The Unseen, 1980 directed by Peter Foleg (Danny Steinmann)
The Unseen is a slow burn. It ambles toward a single, unnerving scene, covering all of the basic themes along the way – fear, violence, nudity, flamboyance. But most of that stuff is just noise that funnels directly toward a few moments spent with a mesmerizing abomination whose portrayal is pretty offensive even for the day.
This is the nature of exploitation; cheap shots leading to a payoff that leaves you feeling icky. This is also what happens when movie-magic nerds try to develop a project of their own. In this case, two world famous special effects makeup artists penned a screenplay just to show off a disturbing character makeup they probably dreamed up between gigs. Then they passed it off to the writer of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, whose talent had landed only once, and to the director of Friday the 13th: A new Beginning, who cut his teeth making 70’s porn and who disavowed this movie because he thought it wasn’t up to snuff.
When I was a teenager, I practiced something similar. I shot weird, sexualized narratives on the family camcorder, with the sole aim to showcase makeup experiments, slopped together with foam latex and red Karo syrup in my asbestos tinged basement. It was a gothic place. Half dirt crawl space, half furnace room. I didn’t need to go far to find the appropriate grizzly setting, and tonight’s flick yanks me back into that basement where I videotaped my personal abominations, working during the unbounded few hours between the last school bell and Mom’s call for supper.
Today I occasionally visit that basement, ducking my head under a joist at the bottom of the stairs where I used to be small enough to whisk right through. A warped shelf holds a few remnants of those experiments – desiccated bits of rubber, patinated brown after thirty years in dank air.
A large part of my art life is consumed by decades-long tangents that started in that basement, so regression in the name of art is something I hold dear. It’s why the stunted life of this movie, which models after its own narrative motif, stirs me. Malformed, unwanted, underdeveloped and ignored, this flick was locked away until someone stumbled down the wrong set of stairs. Even today, when every clip of media seems to be up for grabs, a copy of this film is tough to track down. And that’s why we’re here. Because along with, The Unseen, “the unseen” needs to be recognized. And an abomination needs a little love too.