“Never judge a book by its cover” has been a longstanding nugget of wisdom, but it’s kind of hard to look at the box art for The Carpenter – featuring Wings Hauser (Rubber) sporting a prohibition-era tommy gun with a giant drill bit shoved in the barrel – and not wish it would deliver the bat-shit insanity it’s so adamantly promising. The Canadian slasher/Lifetime psychological thriller hybrid has a fair amount of zany nonsense in it; maybe even more than you’d expect. But, when Doug Taylor’s script is just going through the motions and doing things like introducing a sheriff whose whole purpose is to vomit up exposition and messily chomp on donuts, the banality really starts to wear you down.
The Carpenter, at least, starts out wacky, with Alice (Lynn Adams) being committed for cutting up her husband’s clothes with a pair of scissors (Do people get committed for that?), presumably for being a prick and sleeping with his students. After having a wild dream about being accosted with power tools, she’s released and finds out that her husband has moved them into a fixer-upper out in the country for really no reason whatsoever. Most of the workers are beer-chugging, chauvinistic punks, save for the foreman who’s barely in the movie and The Carpenter (Hauser), who Alice finds working in their basement in the middle of the night.
Hauser totally steals the show as the off-kilter romantic interest, mostly because he’s doing something that either makes no sense, or is so over-the-top, it’s funny. There’s one scene in particular when he’s wooing Alice outside, and every time the camera cuts back and forth between them, he’s doing something completely different, like painting a miniature house or sanding a giant door. He plays all his scenes like a passive, charming psychopath, which ties into Martin’s (Pierre Lenoir) lecture on Paul Bunyan. I’m sure Taylor thought he could give his screenplay some real depth by making the mysterious figure in Alice’s life a rugged outdoorsman with good work ethic who stands up for his woman, while making everyone else a schmuck; instead, it’s groan-inducing, especially after the tenth time it’s heavy-handedly pointed out.
Anytime the focus switches to Alice’s emotional and mental turmoil, The Carpenter putters to a screeching halt because of its “could this all be in her imagination?” routine. But between Hauser’s scenery-chewing, Gary Busey routine, the neurotic paint store who hires Alice part-time after she admits to having hallucinations after her nervous breakdown and no experience doing anything remotely close to being called a job, and the WTF ending, The Carpenter shouldn’t be entirely dismissed. It’s a different kind of 80’s slasher and there’s a cool kill or two, but it’s a little too padded, even though it runs under ninety minutes.
The Scorpion Releasing DVD has a sole special feature, which is an introduction by Katrina Leigh Waters, a former WWE Diva, which isn’t worth watching. It’s not that she’s a horrible host; it’s just that the intro is completely unnecessary. The A/V quality is fine, considering The Carpenter seems low-budget, but it should be noted that the “uncut” footage, which has been put back in, is of significantly lower quality than the rest of the film – probably culled from a master tape. None of the films Scorpion has released under their Katrina’s Nightmare Theater banner have been great, but they’re all either receiving an official DVD treatment for the first time or are being brought back into print, so at least there’s that.