"Some things never rest in peace," says the ad for "Funeral Home," but the plot and development of this new film are enough to make almost any audience rest in peace for close to 90 minutes. Except, of course, that the ad campaign suggests an explicit splatter movie and instead delivers a tense and curiously bloodless psychological thriller. Despite an R rating, "Funeral Home" is so harmless it could play on television right now without having to be cut, a fact that earned it a prolonged boo from a full and disillusioned house as the final credits unfurled in a suburban theater over the weekend.
There were suggestions early on that "Funeral Home" would live up to its audience's low expectations: the opening shots of a young innocent city girl getting off the bus in the desolate countryside, shots of a dark mansion and subtle dialogue imprinting a mood ("They turned that old place into a tourist house? You wouldn't catch me staying there!"). Used to be a funeral home, of course, until the crazy undertaker "simply disappeared . . . vanished into thin air," leaving behind a stout and religiously zealous wife and a slack-jawed, dull-witted caretaker-gardener-gravedigger. And when the young innocent arrives, her path is crossed several times by one of the scroungiest black cats in cinema history. Like most hapless heroines, she's not too hip on symbolic warnings, such as when Grandma comes out of the basement with two empty teacups.
This all takes place in "Funeral Home's" first five minutes; 40 minutes later, some of the natives in the audience were getting restless (audio ve'rite': "I wish something would hurry up and happen"). Eventually, there's some mayhem (visual in the film, verbal in the audience), but it's curiously mild: a car gets pushed into a quarry, a guest gets bopped in the head, the fool rushes in where angels fear to tread and gets needled to death. There is Something Down There.
Despite an ad campaign that suggests massive bloodletting and grisly effects, most of the menace in "Funeral Home" is mental, which may be too much for audiences raised on various parts of "Friday the 13th" and other grim rippers of the time. Then again, the psychosis in the film is rooted in real life rather than the supernatural, and even a "Psycho"-style ending fails to explain why the killing went on in the first place.
"Funeral Home," written by Ida Nelson, does a fair job of capturing the odd mixture of moral certitude and confusion affecting the undertaker's wife (Lesleh Donaldson, who evolves increasingly sinister overtones in a very believable manner). The flavor of small-town life is well captured in believable characterizations and dialogue, while the technical work, particularly Mark Irwin's cinematography, is as crisp and professional as one would expect from this latest offering from the Canadian Film Development Corp. You can always spot a CFDC project: It stars one or two slightly known American actors (Barry Morse, in this case), and most of the characters say some words kinda funny (like "how-se" and "a-boat" for "house" and "about").