Funeral Home (1980)

Some Things Never Rest in Peace.

Poster image from 1980's Funeral Home

Young Heather (Lesleh Donaldson) arrives at her grandmother’s (Kay Hawtrey) country home to help her run it as a bed and breakfast for the summer. It seems that this sleepy little town has a history of people disappearing—Heather’s grandfather included!—and that tradition continues as the guests of this B&B start to vanish without a trace. The town may be hiding a few dark secrets, and grandma’s house may be hiding a few of its own.

This early foray into slasher territory focuses less on blood and guts and more on mystery. Unfortunately, the mystery is awfully easy to crack, and you’ll have the basics figured out long before it’s actually revealed to the audience. There’s a strange reliance on the bad luck symbolism of a black cat, which might be fitting in an overt supernatural horror film, but feels out of place here. Many of the characters are dull and flat, without much personality or nuance to care about, but none of this really matters. Despite its weaknesses, FUNERAL HOME maintains a certain country charm that is almost indefinable, and there are some pretty great scenes hidden within.


Heather from 1980's Funeral Home

FUNERAL HOME is something of a slasher film, but it’s an early (and mostly-forgotten) entry in the subgenre. It was released only months after FRIDAY THE 13TH, and as such was not influenced by the glut of films that followed. It is more concerned with mood and mystery than it is blood and body count, and even offers a bit of a psychological angle to the happenings. It takes a number of cues from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic PSYCHO, rather than the more visceral films that you might expect. So it’s something of a slasher film, but it’s a quiet and almost polite one—it is Canadian, after all—with a quaint sense of humor.

This is the product of not only a filmmaker learning his way, but also a subgenre learning its way. A few stumbles and spills are expected when you’re still discovering how to walk. There are a few pretty great scenes hidden amongst the pastoral programming, including one in which a couple necking in their car are pushed over the edge of a cliff (if only it was lit better!), and a flashback to Rick (Dean Garbett), Heather’s love interest, as a child during a nightmarish encounter with her creepy grandpa.

Dangerous shadows from 1980's Funeral Home

FUNERAL HOME was written by Ida Nelson, who also gave us the animated television special A COSMIC CHRISTMAS (1977), if nothing else. Directing duties went to William Fruet, who is no stranger to the horror genre. He has also directed movies like THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE (1976), SEARCH AND DESTROY (1979), SPASMS (1983), KILLER PARTY (1986), and BLUE MONKEY (1987), along with episodes of TV series FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES (1987-1990), WAR OF THE WORLDS (1988-1990), and GOOSEBUMPS (1995-1998).

Our leading lady, Lesleh Donaldson, appeared in some other pretty memorable genre films of the era: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981), DEADLY EYES (1982), and CURTAINS (1983). She’s still active today, having appeared in 2016’s ABNORMAL ATTRACTION.

Her costars Kay Hawtrey, Barry Morse (Mr.Davis), and Alf Humphreys (Deputy Joe Yates) have appeared in hundreds of films between them and will likely look familiar to the seasoned fan. Heather’s lover Dean Garbett, however, never appeared onscreen again.

Maybe the funeral home killer got him.

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