Almost entirely invisible on its release in 1988, Canadian Horror film “Pin” has slowly and surely built a reputation as the kind of film that gets under your skin and stays there, eschewing graphic gore for a tightening madness and cold, surgical style paralleling its medically themed subject matter. Dumped “direct to video” in the late 80’s, Director Sandor Stern (who wrote the original “The Amityville Horror“) adapted the same-named novel by Andrew Neiderman (he of ‘The Devil’s Advocate fame’) into a low-budget B-movie with all the trappings of classic “psychological horror”: There’s creepy medical fetishes, a spooky old house, ventriloquism, and of course our protagonist, Leon, a sexually-repressed character with strange obsessions. But “Pin” is better than the sum of its parts, succeeding through solid scriptwriting, an icy, late 80s aesthetic and an awesomely creepy character in Pin himself to deliver a quiet, quirky but entirely original film worth seeking out on your 31 Days Of Horror marathon.
A young David Hewlett, long-time Canadian character actor from Cube and Stargate fame, stars as Leon, an outwardly affable but obviously high-strung young man whose arms-length upbringing has left him on the edge of sanity. His father, Dr Frank Linden (the iconic Terry O’Quinn in a fantastically creepy turn) runs a medical practice successful enough to afford the family an enormous house in the countryside, but he himself is odd, distant … and may not be all together there…much like Leon’s germaphobic mother, who forbids him any outside “influences”. Leon’s world only has two friends: his younger, normal, sister Ursula (Cynthia Preston) and Pin (voiced by Breaking Bad’s Johnathan Banks), a life sized anatomical doll (nicknamed Pin from Pinocchio), complete with transparent skin, his father keeps at his clinic. Having a talent for ventriloquism, Leon’s father uses Pin to talk to his children, providing awkward lessons about human reproduction. An early scene where a Nurse enjoys Pin’s anatomy in a very personal way leaves Leon scarred and also, more unsettling, aroused by what he sees, adding layers of extra-creepy obsession to his character. Ursula laughs her Dad’s odd mannerisms off, while Leon slowly becomes convinced Pin is a living being. This strange belief lingers on well into the siblings’ adulthood, when an apparent tragedy orphans Leon and Ursula, leaving them, and Pin, alone in the family’s estate.
As is the way that these stories go, Leon becomes more controlling of Ursula, and Pin more controlling of Leon, through long, rambling conversations, imbibing their dynamic with a serious menace. When their Aunt moves in to help, and Ursula begins to leave the nest with a new job and lover, Pin’s control grows more complete, and violent, as Leon loses himself in obsession. Without spoiling the ending, “Pin” delivers it’s big payoff as Leon finally loses it, offering us a much more sympathetic character to fear than an unstoppable slasher or demonic puppet, which in turn makes the madness Leon ensures all the more real as he unravels completely by the film’s conclusion.
Director Stern’s use of slow pacing and a clear, ever building tension that overtakes Leon makes “Pin” feel like a cousin to David Cronenberg‘s Dead Ringers, a similarity heightened by its cold visual style and clean production design. Shot in Montreal and produced by the same team (Pierre David & Rene Malo) that gave us Scanners and Videodrome, Leon himself looks like a catalog model, serial killer hybrid, almost and early prototype to the characters in “Funny Games” and “American Psycho”, his immaculate hair and clothing betraying his frayed mental state. Pin himself is styled as an unsettling object, a red-veined ghoul who may, or may not, be real (At least to Leon), and, despite never actually doing much, brings a much more serious threat to our characters than many movie monsters can muster. And while it’s clear the leads are in no-way their apparent ages, some of the scenery-chewing can get a little hammy at times and there’s some of that classic “made-in-Canada” cheapness that you just couldn’t escape in the late 80s, “Pin” is as good as any, and better than most, of the psychological horror genre.
Currently unavailable on streaming, Arrowdrome, Arrow’s sister-label, delivered a hard-to-find DVD edition, and some kind souls have uploaded “Pin” to Youtube, where, albeit in VHS quality, you can still enjoy this disturbing tale of a boy and his doll. Check the trailer below for a taste of “Pin“s strange story.