Welcome to The Prime Sublime, a column dedicated to the underseen and underloved films buried beneath page after page of far more popular fare on Amazon’s Prime Video collection. We’re not just cherry-picking obscure titles, though, as these are movies that we find beautiful in their own, often unique ways. You might even say we think they’re sublime…
“Sublime /səˈblīm/: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe”
If there’s one thing this young column has already taught me, it’s that Canadian genre movies were really odd back in the ‘80s. I already covered Crime Wave, which might be the best of the bunch, but The Carpenter isn’t far behind it. Directed by David Wellington (who went on to much bigger things) from a script by Doug Taylor, this tonally confused gem is a must-see for fans of strange cinema, so allow me to tell you why you should stream it immediately.
What’s it about?
The Carpenter is a difficult film to describe as it really is a peculiar little flick. The basic story is about a married woman, Alice (Lynne Adams), who falls in love with a sexy, ghostly carpenter (Wings Hauser) after he shows up to renovate her house. Not even death can stop him from completing the project, and anyone who gets in his way is destined to meet the business end of his nail gun.
At its core, though, The Carpenter is a love story about two outsiders finding each other. Anyone who isn’t Alice or the carpenter is an asshole, so it’s easy to root for the pair of them. In the opening scenes, Alice’s husband institutionalizes her for cutting his suits to shreds, while her doctors make jokes like “you have to be crazy to want to come back here” when she finally gets released. Of course, this is an ‘80s horror movie, and good taste humor isn’t to be expected.
The carpenter is protective of the woman who occupies his dream home, but it doesn’t take long for his homicidal tendencies to spiral out of control. Is he a figment of Alice’s imagination, or is he the real ghost of a dead construction worker? Who knows, but the beauty of The Carpenter is wondering what the hell is happening.
What makes it sublime?
Movies about ghosts killing people tend to fall into the haunted house or slasher categories, but The Carpenter defies genre conventions. While there are horror elements and some gruesome deaths, the film is more like a soap opera that’s been cross-pollinated with a cheap psychological thriller and a dark comedy.
The mix of styles is awkward, but it’s all part of the charm. This is the type of movie where Alice and the carpenter have deep conversations while he simultaneously cuts up some dude’s body with a power tool. In one scene, the ghost also compares hard work to music and discusses how it “builds the world.” He’s full of fascinating insights about life, and his messages really seem to resonate with the smitten Alice.
The Carpenter also contains some of the most casual scenes of slaughter you’re ever likely to see in a movie. The ghost just wanders up to people and shreds them without breaking so much as a sweat, and he’s prone to delivering some funny lines as well. For example, in one scene, he walks out of a room, tells a would-be rapist that he needs to learn to keep his hands to himself, then cuts off both of the guy’s arms. The creep doesn’t even let out a scream, and Alice casually watches before going to bed in a calm state. It’s amazing, but you need to see it for yourself to fully appreciate just how hilariously strange the moment in question is.
I’m pretty sure that there’s a message about female empowerment in here too, but that said, the film also seems to yearn for the days of hard-working men who take pride in building something while the women stay at home and let them take care of business. But these ideas never seem to be in conflict with each other, so it’s entirely up to the audience to decide what the movie is trying to say.
While The Carpenter doesn’t boast any psychedelic visuals, it does play out like a strange and hallucinogenic fever dream, all the way down to its woozy, dreamlike score. Characters feel detached from reality, and they often say things that most normal people wouldn’t. But it’s a glorious one of a kind experience that every schlock aficionado ought to view at least once.
And in conclusion…
If you like movies that are on an island unto themselves, The Carpenter is the movie for you. It’s a lost treasure from a great era in horror filmmaking, but it’s never too late to discover the movie and fall in love with it. The film tries to blend several tones and moods together, and it succeeds in doing so in its own bizarre way. If you give this one a chance, I promise that you will be entertained and bewildered in equal measure. Such is the power of The Carpenter.