Family Dysfunction: Revisiting forgotten ’80s horror American Gothic


With the spooky train on its way to Halloween, we’re revisiting the insane forgotten ’80s horror movie, American Gothic.

This time of year, you’ll find horror lovers talking passionately about their favorite scary movies. AMC will air Fear Fest, and movie festivals will begin. A love of horror (which technically remains the other eleven months of the year) will see its power and popularity rise again.

This year finds us with a feast of films ready to devour and discuss. Most notably, the newly released Halloween, which has already broken huge records. It will continue next with Suspiria. Plus the countless classics watched on repeat during October. But while certain films seem to always be in the rotation (Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy, and Chucky marathons), other, older horror films sometimes get lost. Not forgotten or undiscovered. Just, brushed aside. Cue the bizarre 1987 horror flick, American Gothic.

I vividly remember the VHS cover in my video store. Yvonne De Carlo (of Munsters fame) and Rod Steiger recreated the famous painting with a horrific twist. Something about it intrigued me but my mom wouldn’t let me rent it. Horror buff that I am, somehow the cult film continued to elude me. Until I finally saw it at a horror film festival. It’s not exactly movie magic, but it’s also not bad.

And the concept? It’s actually pretty cool.

After losing a child, and spending time in a psychiatric hospital, Cynthia is released and plans to restart her life. This includes leaving Seattle and going on a trip to Jackson Island with her husband and friends. En route their private plane crashes, leaving them stranded on a remote, random island.

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After searching it, they discover a home and its inhabitants who seem to be frozen in the past. Ma and Pa are the picture of the 1920s, ‘American family’. The devout Christian couple are obsessed with their island, and an old fashioned way of living and thinking. Though they’re not keen on tourists, they welcome the stranded couples. At first their way of life seems charming. But of course, things are not what they seem. Firstly, the couple has three grown children, but the family conducts itself as if they were small kids. It only gets weirder from there.

There are lots of standard, slasher templates here. But there are some fun ideas too, including an inventive twist and fun weapons. The three “kids,” Fanny, Woody and Teddy are beyond strange from the start. For some reason, though, this barely phases any of the couples. Except one friend, Lynn, who remains wary.

As the siblings antics ensue, it’s mostly comical, but also super creepy. In fact, the whole movie operates with a quirkiness. What it lacks in actual scares it makes up for with some uniqueness. Ma and Pa are not your typical horror movie killers. Nor is Cynthia, the main character a cliched final girl.

American Gothic is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory and streaming on Amazon Prime. The movie might not be on the level of other scary classics we love, but this bizarre ’80 horror flick is worthy of a watch. Maybe even a potential remake.

Next. Freddy comes to play with The Goldbergs. dark

Have you heard of American Gothic? Seen the twisted tale? Let the other gothics know what you think in the comment section below.