No Grant Wood Painting on This Pacific Isle: ‘American Gothic (1988)’

Yvonne “Lily Munster” DeCarlo? Rod “On the Waterfront” Steiger? Michael J Pollard of Bonnie and Clyde and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland fame? Take my money.

Sadly American Gothic seems to reside in the “forgotten gem” chapter of history. Ask any self-respecting slasher or 80s horror film fan if they’ve seen this tasty little bit of backwoods absurdity. I guarantee you the answer is “no.”

The setup’s simple enough. A pack of young folks are stranded on a remote wooded island in the Pacific Northwest and, as is par for the course in this type of flick, some really weird shit starts going down. For starters, there’s an old couple (Steiger and DeCarlo) who dress, speak, and live like it’s 1929. Their daughter, who’s obviously pushing 40, parades around in a little girl’s dress, jumping rope, and rocking her “baby.” A little while later, we meet her older but equally pampered brothers who run around the island playing slightly more violent games.

When the stranded youngins fail to live up to the ludicrous puritanical standards of their unlikely hosts, the family decides to off em.’ Prepare for axe swinging, stitching needle poking, unicorn impaling, rope strangling, and rock splattering. In other words, a fun Friday night.

Maybe the most interesting part of this film is the decidedly flawed, guilt-ridden, and somewhat mentally unstable lead or final girl. A refreshing switch up for a slasher. Slashers, as you known, often find themselves at the center of discussions regarding the cinematic oversimplification of women as either slutty, drunken, privileged princesses or soft, naive, concubine domestic types. This movie understands the gray areas. In this movie, girls are equally wacko. Brought to you by the Coalition of Women for Equal Presence in Psychopathic Epics. 2.5/4 Stars.


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