Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Welcome To The Snake Pit

Year: 1982
Director: Timothy Bond
Cast: Matt Craven, Jack Creley, Helen Hughes
Run Time: 1 hour 17 minutes

Plot: Till Death Do Us Part follows three married couples who have arrived at the isolated mansion of Dr. Sigmund Freed (Claude Jutra) for a weekend of radical couples counseling on the weekend between Good Friday and Easter. The house is run by Dr. Honora Freed (Toby Tarnow) and her mute younger brother Stephen (Dermot Stoker, who was a key grip on Friday the 13th: A New Beginning), who operates a bizarre control room. The couples in question are Dr. Susan (Candace O'Connor) and Robert Craig (James Leach), who are processing the loss of their son; Tony (Matt Craven of Happy Birthday to Me) and Ruth Archer (Rachel Wilkinson), who are trying to get a handle on his addiction to coke; and Wally (Jack Creley of Videodrome) and Edna Kroog (Helen Hughes of Visiting Hours, The Incubus, and The Amityville Curse), who are dealing with the fact that he's a lascivious creep and she's a nagging shrew. As bodies begin to pile up, all with crosses slashed into their foreheads, the couples begin to believe that something may be amiss at Dr. Freed's establishment.

Analysis: So. Till Death Do Us Part was the final film I needed to watch in order to fully catch up with films I missed from 1980, 1981, and 1982, following my fifth and (hopefully) final round of research for this project. It was by far the hardest to obtain, to the point that I had to acquire a VHS copy and a VCR to make this happen. Usually if a film is that difficult to track down, it's not worth tracking down. Trust me, I've been burned before. However, there was an element I hadn't accounted for: this is an obscure slasher VHS from Canada. The theorem posited by Tim Brayton, which I have had the opportunity to kick the tires on dozens of times, is that there is an inimitable magic to Canadian slasher filmmaking of the 1980s, and whatever X factor they provide usually helps those films rise above their American counterparts.

Well, that dictum has held true yet again. Even with the limitations of being a made-for-TV slasher movie, Till Death Do Us Part (whose director has had a typical career trajectory for a Canadian TV workman, going on to direct episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series in the 80's, Animorphs in the late 90's, and most recently helming a myriad of Hallmark Christmas movies) is pure bliss. I shouldn't be surprised. The TV slasher sub-subgenre should result in a lot of hollow, useless tripe, but has provided a weirdly robust slate of worthwhile projects, including Dark Night of the Scarecrow and Fantasies.

However, still color me surprised that Till Death Do Us Part is top to bottom compelling. Usually these TV slasher have to find a way to be interesting that aren't the kill sequences, and this film accomplishes that, but the kills are as singularly brutal as their bloodless execution could possibly allow, especially the opening kill that results in a woman being crucified in the upper branches of a tree. It helps that even the de rigueur kills like drowning are accompanied by that excellent organizing principal of crosses being carved onto the victims' foreheads, which both lends an air of creepiness to the proceedings and reminds viewers that this film has a screenplay with an actual consistent aim.

I've seen some people online classifying this film as a horror-comedy, which I think is a bit of a stretch (most of the "jokes" would be contained in the scenes of playful banter that precede the killings, which is an element found in most slashers, though I will give those people the excellent recurring gag where Freed reveals the titles of his published works). It's less "funny" than it is gonzo and weird, which is exactly the right move for a slasher that needs to keep its audience off kilter without pumping gallons of blood across the frame. 

There's an energy to this film that's like holding onto a live wire. From the absurd plot twists (that include undercover reporters, incest, and the truly delectable tossed-off reveal that Stephen isn't mute but "just shy") to the orgiastic pleasure with which the couples indulge in a game of Killer to the constant parade of shirtless men to Dr. Freed's incessant manic piano playing, there's constantly something going on onscreen that is well worth staring at in goggle-eyed wonder. There are also a few random moments of heartstring pulling in the subplot involving the Craigs that are more emotionally impactful than they have any right to be. 

The best way I could classify this movie is that it's like if the bloodless but playful plot structure of April Fool's Day was grafted onto the energetic dismissal of the limitations of low production value of Island of Blood. I would 100% classify this film as a hidden gem, with a single caveat. Before anyone is galvanized enough to start the journey into finding some way to watch this film, it's important to remember that these films are still graded on a sliding scale. If a weirdo mid-tier slasher isn't something that thrills you, Till Death Do Us Part still isn't going to be your thing. But if that's your bag, this film is an absolute thrill.

Killer: Dr. Honora Freed (Toby Tarnow)
Final Girl: Literally every woman except the maid and Dr. Honora.
Best Kill: I mean, who could resist the sweet delicious irony of Dr. Freed being konked on the head with the bust of himself that he keeps on his desk?
Sign of the Times: Two characters make a Deliverance reference out of nowhere.
Scariest Moment: Wally's attempts to flirt with Ruth at a garden party border on sexual assault.
Weirdest Moment: Dr. Susan decides she wants to make another baby the second she gets over the death of her son.
Champion Dialogue: "Geez, step on, you big goofball."
Body Count: 6
  1. Martine is crucified in the upper branches of a tree.
  2. Wally is hit on the head with a meat tenderizing mallet and falls down a well.
  3. Carl is stabbed in the gut with a tire iron.
  4. Tony is drowned in a jacuzzi.
  5. Dr. Sigmund Freed is hit on the head with a bust of himself.
  6. Dr. Honora Freed shoots herself.
TL;DR: Till Death Do Us Part is perhaps only excellent on the sliding scale of slasher enthusiasts, but it is excellent nonetheless.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1096

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