Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Special Kind of Nanny

If there’s a movie about an anatomically correct medical mannequin that somehow inspires family strife and murder, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s getting covered here at the Doll’s House. Hence, after sitting atop my queue through the change of the seasons, 1988’s cult classic Pin finally gets its chance.
Quick Plot: Ursula and Leon grow up under the questionable parenting skills of their haughty mom and doctor dad, a cold and clinical man who naturally earns a few raised eyebrows based primarily on the fact that he’s played by Terry O’Quinn. For the kids, the warmest relationship they seem to have is with Pin, the full-size medical dummy that  hangs out in dad’s office and occasionally offers advice, makes bets for clothing, has sex with the middle aged nurse and explains the birds and bees.

Naturally, Ursula and Leon don’t grow up to be Mr. and Ms. Well Adjusted. Ursula takes a few trips to the backseats of the football team, eventually leading to an abortion at 15 performed Naturally. 
Leon, on the flip side, blossoms into the awkward David Hewlett (yes, the surly dude from Cube), a promising young man with little personal skills and a continued obsession with befriending Pin. When their parents die in a car accident, a frilly aunt attempts to move in but to Leon, the tragedy is the perfect chance to make Pin an official member of the family.

Pin is certainly an odd film, one that seems to scream ‘cult classic!’ in its very concept. Within the first few scenes, I felt a strong Flowers In the Attic vibe, something that made perfect sense once I learned it was based on a novel by future V.C. Andrews ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman. Like those modern gothic tales or 1980’s Magic, Pin is far more about the dysfunction bred in cold families (particularly those upper class Caucasian ones) than the exploits of a killer doll.
There is indeed something strange about Pin, but it’s clearly Leon who needs a little help. Ursula pieces it together from a part-time job at the library, where she spends some time working, some time flirting, and a fair amount of the rest researching schizophrenia. Leon is damaged and confused, primarily from being raised in such a detached manner coupled with his own possible leanings towards mental illness. The story of Pin could have been told without the presence of a creepy skinless mannequin, but director Sandor Stern and his strong cast work off it to create a unique and unsettling tale.
High Points
The characterization of Ursula and Leon works incredibly throughout the film, an impressive feat when we see them as innocent children, curious adolescents, daring teenagers and finally, sad adults
Low Points
There’s definitely a drag felt in the film’s latter half, where there’s not necessarily a drive at any conclusion
Lessons Learned
When working in a library, avoid the urge to hum
If you’re normal, you can look forward to eventually feeling ‘the need’
Counting down from 100 by 7s is hard at any age
Pin is oddly hard to find on DVD, but North American audiences should take advantage of it streaming on Netflix. The film is far from perfect, but it’s quietly creepy and truly unique, well worth 90 minutes out of your evening. Plus, this is probably your only chance to see John Locke perform ventriloquism and letting that pass you by is akin to not pushing that button in 108 minutes. Think on that, won’t you?


  1. I had so many opportunities to buy this on DVD back in the day, but the price scared me off (which is nuts if you knew anything about my purchasing habits back in the halcyon days of having an insane credit limit and a high school eduction). When this got added to Watch Instantly, I freaked the fuck out. And then when I watched it, I freaked out again. An odd little movie about broken people and their creepy doll. Achingly Canadian and all the better for it.

  2. It is INCREDIBLY Canadian. Odd that I only learned about it last year when it hit Instant, especially since I was a ridiculous VC Andrews nerd and should've known about it via Andrew Niederman. Feels like something you guys should cover on the Spooktacular (or the P round of CreepShowShow, of course).

  3. I love this movie. Super creepy and unique. It's like a sinister and deadly serious "Weird Science."

  4. Hm. I've actually never seen Weird Science (*ducking as you throw a chemistry set my way*) but should I do so while recasting the roles in my head with the Pin cast? Hmmmm...

  5. Great write-up. I watched this flick instantly on Netflix, too, and was suitably impressed. I viewed it as a sort of variation on Psycho...but that's just me.

    My review (if you're interested)


  6. First of all I must say that I was a V.C. Andrews nerd too, and you're spot on when you compare the themes of Pin to most of the plots of Ms. Andrews books--family dysfunction, incestual longings, death, and mental illness, etc. And it is pretty interesting that Andrew Neiderman became a ghostwriter for the later V.C. Andrews books. It's too bad that the later books became so derivative and by the numbers (I stopped reading them after the Runaways saga).

    But getting back to Pin, I have to say that I am a big fan of this movie and I was lucky enough to find a used copy of the DVD a few years back. Sci Fi channel used to air the movie every so often (this was of course before they started showing their numerous craptacular "original" movies). Anyway, I'm glad you had the chance to watch it and that you enjoyed it!

  7. Thanks Johnny! Good review too, I remember seeing it on your blog a while back but skipping it so I didn't get anything spoiled. Have you seen Magic? Very similar vibe, and I think you'd dig it.

    Dorian, I stopped the VC Andrews(ish) reading with The Runaways also. Actually I read the first Rain book, that might have come after. The books are definitely formulaic, but man, that was how I spent so much free time as a teen. I still maintain that Flowers In the Attic and If There Be Thorns are genuinely good books and that's part of why I despise Twilight so much: it's probably as melodramatic as any of the Andrews series, but at least the latter always had a strong female character at its center. Bella has about as much strength as a toothpick.


    I read the novel (of the same name) the movie's based on. Book version boyfriend has, not a watch, but an artificial leg that comes off during the struggle with sis's brother.

    Brother throws it on the fire, fully expecting the evidence to burn up before sis walks in.

    Surprise, surprise!! Leg is fire retardant.

    That weird little bit has always stuck with me.

  9. Good lord this movie creeped me the fuck out when I first saw it (and it still does).

  10. Interesting Anonymous. I might hunt down the novel now.

    It IS creepy PoT, in a really eerie and understated way. Good stuff.

  11. I remember renting this back during ye olde days of VHS. I distinctly remember finding it quite strange and disturbingly cold, clinical. I should watch it again and see what my reaction twenty years on is to it.

  12. Good review! Sounds worth a watch to be honest. Will have to try get a hold of it here in the UK.

  13. Definitely revisit it McQwerty. Feels like it's odd enough to have held up well.

    And thanks Cat! Not sure how available it is anywhere on DVD, since it apparently was released and pulled here (probably a folded company or the like), but it's out there in the streaming world so I'm sure you can find a copy somewhere!