Danny Steinmann started his directing career with the adult movie High Rise and worked on the films Savage Streets and Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning along the way. After that film, he was injured in a bicycle accident and was unable to return to directing. He also produced the Gene Roddenberry made-for-TV movie Spectre. Today, though, we’re here to discuss his 1980 effort The Unseen.
Keep in mind — Steinmann had his name removed from the movie as he was upset with the final cut. He’s credited as Peter Foleg.
Jennifer (Barbara Bach Lady Starkey, the wife of Ringo Starr who also was in The Spy Who Loved Me, Black Belly of the Tarantula and Short Night of Glass Dolls) and Karen (Karen Lamm, the wife of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson), along with their friend Vicki, are in Solvag, CA to cover a folk rock show and town festival. A mix-up over their reservations leads the girls to stay with Ernest Keller (Sydney Lassick, Skate Town U.S.A., Lady in White), the owner of a museum.
Jennifer is in town to report on the town’s parade and festival, but has to deal with her soon to be ex-boyfriend Tony (Douglas Barr, TV’s The Fall Guy‘s Howie, as well as Deadly Blessing), who wants to talk about their relationship. Ugh.
Meanwhile, Vicki just wants to get naked while creepy old men stare at her through vents. Sadly for her, The Unseen pulls her through one of those vents and slams it down on her beck, killing her. Soon after, Karen is also killed. Their bodies are discovered by Ernest’s wife Virginia (Lelia Goldoni, who was in Cassavetes’ Shadows and the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers).
That’s when we learn the secret: Virginia and Ernest are husband and wife, as well as brother and sister. He killed their father two decades ago and they’ve lived here ever since, along with Junior (Stephen Furst, the guy from Animal House in the role one wonders if he was born to play), their inbred son. Ernest is keeping up the cycle of abuse that his father started, beating his son and keeping wife/sister in submission. Now, Jennifer must die to keep the secret.
Ernest lures her into the basement where she finds her friends’ bodies. She panics and runs into Junior, who she discovers probably didn’t mean to kill anyone. Ernest tries to kill her, but Virginia tries to save her. This leads to a family fight and Ernest kills his son with a board with a nail through it.
Just as Ernest is ready to off Jennifer with a hatchet, her stupid ex saves her. Well, he tries to, but an old leg injury flares up, Oh, you inept moron! It’s up to Virginia to save the day by shooting her husband/brother and going back in the house to hold her dead son.
The Unseen was originally written by Kim Henkel and Michael Viner. While Henkel is best known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Viner was a producer and audiobook pioneer who also assembled the Incredible Bongo Band, whose song “Apache” is one of the most sampled songs ever. Their screenplay was adapted into the book Deadly Encounter by Richard Woodley.
Bluntly put, this movie is all over the place. The reveal of The Unseen stays on the monster so long that you wonder why this movie is called The Unseen. It starts with so much promise, but by the end, you may find yourself staring at the time left, hoping that it ends quickly.