Most consider Jamie Leigh Curtis to be the reigning queen of the slasher genre. And for the most part that's true, but hardcore slasher fans will always remember Lesleh Donaldson. Appearing in three slasher films, Funeral Home from 1982 was the only one to feature her in the important “final girl” role. She wouldn't get as much screen time in Happy Birthday to Me or Curtains but with her piercing blue eyes and slender features, it’s a wonder that we didn't see more of her in the eighties.
In Funeral Home Donaldson plays Heather, a young teenager who has decided to spend the summer helping her grandmother, Maude Chalmers, run a new Bed and Breakfast. The year prior Maude's funeral director husband mysteriously vanished and so to make ends meet she has been forced to convert the family funeral home into a tourist resort. It isn't long after arriving that Heather discovers people have been turning up missing. Something is not quite right at the Chalmers place.
Being produced the same year as Friday the 13th, this is a very early entry in the slasher genre with many necessary elements missing. The body count is extremely low (only 4 people!?!) and there is no nudity to speak of. To make matters worse the finale is a bit anticlimactic. Yet with all these flaws there is a lot to like.
Lesleh Donaldson is extremely likable and it's fun to watch her play sleuth as she endeavors to get to the bottom of things. Kay Hawtry is also fun as the overly moralistic Maude Chalmers. There are mysteries surrounding Maude's husband, guests suddenly disappearing overnight and disturbing voices coming from the basement. There is an enjoyable subplot of a local deputy that is trying to solve the case when, of course, the local hick sheriff would rather let things go. It's all pretty standard stuff, but still very entertaining.
Along the way we have the usual red herrings such as Maude's mentally handicapped groundskeeper who likes to mean-mug the guests (like the ludicrous character from Pieces). But in the end, the reveal is all too apparent. It's definitely a resolution we have seen more than once. While entertaining, the finale doesn't have the panache of better slasher entries like My Bloody Valentine or The Burning. It seems to be building to something exciting only to suddenly peter out.
It sounds like I did not like Funeral Home but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. If you enjoy slasher movies and are looking for one you haven't seen before, it is competently directed. (The director William Fruet would go on to direct the popular Killer Party) The cast is very capable and the killer is menacing. It is a 3rd tier slasher entry, but definitely a must for completists.