Director: Danny Steinmann (as Peter Foleg)
Code Red DVD

Released theatrically by World Northal, a company best known for distributing Kung Fu imports, THE UNSEEN did not do great business at the box office. The semi PSYCHO-inspired thriller did get heavy play on HBO in the early 1980s, and its influence can be seen (albeit briefly) in Edgar Wright’s faux trailer “Don’t” for 2007’s GRINDHOUSE. Largely unseen (excuse me for the sorry ass pun) since this days of VHS rentals, Code Red is the perfect company to resurrect this shocker for DVD, bestowing upon it a number of extras that makes it one of their best releases to date.

Beautiful TV news reporter Jennifer Fast (Barbara Bach, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) along with two other attractive blonde assistants (Karen Lamm and Lois Young) visit the town of Soveg, California to cover an annual Danish festival. Not being able to find lodgings for the night, they run into odd but seemingly friendly hotel curator Ernest Keller (Sydney Lassick, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST). Ernest invites them to stay at his Victorian style house in which he resides with his timid wife Virginia (Lelia Goldoni), but the place hides a dark secret; a voiceless, horribly-deformed murderous mentally retarded man-child (Stephen Furst, ANIMAL HOUSE) -- the outcome of inbreeding -- who is confined to the cluttered cellar.

Made on location in California, THE UNSEEN is a cliché-ridden spooker from the onset (a bunch of pretty girls in need of shelter for the night, the eccentric family veiling a dreadful secret, etc.), but in era which was saturated with endless slashers, the film is more distinguished in its sense of old fashioned suspense and the rather disturbing circumstances of the title monster. Although none of the female performances are anything special (the welcomed bit of nudity is done by Lois Young in a bathtub scene), the main reason for any notoriety here is the casting of comic actor Stephen Furst as “Junior,” looking something like Charles Laughton’s Hunchback only in an oversized diaper. Obviously taking the role seriously, Furst is quite convincing with the help of Craig Reardon’s make-up. As Junior’s demented father, Sydney Lassick is over-the-top and gallantly scene-stealing, sort of like a cross between Joe Besser and Richard Simmons, yet looking like a plumper version of Italian horror thesp Alan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi).

Craig Reardon also provides most of the special effects, and none of them go overboard, as there’s really no need to (it’s horrific enough having a deranged sissy talking to the murdered corpse of his father while keeping his hideous offspring captive) and the music score by British-born composer Michael J. Lewis (THEATRE OF BLOOD) is way above average for a low budget homegrown horror film. THE UNSEEN’s backstory is interestingly enough told throughout the extras present on this DVD set, including why director Danny Steinmann took his name off the credits (he’s credited as Peter Foleg), and that the part of the screenplay was concocted by effects legends Tom Burman (who also created Junior’s initial head design) and the late Stan Winston, both who left the project early on.

Code Red DVD’s transfer of THE UNSEEN is from the original IP (interpositive), and it looks excellent. While the film’s low budget origins display inherited grain and a few blemishes now and then, the image is quite clean, with fine detail and bold colors, and this is no doubt the best it’s ever looked. It’s presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and the framing looks dead-on throughout. The mono English audio track is sufficient with no noticeable problems.

The extras here have been spread across two discs. Disc 1 includes brief but enjoyable interviews with Furst (who tells some amusing accounts concerning oily ribs and Beatles albums) and actor Doug Barr, who appears in the film as Barbara Bach’s determined to-get-her-back ex-boyfriend (both of them introduce the film as well). A commentary track has Furst joined by producer Tony Unger and moderated by Lee Christian. The commentary not only discusses the film in question, but also other films in the two gentleman’s careers, and even though it goes off topic, Unger unveils some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits about the production and Furst's sense of humor is always in check. Disc 1’s extras are rounded out by the original theatrical trailer, a decent still/artwork gallery and trailers for other Code Red DVD releases. Disc 2 includes two lengthier camera interviews with effects men Craig Reardon and Tom Burman. Reardon has some great recollections, including just about every aspect of the make-up and effects he did for the film, while Burman talks about his initial hiring, why he wanted to change the script and his subsequent departure. Disc 2’s extras are concluded with a never-before-seen gallery of make-up tests, sketches and behind-the-scenes stills from Reardon’s personal collection. (George R. Reis)