Funeral Home

You got your Psycho homage in my peanut butter!
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1980
Director: 
William Fruet
Starring: 
Kay Hawtrey, Lesleh Donaldson, Barry Morse, Dean Garbett
The Setup: 
Girl goes to help Grandma turn her funeral home into a resort. People get killed.
Discussion: 

So it’s one of those nights where there’s nothing from Netflix and I’m hankering for a hunk'a serious cheese. It is in these situations that the 50 Chilling Classics boxed set—seriously the best deal in entertainment—comes through with flying colors. When I first bought the set I made a quickie index of all the films’ IMDb rating and what they’re generally about, and my note for this one was “has fans,” which was enough to push me over the edge.

So it is of course the late 70s, period of great artistic flourishing, and this girl Heather is dropped off by a bus in the middle of nowhere. She starts walking when no one appears to pick her up, and is menaced by a black cat on a bridge before getting picked up by local hunk Rick, who takes her to Grandma’s house. This clearly hails from a period in history when it was okay to ride with strangers.

Grandma is Mrs. Chalmers, whose husband “disappeared into thin air,” and who now seeks to turn her enormous former funeral home into a sort of resort getaway, and Heather is here to help. Grandma is a big older woman who favors flannel shirts, and has somewhat of a puritanical streak. Also on hand in local simpleton Billy.

So this farmer finds a car buried in a haystack on his property, and has a funny scene with the local cop, trying to lay claim to the vehicle. The car belonged to this salesman passing through, who mysteriously vanished. And Heather, who has been forbidden to ever go in the basement, pops down into the basement, where she hears Grandma talking to... someone.

I guess the house didn’t need all that much fixing up, because they’re ready to accept their first guests, Mr. Browning and his female friend, who is permanently peeved and not at all thrilled with their rural accommodations. He’s a mustachoied sleazebag salesman and it turns out she’s his mistress. The mistress slings snot at anyone who comes within range, and then there’s a funny bit of character comedy when this old biddy comes over, parks right behind the cop, here just to ask a few questions about the missing salesman [who stayed at the house], acknowledges that he can’t get his car out, then just walks off. Inside, Grandma has prepared a table full of fake flowers, causing the mistress to squeal with delight, exclaiming “I just love wearing flowers in my hair!” No, I mean she REALLY loves wearing flowers in her hair. Then this other family with kids arrives to stay in the house, and by this time you’re like “WHY would anyone plan a special vacation at this house sitting in the middle of a field?" I mean, there is NOTHING around—it’s like plannng a vacation at some boarding house in the middle of the plains of Iowa. Well, I guess some people really appreciate the simple pleasures.

So during the day the mistress suns herself, then makes aggressive sultry come-ons to simpleton Billy, even getting him to admit that he wants to lay his differently-abled love on her, before laughing at him and taking off. Mrs. Chalmers has made it quite clear that she does not want the Brownings' immoral behavior taking place under her roof, but they tell her to go screw herself and go out on the town [there is, apparently, a town within 50 miles], where they cause a crazy nightclub brawl. They go park on the precipice of the local swimming gulch, where a car sudddnly appears and shoves them into the drink. They really dumped a real car into this gulch, and it’s kind of awesome the way it sinks in the water and just fades from view.

SPOILERS > > >
So Heather has started dating Rick, so soon reveals himself to be a total fucking asshole whom she should drop immediately, and her normal dating behavior brings down the scorn of hyper-prude Grandma. Rick tells Heather a thing or two about Grandpa [with flashbacks]: that when Rick was little, Grandpa found them snooping around his house and locked the kids the in the basement with the corpses. He also tells her that her Grandpa didn’t just disappear—he ran off with a woman he was having an affair with, the revelation of which causes Heather to freak!

Well then this nice man who has come to stay at Grandma’s home, Mr. Davies, reveals the real reason for his visit: he was the husband of the woman that Grandpa ran away with, and he wants to connect with Grandma Chalmers over their departed spouses and as for Grandma’s reaction, well, let’s just say like granddaughter, like grandma. Mr. Davies gets takes his tiny boat back across the lake in the dead of night [?], and finds someone waiting to kill him. It’s a pretty good murder, too: it’s pitch black in the woods beside the lake, and this figure comes at him, shining a flashlight in his face. It comes closer, closer, then—blam!

So now Rick and Heather—who have apparently made up—go swimming at the same gulch where the sunken car and dual corpses lie. Their friend finds this out when she, for recreation apparently, dives to the bottom of the gulch and swims around in the seaweed there. I know that’s what I always do—I just can’t get enough of entangling myself in seaweed! She happens upon the corpse of the mysteress and freaks, ensnaring herself in seaweed, but unfortunately she lives.

Okay, I’m getting ready for this shit to end, and it seems to be about forty minutes from concluding—but no, it’s only ten minutes! Heather confesses that she thinks there’s something all-round creepy about Grandma’s house, and asshole Rick [he truly is an aggressively assholish asshole] could not exactly be described as supportive and understanding. Meanwhile, the simpleton at home hears the cat, and is really QUITE set on capturing that darn thing. Wouldn’t you know, the cut goes inside the house and down the basement. The simpleton follows, where he hears Grandma talking to someone, and soon his brains are a bloody mush.

Minutes later, Heather and Rick show up, see the door to the basement open, and head down there themselves. There Rick is attacked [sadly he lives], then the killer comes after Heather, and is revealed to be—GRANDMA! That’s right, she has absorbed Grandpa’s personality and the person she was heard talking to was herself! But wait, there’s more. Turns out Grandpa’s dessicated corpse [I just can’t get enough of saying ‘dessicated corpse’] is down there too, surrounded by a bunch of the fake flowers Grandma made. And just as you’re thinking “Oh, so this is a sort of redoing of Psycho,” they announce that fact by having Grandma knock the swinging light bulb at the very moment that Heather finds the corpse. Thanks!

But all is not over. Because, you see, Grandma then goes NUTS, and when I say NUTS in all caps like that, what I mean is >>> N! U! T! S! <<<. It’s… just really something to behold. Obnoxious little Heather, by the way, hasn’t lifted a finger to hep herself, done nothing but run off snivelling and whimpering, which is the kind of thing that makes me want to see a person’s brains get smashed out, but sadly the undeserving wretch lives. Then the hero cop shows up and saves everyone.

But wait! Our Psycho homages are not over [please also recall the car sunken and dredged back up, and the whole backstory with Grandpa having affairs], as, during the credits, the hero cop comes back on and gives a whole explication of the story and Grandma’s psychosis. The black cat settles in his arms—the only one it’s been friendly to—and that’s it!
< < < SPOILERS END

Toward the end, when a certain person went batshit crazy above and beyond the call of duty, I had a moment where I was like “You know, all round, this is pretty good!” Up front it diverts from its path to include a lot of amusing character-based comedy, and there’s lots of obnoxious characters and high drama, spiced up with the occasional murder, to keep one interested all the way through, but then when you get to the end and you realize the layer of [fairly clever] Psycho homage, I was fully on the team. Actually, the more I look back on this film, the more Psycho parallels present themselves. And the fact that it is all intelligently and directly done—they aren’t trying to repurpose anything without crediting the source—the more I like it. It’s a winner!

And if you like trashy movies of the 70s but DON’T yet have the 50 Chilling Classics boxed set, well, the problem lies with YOU.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! It’s kind of fun and a little different.