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Pin
cast: Terry O'Quinn, Cynthia Preston, David Hewlett, Bronwyn Mantel, and Jonathan Banks

director: Sandor Stern

102 minutes (18) 1988
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
I remember watching Pin when it first arrived out on video, back in the halcyon days of VHS. It was one of the few quirky, intelligent psychological thrillers that slipped under the radar during an era of blood and guts and the now-legendary video-nasties. Although I do recall enjoying the film, very few specifics have remained lodged in my mind. A lot of water has passed under the bridge; I'm getting old, and tend to forget these things...

Watching the film now, almost 20 years later, I was struck by how well it held up. Sure, the clothes and hairstyles are dated but there seems to me something timeless and almost iconic about the story: it almost manages to attain the level of a sort of modern Greek tragedy.

Dr Linden (Terry O'Quinn) has a teaching aid in his office, a skinless plastic dummy (one of those things with all the internal working of the human body on show) he calls 'Pin'. He uses Pin to speak to the children he cares for, using ventriloquism to take their minds off the pain or the stress involved with being in a surgery. The good doctor also uses this method of communication to speak to his own children, Leon (David Hewlett) and Ursula (Cynthia Preston), particularly when tricky subjects - like the birds and the bees - crop up and have to be dealt with.

But there's something unhealthy about the way Dr Linden keeps on talking to Pin in private, when he thinks he's alone with the dummy. Something not quite right´┐Ż And then there's Pin's voice (Jonathan Banks) - so polite and urbane that it's downright creepy. When the doctor and his wife are killed in a road accident, the children are left plenty of money and the huge family home. And, of course, they are left with Pin. Leon continues his father's friendship with the inanimate dummy, and when Ursula finds a new boyfriend, things begin to slowly get out of hand...

The horror here is subtle, and very human. There isn't a healthy relationship in the film until the boyfriend turns up to add tension in the third act: the doctor's best friend is, basically, a dummy that he keeps secret from his wife (Bronwyn Mantel); he treats his kids like students; Leon clearly develops an incestuous crush on Ursula and their concept of sex (which they call 'the need') is obviously twisted; and even the doctor's nurse (Joan Austen) is using Pin as a sex-aid, frolicking with the dummy after-hours. This morbid sense of outright kinky weirdness permeates everything.

The relationships are nicely crafted, with performances that are slightly too good for a B-movie. O'Quinn is always excellent but he is outshone by David Hewlett, who plays Leon with a big-eyed stare and plenty of subdued twitches yet still manages to evoke sympathy - or even pity - for a deeply unpleasant character. This is one of those seriously off-kilter thrillers that come along occasionally to get under your skin. The material isn't exactly original but it is carried off with considerable aplomb, and the result is surprisingly serious-minded. Viewers expecting a mannequin-on-the-loose story need to elsewhere: what we have here is a wonderfully maudlin drama about madness and repressed incest.

It might be interesting to note that novelist Andrew Neiderman, the author of the book the film was adapted from, went on to ghost write for Virginia Andrews, and on the strength of this fucked-up family drama, one can see why he got the gig.
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