PinMovieA stronger-than-average psycho thriller from Canada about a malevolent medical dummy. It’s not all good, marred by its scant budget and distracting 1980s conventions, but it works.

This very low budget film was released in 1988. Based on a 1981 novel by Andrew Neiderman, it remains the only theatrical feature directed by Sandor Stern, whose directorial credits are otherwise confined to TV—although he did script the original AMITYVILLE HORROR. PIN, released in the U.S. by New World Pictures, wasn’t especially successful in its day, but has acquired a substantial cult following.

Leon and Ursula are the seemingly normal children of a wealthy doctor. The latter uses ventriloquism to communicate with the kids through a life-size medical doll named Pin. Unfortunately Leon takes his father’s ventriloquism a bit too literally, believing Pin is actually alive. Ursula goes along with Leon’s delusion, even though she finds it creepy.

During the kids’ teenage years their mother and father are killed in a car accident. Leon takes Pin back to their house, where he and Ursula are fated to live by themselves—after, that is, Leon kills their intrusive aunt!

It would seem that now Leon is free to indulge his unnatural lusts for his sister. But Ursula falls in love with a nice guy named Stan, meaning another murder is imminent. Like the first, this killing is carried out in the family home under the instructions of Pin. When Ursula discovers her boyfriend is (seemingly) dead she’s understandably upset, and sees to it that Leon pays his crime in harsh but entirely appropriate fashion.

I don’t agree with all the choices made by PIN’S writer-director Sandor Stern, but for the most part he does a fine job with the material. He directs with a sure and unobtrusive hand, without excess camera movement or cutting, and his script delineates its protagonist’s insanity in clear and unobtrusive fashion. The ventriloquism angle wasn’t in the novel but is a welcome addition, clarifying Pin’s true nature without a lot of superfluous exposition. Speaking of the inanimate Pin, he’s a marvelous creation with hypnotic blue eyes; Pin could very easily have ended up looking silly, but comes off as creepy and appropriately menacing, just as the filmmakers intended.

The film, unfortunately, fails to rise above its ultra low budget. Note the chintzy lighting, amateurish performances, tacky score and cop-out ending that forsakes the unflinching darkness of Andrew Neiderman’s novel in favor of a wholly inappropriate fade-out that promotes a false sense of optimism (among other things, it posits that a character who was supposed to be dead somehow survives). All those things are unfortunate constants in 1980s budget-lite filmmaking, and prevent PIN from reaching its full potential.

Vital Statistics

Lance Entertainment M-D

Director: Sandor Stern
Producer: Rene Malo
Screenplay: Sandor Stern
(Based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman)
Cinematography: Guy Defaux
Editing: Patrick Dodd
Cast: David Hewlett, Cyndy Preston, John Ferguson, Terry O’Quinn, Bronwen Mantel, Helene udy, Patricia Collins, Steven Bednarski, Katie Shingler, Jacob Tierney, Michelle Anderson, Jonathan Banks