found myself liking this one a lot more than I thought I would. Granted, there are a few problems; for one thing, the movie is fairly slow at getting off the ground. I also find it a bit difficult to believe that a family this God-fearing would tolerate either jazz music or dancing (especially of a scandalous dance like the Charleston), much less having a gramophone and records in the first place. I also find it hard to believe that the father’s last act would be as extreme as it is here, even considering what he has just undergone, though I know why it happens in terms of story. Still, despite its flaws, this is one of the more compelling movies about a homicidal family that I’ve seen.


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