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Case Number 22756: Small Claims Court

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Katarina's Nightmare Theater: The Carpenter

Scorpion Releasing // 1988 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // November 18th, 2011

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All Rise...

If Appellate Judge Tom Becker was a carpenter and you were a lady...you'd probably have termites and dry wall problems.

The Charge

A job ain't done 'til it's done.

The Case

Stuck in a miserable, loveless marriage with a condescending, persnickety college professor, Alice Jarvis (Lynne Adams, Night Zoo) suffers a nervous breakdown.

When she comes home from the hospital, her husband has a surprise for her: he's purchased an old house and hired a crew to renovate it.

The guys on the crew aren't exactly craftsmen. They're actually kinda snarly and lazy, day laborers who work cheap.

Late one night, Alice is awakened by what sounds like someone working on the house. She discovers a carpenter (Wings Hauser, Tough Guys Don't Dance) she'd never seen before. Unlike the other workmen, this carpenter seems dedicated to his work, and his craftsmanship is fine. He's also a gentleman—polite, sweet, and full of homespun aphorisms on the value of hard work—with an authentically blue-collar kind of hunkiness.

the carpenter

Soon, Alice is seeing the courtly carpenter on a nightly basis. He becomes not just her friend, but her protector. He is, in fact, the man of her dreams.

But is he a dream? A figment of Alice's vivid and tortured imagination? It might seem so. But when people start threatening Alice's safety, the carpenter steps up—in very real, and very brutal, ways.

I've read some pretty damning reviews of The Carpenter…well, the few that there are. This is, after all, a low-budget, Direct-to-Video Canadian horror movie, so it's not like critics—Internet or otherwise—have exactly fallen all over themselves to deconstruct it.

Most of the criticism has to do with the film's tone—it's a little bit horror, it's a little bit dark comedy, and it really doesn't come together as well as it should. It's especially problematic when Director David Wellington and Writer Doug Taylor try to stick to the horror conventions, such as giving the carpenter a homicidal history, told to Alice by a quirky local sheriff.

The film is filled with quirky characters, and this—at least for me—is why The Carpenter works. As a horror film, it's pretty silly (as is the wont of horror films), but it proceeds with a logic dictated by its characters that makes it far more interesting and entertaining than the usual slasher pic.

Much of the film's success rests with Lynne Adams' charming performance as Alice, who, one suspects, is living in her own personal wonderland. The film opens with Alice sitting calmly on her bed, cutting up her husband's clothes. When he comes in and sees what she's doing, he's fairly nonplussed. "Rough day, huh?" he asks her, and she smiles demurely.

Next thing we know, she's in the hospital, seemingly more sane than her roommate, who recites the lyrics to Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" over and over ("It's like thunder…and lightning…the way you love me…is frightening"). It's here that we learn that Alice also suffers from nightmares, and that her husband is not exactly operating in her best interests.

Adams is enormously appealing in this role, playing Alice straight, rather than as a too-clever character; her deadpan delivery and reactions are very effective, and sometimes really funny. She seems completely at odds with "normal" life, and the fantasy relationship she builds with the carpenter makes all the sense in the world.

the carpenter

Of course, we know it can't last. After all, the guy is either a phantom or the ghost of a serial killer who'd built the house years before. Alice doesn't care—"You really should do something about that temper of yours," she gently admonishes him as he's drilling holes in someone who's upset him, and then agrees to go with him on a moonlight walk through the woods.

There are a number of gore scenes, but they're all done with tongue planted firmly in cheek; they're also not especially well done from an effects standpoint, but they advance the plot nicely and serve as a pleasantly twisted backdrop for the interplay between Adams and Hauser. Small moments—like the carpenter holding up the body of a dying man so Alice can pass by without getting messy—add a pleasantly lurid quality to the proceedings.

the carpenter

But then, there's the ending, and the good will the film has built up with its macabre whimsy and skewed sensibility gives way to the usual horror film shenanigans. The carpenter turns out to be a little too flesh-and-blood; the requisite chase and fatal character-flaw tropes get overlayed like a coat of cheap paint.

The Carpenter comes to us courtesy of Scorpion's Katarina's Nightmare Theater line of horror films hosted by former wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters. Katarina provides intros and outros for the film, but beyond that and some trailers for other KNT releases, there's nothing else on this disc, a pity, since both Adams and Hausser are still around and might have been available for an interview or commentary. As is usually the case with Katarina's films, the tech is at best marginal, with a kind of battered-looking print and an acceptable mono audio track.

The Verdict

A weird and quirky little horror-com, The Carpenter is a fun little film that's worth catching at least once.

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Cult
• Fantasy
• Horror
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers


• IMDb

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