31 Days of Horror 2022: “Pin (1998)”

People talk about Pin, but they don’t tell you about Pin.

In the late 1980s, Pin was one of those horror movies that caused nothing but shudders. Whenever Pin came up in conversation, the people who had seen it would shut down immediately. “Pin,” they would say, before visibly shivering and making a mortified sound of disgust.

That reaction didn’t make sense then. It does now.

Pin is the name of a plastic medical model, a life-sized visible man, skinless and red with shiny musculature. It, he, whatever you want to call the accursed thing, is the property of the stern and prim Dr. Lindon (Terry O’Quinn). Lindon uses Pin not only for study purposes, but to help put his patients at ease. Pin can speak. At least, those who visit his office believe he can. The voice actually comes from Lindon, a skilled ventriloquist.

Lindon’s children believe Pin is real, a sentient being. His son, Leon (David Hewlett), sees Pin as an actual person. Leon and Pin hold conversations in which Pin does not respond without Father in the room.

Leon grows up to be like Dr. Lindon, a bastion of sexual repression in a three-piece suit. His sister, Ursula (Cyndy Preston), is free-spirited and enjoys exploring her budding sexuality. Leon disapproves of this behavior, as does Pin, leading to what can lightly be called “conflict.”

People talk about Pin, but they don’t tell you about Pin.

That’s because even today, more than thirty years after the film’s initial release, Pin is difficult to discuss. It is an uncomfortable movie not only to view, but to reflect upon.

Hewlett’s performance as Leon is intense. His desire to fit into society is hampered and restricted by his relationship with Pin. Leon can’t even go through with a one-night stand with former classmate Marcia Bateman (genre favorite Helene Udy) without bailing to check on Pin.

It is Leon’s relentless desire for Ursula, brotherly protectiveness turned into a sexual obsession, that makes Pin such a horrifying experience. Leon is all the things the media warned us about. He is quiet, a loner, he keeps to himself. Leon becomes trauma, a dissociated outcast with an untrustworthy friend.

We don’t bring up incestuous impulses in polite conversation. This is a society, and we don’t discuss our suspicion that the boy next door may be a deviant, bent toward violence. It goes against our grain, blemishes our veneer of morality and grace.

That may be why people talk about Pin, but they don’t tell you about Pin. I’m not going to tell you about Pin, either. Not more than I already have and not because I am some paragon of virtue. Far from it.

I won’t tell you about Pin because it cannot be properly described. The movie burns with a quiet, steady flame that increases in size as it continues. Avoiding camp and self-referential silliness, Pin carries the same devastating emotional power that it did the day it was released. Terrifying in part because of its restraint, Pin is not a blood and guts extravaganza. Instead, it is a movie that swells in the memory, tightly calling for a rewatch, until it can only be popped like a blister with a, well, you know.

When you see Pin, you may want to tell others about it. Don’t. Simply make a sound, the more inhuman and guttural the better, and shudder like a goose just walked over your grave. They’ll get the picture. They’ll know what to do. Hopefully, you do, too.

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