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Funeral Home

(AKA 2 Cries in the Night, Cries in the Night) 1980, Starring Kay Hawtrey, Lesleh Donaldson and Dean Garbett. Directed by William Fruet (Canadian Film Development Corporation).

Guest Review by Dave Alexander

Jumping around genres like back bacon grease on a hot skillet, William Fruet is a regular gadabout on the Canuck film scene. Starting his career by writing the seminal CanCon road movie Goin' Down the Road, the Lethbridge-born filmmaker soon hopped into the director's chair with the respected rape-themed melodrama Wedding in White, and then followed that up with the fantastically effective, but critically reviled, rural rape revenge thriller Death Weekend. Later he'd jump to television with directing credits on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Friday the 13th (the CanCon show that had nothing to do with the films), DaVinci's Inquest and most recently, uh, Zoe Busiek: Wild Card. Tucked away amongst all that is an unassuming little slasher film from 1980 called Funeral Home.

Lesleh Donaldson--known for later Canuxploitation entries Curtains and Happy Birthday to Me--stars as Heather, a fresh-faced teen off to spend the summer at grandma's house. Grandma Maude, played by recognizable character actor Kay Hawtry, is a widower who's turned the family funeral home into a bed and breakfast following the strange disappearance of her husband. She's none too thrilled about the change, though, particularly when big city cheeseball Harry ("voice of Leon's" Harvey Atkin) and his floozie mistress Florie (the Andrea Martin-esque Peggy Mahon) check in. Morally-offended Maude tells them to leave, they laugh in her face, and the adulterous pair later check out at the bottom of a flooded quarry, another two notches added to the film's growing tourist body count.

Who's the killer? Long-lost grandpa? Heather's nubile new boyfriend Rick (Dean Garbutt)? Billy (Stephen Miller), the mentally deficient groundskeeper who looks like Donnie Wahlberg, post-getting kicked in the head by a Clydesdale? By the time Heather and Rick catch granny having a bizarre, Bates-like conversation with herself, and finally uncover a Texas Chainsaw-influenced scene in the basement nearly 90 minutes in, the answer is obvious--the plot has plodded along with little mystery, few kills, and conventions even a slasher fan of the early 1980s would be bored with. Although Fruet once again proves himself a deft director, with natural camera movements and a good eye for composition, George Mihalka's East Coast Canada-set My Bloody Valentine provided way more slasher chills and thrills a year later.

Aside from the Ontario shooting locations (Elora, Guelph, Markham and Toronto), there's little on the surface of Funeral Home that makes it overtly Canuck. Rather, it gives the overall impression of yet another Canuck flick trying to ape an American genre but only delivering a watered down version, with less excitement, eye candy and economy of pace. The pointless inclusion of a not-so creepy black cat is even laughable. However, it's worth noting that aside from some almost comical stereotypes in the form of Harvey the piggish blowhard and Rick's self conscious deputy brother, the movie lacks the typically-Canadian ineffectual male leads and/or downright evil testosterone monsters like those that pop up in Goin' Down the Road, Wedding in White, Death Weekend and a number of other Fruet films. That said, though, ultimately it's the drunken abuses of the absent grandfather that are blamed for the murderous rampage well, kinda-rampage. Here, the poisonous male character is a mere spectre, and Fruet shows us that even in death, dudes are potent saboteurs. Too bad he couldn't explore that idea in Ida Nelson's script with a lot more punch.

Looking back some 25 years later, perhaps the best part of Funeral Home is the sleepy, sunny look of the picture, which offers a hermetic window into rural Ontario summers in the late '70s/early '80stimes filled with boogie vans on dirt roads, sideburns and tight trunks at the local swimmin' hole, a beer or two at the local bar, and, in this case, just a big enough dollop of skullduggery to temporarily bust the buzz. It's the perfect setting for a snail-paced psychopath.

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