PIN **** Canada 1988 98 mins
An underrated and consistently creepy psychological horror from AMITYVILLE HORROR screenwriter Sandor Stern, this has an exceptionally unsettling opening half hour offering a series of snap-shots of a uniquely dysfunctional childhood. Stern doctor / ventriloquist Terry O’Quinn uses his anatomical work dummy “Pin” to educate his kids on everything (including the facts of life), to the point where “Pin” even buys them presents on birthdays. The boy (David Hewlett) grows up lonely, unstable and violently over-protective, while his sister (Cyndy Preston) blossoms into the school slut. With its signature image of “Pin” sat at a bedroom window a la Mrs Bates and its sympathetic, schizophrenic male protagonist, PIN is an ingenious contemporary variation on PSYCHO.
Far from the conventional “living doll” horror movie suggested by its marketing, it’s a character-driven, almost theatrical piece with very dark undercurrents (including Hewlett’s apparent, repressed lust for his own sister) and a commendable absence of gore and melodrama. The TV-movie ish visual style (Stern did most of his work for TV) is characteristic of Canadian cinema from the period, but oddly fits the screenplay’s unhurried, subdued approach. Hewlett is outstanding as the handsome Norman Bates figure doomed by his warped childhood to live in the shadow of his oppressive father, but Preston radiates appeal as his loving sister. PIN’s impact is slightly weakened by an over-use of dated slo-mo, but it’s still an impressively controlled picture, and the closing scene is unforgettable chilling. That’s veteran actor Jonathan Banks, recently a key player in BREAKING BAD, as the voice of Pin.
Review by Steven West