Review: Pin / Cert: 15 / Director: Sandor Stern / Screenplay: Sandor Stern / Starring: David Hewlett, Cynthia Preston, Terry O’Quinn, Bronwen Mantel, John Pyper-Ferguson / Release Date: Out Now
Based on a novel of the same name by Devil’s Advocate author Andrew Neiderman, Pin is a cult Canadian horror from the late '80s, set for a remake to be released some time next year.
Pin is a life-size anatomically correct dummy that Dr Linden uses to explain human bodily functions to his children Leon and Ursula, using ventriloquism to make the doll seem like it’s talking to them. However, Leon’s schizophrenia, undiagnosed due to Linden’s focus on his work and his wife’s obsessive compulsion for cleanliness, leads him to believe Pin is alive. The closest thing he has to a friend, he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent anyone from taking him away.
Living dolls are a rich vein for horror filmmakers to mine. While often not producing works of especially high quality, they still often result in wonderfully inventive and entertainingly depraved sagas such the Demonic Toys or Puppet Master series. Pin, however, is a different beast entirely. Its slow-burning plot has very little in the way of outright action; much of the unease instead comes from rising apprehension courtesy of Leon’s fragmenting sanity and his increasingly vehement insistence that Pin is talking to him. Unlike similarly themed efforts like Child’s Play and the little-seen Pinocchio’s Revenge, there is never any implication that anything occurring is genuinely the work of Pin, but Leon’s utter conviction in the dummy being alive does occasionally makes you wonder, even if just for a few moments.
Although the film does contain a number of deaths, far more unsettling is Leon’s fixation on Pin and his quest to make him as lifelike as possible, first dressing the doll in his father’s clothes and then attaching artificial skin and a wig. The extremes he goes to in order to prevent anyone from taking Pin or separating him from Ursula veer into more standard horror territory, but it’s in the fanatical obsession behind them that the true terror lies.
As well as madness and death, the film also has disquieting psychosexual overtones, from young Leon witnessing his father’s nurse using Pin as a life-size sex toy, to later on where he reads out a poem he’s composed whose protagonist openly talks about wanting to rape his sister. His fear that Ursula will eventually abandon him, thus no longer belonging to him, pushes him further into his dissociative delusion, eventually reaching the point where he can no longer tell the difference between Pin’s “thoughts” and his own. While Leon’s psychological breakdown is genuinely creepy to observe, you also can’t help but pity him, as he is as much a victim of his own mental illness as anyone else is of his actions.
Perhaps best known as narcissistic astrophysicist Rodney McKay in Stargate: Atlantis, David Hewlett has been a staple of genre cinema for years, from cult favourite Cube and the underrated Cypher, to spin-offs Scanners II and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Released in 1988, Pin was his first major role and despite only being about 19, he exudes Leon’s encroaching madness with a terrifying subtlety that could have been overstated all too easily.
A low-key psychological horror produced at a time when the genre was swamped with interminable sagas of invincible otherworldly serial killers, Pin is subtle, disturbing, and brilliant.