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The Carpenter

1989, Starring Wings Hauser, Lynne Adams, Pierre Lenoir, Barbara Jones. Directed by David Wellington.

Although it suffers from a painfully low budget, The Carpenter is a campy, genre-defying film that is much better than you would expect. Made in Quebec by David Wellington (who scripted Zombie Nightmare), it features a light-hearted approach, the unlikeliest of killers, and unconventional gore scenes.

Alice and Martin Jarrett are your average yuppie couple. Martin is a English Lit professor who sleeps with his students, and Alice exacts revenge by cutting up one of her husband's suits. After he takes her for a brief stint at the local mental institution, they try to start a new life in a new country house that Martin has bought.

Life in the country is just what Alice needs to relax, but the house has yet to be completed. When Alice arrives, extensive renovations are still being completed. The noise of the construction wears on her nerves, especially late one night when she awakens to the noise of hammering. She goes to investigate, and finds a carpenter working on the basement paneling. When she asks him why he has to work so late, he explains his hardworkin' "A job ain't done until it's done" philosophy as he puffs on a pipe and casually shoots rats with his nail gun.

The next day on the construction site, the workers are getting disgruntled pretty fast--they notice the basement was mostly completed overnight, and think that the foreman might be hiring scabs and screwing them out of overtime. Worse, one of the hard partyin' construction workers named Roland shows up drunk on Alice's doorstep, and gives a slurred "yer one high class lady" speech. After slugging back some more wine, he makes his move... but then he hears the sound of hammering from the basement. Proving he is both a lover and a fighter, Roland goes down to kick some scab ass... only The Carpenter appears first, and slices his arms off with a circular saw. Alice calmly watches this, and then slowly walks upstairs as The Carpenter apologizes for the mess and begins cleaning. High on Valium, Alice is unfazed by the murder.

The next day, the sheriff stops by to welcome Alice to the neighbourhood. She invites him in for coffee, and before long he tells her the story of the man who built the house. Seems this guy, Ed, was trying to build his dream house all by himself. Wouldn't hire anyone to help him because he believed that hard work was the most important thing in the world. Unfortunately, his materials costs spiraled out of control, and he began getting visits from repo men intent on stopping him from completing his project. So, what else is there to do, but start killing them? After eight or nine murders, Ed the Carpenter was eventually killed by police, never to finish his work. Obviously no stranger to slasher movie plots, Alice doesn't have any trouble putting two and two together, and starts having more late night rendezvous with Ed, talking about the value of hard work.

Later, Martin has the foreman fire two of the workers who he sees goofing off. Not surprisingly, these workers get drunk and return that next night to steal some tools, as this will apparently settle the Jarrett's hash. After wrecking the wood paneling in the basement, one worker gets a belt sander in the face and the other gets acquainted with a staple gun and a power drill. When Alice comes down from bed to see what all the commotion is about, she has another conversation about craftsmanship as Ed calmly slices up a body in front of her. Alice realizes that she is falling in love with Ed's manly blue-collarness, and begins mimicking his behaviour in her own painting project. She even repeats Ed's speeches to her husband.

Everything changes when Martin's mistress Sarah shows up at the house to tell Alice that she is pregnant. Oh, Alice isn't too concerned with the infidelity, it's just that Sarah starts badmouthing the house. Ed suddenly appears and helps Alice aim the nail gun at Sarah's back. When Martin comes home and finds Sarah's body on the floor of the living room, he gets hysterical and slaps Alice. Once again Ed appears out of nowhere and teaches Martin a lesson about why it isn't right to hurt people by putting his head in a vise and slowly closing it. Finally, Alice's sister stops by, and sees the hardware-related carnage. To stop her from calling the cops, Ed tosses her into a wall. Nevermind the cold-hearted murder of five innocent people-- this sole brutal action causes Alice to realize that maybe her romance with a psychopathic handyman's ghost isn't working out the way she wants. When Ed tries to seal the deal by offering to caulk her gaps, she replies, "No. You're dead and you smell bad." With everyone else dead, it's up to Alice and her sister to put Ed's soul at rest before he is, like, totally a jerk to her.

In the end, all the male characters are revealed as insensitive clods, from the cheating husband to the boorish construction workers to Ed and his wacky old-fashioned values. Other characters in the film are portrayed in an over-the-top manner as well. The sheriff, who only serves as chief plot expositor, is played for laughs, as is a stereotypical Québécois paint store owner with a perpetual cigarette in his mouth.

The Carpenter's low budget "straight-to-video" atmosphere is present in almost every scene, including the awkward fade-outs and a major continuity error in introducing the sister. This is counterbalanced by the fresh approach that The Carpenter takes to the usual cat-mouse relationship in American horror films. How many slasher films have a polite, protective maniac who calls ladies " ma'am" ? In fact, how many films at all feature a romance between killer and victim based on mutual respect and a love of Bob Vila reruns?

The scenes of hardware-related deaths are unorthodox in that if you blink, you'll miss them. There are no prolonged shots of lead-up with the buzzsaw, close-ups of viscera or elongated deaths Ed just walks up, kills the guy, and starts cleaning up, so the blood doesn't soak into his hardwood floors. This is only in keeping with Ed's character, and all his talk of efficiency and hard work. It is because of this, though, that the film takes some heat as being "not scary" and " boring," but that's what makes The Carpenter a successful, lighthearted parody of the serious American slasher films of the late 1980s.

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