"James Keach stars in this wickedly funny thriller from the makers of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.
Sigmund Freed is a crazed psychiatrist who runs a rather unusual practice from a remote farm he has transformed into a psychological retreat. When three unknowing couples sign up for a weekend of marital counseling, it's Freed's dream come true. He quickly involves the couples in a series of bizarre psychological games, including primal screaming, role-playing, and that old standby, murder in the dark!
Patients are turning up dead everywhere. Dr. Freed is very pleased with the progress of his patients, but his wife has had enough. She's decided to part from her husband, and she knows exactly what to do, because she remembers that very simple vow ... TILL DEATH DO US PART!"
An inevitable by-product of the slasher movie craze of the early 80's (just like with any other film craze) were the spoofs. However, unlike the broader comedy of films like WACKO and STUDENT BODIES (both 1981), which owe as much to AIRPLANE (1980) as they do to HALLOWEEN (1978), the obscure Canadian TV movie, TILL DEATH DO US PART (1982), has a much more off-the-wall approach.
A deranged psychiatrist (is there any other kind?), Dr. Sigmund Freed (Claude Jutra), alternates running a clinic at his isolated country house with binges of eyeball rolling piano key bashing. Along with his seemingly meek wife, Honora (Toby Tarnow), and her seemingly mute younger brother, Steve (Dermot Stoker) (who it turns out, in one of the film's better jokes, isn't actually mute but just shy!), run a weekend retreat where warring married couples can come and try Freed's experimental psychoanalysis. However, behind this respectable, if a little eccentric exterior, lies a dark secret: in a prologue (which comes after an appalling credits sequence which just scream TV movie), we see the clinic's maid steal a videotape of her having sex with Steve and escape by jumping from an upstairs window; fleeing through the dark woods that surround the house she steps on a bear trap, before being grabbed by an unseen assailant and bloodily crucified on a nearby tree.
Unaware of the recent murderous activities at the clinic, three couples arrive for the weekend. Firstly, the middle-aged Wally (Jack Kreley) and Edna (Helen Hughes) (seeing the clinic Edna gushes, "I'm speechless", to which her irascible husband spits back "Fat chance!"). Next are Susan (Candace O'Connor) and Robert (James Keach), a bickering blonde couple who curiously have almost identical hair-dos! Finally, the fast living Tony (Matt Craven) (who met a messy end at the end of a shish-kebab in HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)) and his wallflower heiress wife Ritchie (Rachel Wilkinson) turn up late, prompting more eye-rolling from Dr Freed, "They will pay for this. I loathe tardiness!", he hisses, somewhat unreasonably.
Freed's methods aren't exactly conventional. Amusingly, his rules for the weekend take care of many of the cliches of the horror film: he's disconnected the phones so they won't be disturbed; the couples must obey whatever he says; they mustn't leave the clinic whatever happens until Sunday; and he says that whatever happens it's for a reason. After a bout of primal screaming at each other he suggests a game of Murder in the Dark, for reasons only known to himself. He tells the incredulous couples, "I want you to scare each other to death ... You will know the killer by his wink.". Off they scarper into the darkened house to lurk in corners and wait. The game's killer wanders around winking frantically (accompanied by a bizarre comedy sound). However, there's somebody there for whom the game isn't quite enough. One of the group is hit over the head with a meat tenderiser and has a cross carved on his forehead with a knife; he's pushed down a well to his death. Soon the rest of the group will be concerned about saving more than their marriages!
TILL DEATH DO US PART doesn't wholly succeed as a slasher flick, neither does it wholly succeed as a comedy, either. However, it certainly does have its moments. It's no FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) but the violence is surprisingly graphic for a TV movie. Also, what America TV movie from this or any era would you see with cocaine snorting and a patient being treated with powerful hallucigens (the character in question stumbles across the crucified maid, thinking he's having a bad trip!)? The jokes often fall flat, but some of them hit home and the characters are pleasingly larger than life, like the requisite creepy ground man with a bunny fetish, without becoming complete buffoons (although the Doc comes close). Freed refuses to contact the authorities when the bodies start turning up, he flatly states, "We don't want the police disturbing us. Tramping through the house with their big boots.". Amusingly, he wants to carry on with the sessions: one grieving widow is told, "You'll feel much better after a good night's sleep."(!) He also tries to pass of the first murders as accidents; "Well, how do you explain that cross cut into his forehead?" asks one incredulous guest, "Well, it is Easter.", deadpans Freed.
The film continues in this vein until an ending which owes more to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie than the slasher flicks of the early 80's, where amusingly the Doc can't resist psychoanalyzing the killer's motives when they are unmasked even though it probably isn't the wisest thing to do!
TILL DEATH DO US PART is no classic but is an interestingly oddball addition to the subgenre (and the only Easter set slasher flick?). Let's just hope it eventually turns up in a better print that the one I saw, which look like it had been mastered through a dirty fish tank filter.
BODYCOUNT 6 female:2 / male:41) Female crucified on trees