Pin (1988)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Terry O’Quinn, Bronwen Mantel
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer

While movies are certainly not real, they often show an accurate portrayal of reality. However, there are many times when fictional films totally miss the mark. The happens all the times when movies deal with mental illness. The mentally ill in the movies are typically portrayed as raving, screaming lunatics, who are generally referred to as psychopaths, when in reality, many of the characters shown in movies are actually sociopaths. The rarely-seen cult film "Pin" is an exception to this trend. While the movie is a bit over-the-top in its portrayal of its mentally ill character, most of his behavior and more importantly the behavior of his family rings fairly true. This is only one the qualities which makes "Pin" a true "diamond in the rough" and the newly released Anchor Bay DVD of the movies truly does it justice.

As "Pin" opens, we meet young siblings Leon and Ursula Linden. It is immediately made apparent to the viewer that the parents of these two children are very strict and unemotional. The father, Dr. Linden (Terry O’Quinn) enjoys testing the children’s intelligence and doesn’t tolerate failure. Mrs. Linden (Bronwen Mantel) shows some obsessive-compulsive tendencies and doesn’t allow any dirt in the house. Dr. Linden has an anatomical dummy in his office which Ursula has named "Pin", which is short for "Pinocchio". Dr. Linden is an amateur ventriloquist and speaks through "Pin" to comfort his younger patients. Also, he uses "Pin’ to help teach Leon and Ursula about life and medicine, as he is much more interested in teaching them than in loving them. As Leon and Ursula grow up, they each begin to exhibit behaviors which are a direct result from their unusual upbringing. Ursula is an inquisitive and experimental girl, who will soon become sexually promiscuous. And, at age 11, she realizes that it’s her father who’s been making "Pin" talk all this time.

Unfortunately, Leon never quite catches on to the ventriloquism act. Leon thinks that "Pin" is real and attempts to talk to the dummy, even when Dr. Linden isn’t around. As Leon and Ursula grow into young adulthood (where they are played by David Hewlett ("Cube") and Cyndy Preston, respectively) attempts to make friends and enjoy life, but Leon only wants to focus on "Pin". (For example, at Ursula’s birthday, her parents give her a present from "Pin" (big mistake) and Leon is fascinated by the fact that the dummy would pick out the perfect gift.) After the siblings inherit their parent’s house, Leon brings "Pin" home to live with them. Leon treats "Pin" as if he were a real person, despite the protests of Ursula. As Leon becomes more connected to "Pin", he also becomes more determined to keep his family unit with Ursula whole, and won’t let anyone interfere with that.

As you can tell from the synopsis above, "Pin" is an unusual film, and it is one of the few psychological thrillers that really work. "Pin" is based on a novel by writer Andre Neiderman and screenwriter/director Sandor Stern has tried to retain the psychological tension from the book. There are many little things that make the film work well as a whole. First, Stern takes his time and sets up the relationships between the main characters. It’s very important that we see not only the pathology existing in Dr. and Mrs. Linden (which will eventually be passed on to Leon), but also the close bond between Leon and Ursula. For, later in the film, the viewer will question why Ursula doesn’t seem leave Leon (or better yet, have him committed), but the first half of the film reveals their close relationship and dedication to one another.

Another facet which makes "Pin" work is the character of "Pin" himself. If you’ve ever seen one of these anatomical dummys in person, you know how inherently creepy they are. Stern goes out of his way to establish the fact that the film is based in the real world, and that there is nothing supernatural going on with "Pin". However, many key scenes are filmed with just a hint of ambiguity, where Stern seems to be saying "maybe ’Pin’ is alive after all". This touch adds another level to the film. On one level, we know that "Pin"’s action are simply a product of Leon’s mental illness. But, at the same time, the viewer still asks themselves, what if it’s not all Leon?!

As mentioned in the introduction, one of the most redeeming qualities in "Pin" is its accurate portrayal of mental illness. Except for a handful of scenes, Leon comes across as perfectly normal. (Although the fact that he’s ALWAYS wearing a tie immediately told me that he was crazy!) Leon is polite, well-kempt, articulate, and intelligent. As long as no one challenges him on his beliefs about "Pin", he’s a perfect gentleman. Although, it must be noted that Leon has difficulty functioning whenever he is outside of his element or feels that he is threatened. This fits the pattern of many functional people who are mentally ill. Also, while Ursula’s behavior may strike some as strange, or unrealistic, it is also fairly accurate. Ursula is devoted to Leon and feels protective towards him. Despite the fact that she knows that he has severe problems, she sees him as being perfectly harmless and therefore, doesn’t force the issue about his illness. This is quite common with families, as they become the enablers of the mentally ill.

"Pin" represents another fine DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The picture is very sharp and stable, showing only the slightest hint of grain. There are no overt defects evident from the source print. The colors are bright and true, and the transfer displays very even fleshtones. The only time that there is any discernable problem with the transfer occurs during Chapter 26, when Ursula is wearing a sweater with horizontal lines, causing aliasing artifacts, but that’s simply a problem with the NTSC television format and its inherent low resolution. The letterbox framing appears to be accurate and there are no noticeable problems resulting from artifacting or compression issues.

The audio on the "Pin" DVD is a Dolby 2-channel surround mix. As "Pin" is more of a character driven thriller than a big-bang piece, this soundtrack works just fine. The dialogue is always clear and audible, and there is no hissing or popPing on the track. Surround sound is used quite effectively, offering musical cues and ambient sound effects. The music never overwhelms the dialogue and the volume remains well-balanced throughout the feature.

The "Pin" DVD offers an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring writer/director Sandor Stern and journalist Ted Newsom. It is one of the better commentaries that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing lately. It can sometimes be awkward when an obvious "interviewer" is present during the commentary, but Newsom is very familiar with the film and asks Stern many insightful questions. Stern is very open when discussing the film and has a very detailed memories about the production of "Pin" Through the commentary, you will learn about the film’s inception, the production, and the history of "Pin" Stern candidly discusses his relationship with the producers and distributors, while also offering details about his career. The most interesting facts to be gleaned from the commentary are the cost of making the "Pin" dummy and the way that "Pin"’s voice evolves throughout the film.

The theatrical trailer for "Pin" is also included on the DVD, and it has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The DVD case includes liner-notes about "Pin" which offer some further insight into the film’s history.
In case it’s not already apparent, allow me to state for the record that "Pin" is one of my favorite cult films and I’m very glad to see it on DVD. The movie is a textbook example of a quiet and thoroughly chilling psychological thriller. It offers great performances from its lead actors, and a neat shock ending. The "Pin" DVD brings us a stellar transfer and a very enlightening commentary. If you enjoy horror films that are a bit different, don’t be a dummy, check out "Pin!"