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In Appreciation of Sandor Stern’s “PIN”: A Canadian Classic

Thursday, April 26, 2018 | Review


Starring David Hewlett, Cynthia Preston, and Terry O’Quinn
Directed by Sandor Stern
Written by Sandor Stern, based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman
New World

It’s been 30 years since the release of the Canadian horror flick PIN, and like many horror films of the ‘80s it has gone on to the realm of obscurity – dug up in DVD format or streamed on Netflix on Halloween binge runs. That being said, PIN stands out due to its lack of giant monsters, gross special effects, and cheesy, cartoonish gore, which were all too common during its time. Writer and director Sandor Stern (AMITYVILLE HORROR, FAST BREAK) fills this absence with plenty of bizarre psychological build-up and good old-fashioned dramatic thrills.

Telling the story of a repressed household with an inanimate member, PIN has garnered a cult following over the years. Cinema Slasher explains that although the idea of living dolls has been explored by other movies, most notably CHILD’S PLAY and PINOCCHIO’S REVENGE, PIN’s slow-burning plot takes audiences to a different level of psychological horror and paranoia.

Beyond the edge of fear and Madness

In the film, Dr. Frank Linden, uses ventriloquism and the anatomically correct dummy named Pin to teach health and life lessons to Leon and Ursula. Leon is ill, and his condition led him to believe that Pin is not only alive, but also the closest thing he has to a friend.

Tragedy struck Frank, which causes Leon’s grasp on reality to rapidly fade. His behavior becomes even more erratic and begins to dress Pin up with fake skin and hair. When Leon and Dorothy’s Aunt Dorothy moves in, the former uses Pin to frighten her into a heart attack, a bout of black comedy common in horror movies of the ‘80s and other films since then. It’s a method of using characters as subjects of dark humor while simultaneously triggering important plot points in their respective films. Take the case of another 20th century classic, WAKING NED, which employed a similar albeit lighter approach. Lottoland shares that the movie revolves around Ned Devine who dies of shock upon learning he has won the Irish National Lottery. This way, characters like Ned and the ill-fated Aunt Dorothy are instrumental to the progression of the narrative, yet they inject a segment that breaks the main theme of the film at the same time. WAKING NED sees an entire village working together to commit fraud, while PIN sees an even more distraught Ursula confused as to what to do about Leon.

At this point, Film School Rejects’ Robert Hunger argues that it’s obvious that the movie isn’t about a demon, or ghosts, or mysterious supernatural entities. Instead, it’s a completely unique study on a downward spiral of a deranged man and the way his actions affect those around him. The subtly built plot has a climax that is even kept off-screen, providing a satisfying end for its final scene — which is best left for you to find out.

Subtle, disturbing, brilliant

With no jump scares, low body count, and very little violence, PIN is a unique gem from the ‘80s, and unlike any other horror film before or after it. What it lacks in genre gore it more than makes up for in its own twisted way, exploring numerous disturbing themes to create a deliciously unsettling and creepy film. Den of Geek reveals that there are touches of PSYCHO in the film’s Freudian themes and macabre moments, but there’s also real humanity and dramatic depth.

Of course, PIN is far from perfect – the too-old casting and questionable acting are some of its low points – but the film still makes for a creepy and rewarding experience. Although hardly the decade’s best, PIN is a well-crafted horror film that deserves more than its underrated status.