What’s In The Basement – Funeral Home 30 Years Later

From Canada with love comes Funeral Home, an obscure gem released at the height of the slasher craze in 1980. The film is directed by William Fruet (Spasms 1983, Killer Party 1986) and stars Lesleh Donaldson (Happy Birthday to Me 1981, Curtains 1983) as Heather , Kay Hawtrey (Videodrome 1983, Dirty Work 1998) as Mrs. Maude Chalmers, Alf Humphreys (My Bloody Valentine 1981, First Blood 1982) as Joe Yates, and Barry Morse (Space: 1999 series, The Changeling 1980) as Mr. Davis. Now thirty years since its release, Funeral Home is what is called a cult classic.  

funeral home 1
Funeral Home (1980) still

Heather (Donaldson) has just arrived in town to help her grandmother, Mrs. Chalmers (Hawtrey), run her tourist home that was, until recently, a well-respected funeral home. Mrs. Chalmers, a seemingly sweet and nice lady, was forced to convert the funeral home in order to make ends meet since her husband just “vanished into thin air.” Soon, Heather starts experiencing strange things, like a black cat constantly following her around, a creepy handyman, Billy Hibbs (Stephen E. Miller: First Blood 1982, The Stepfather 1987) skulking around the property, and voices coming from the basement.

Meanwhile, Joe (Humphreys) , a cop fresh on the force, is investigating some missing persons cases, which in a small town like this is pretty unusual. He got a call from a local farmer about a car hidden in some hay in his field. As it turns out, the car belonged to a real estate developer that wanted to buy up 2,000 acres, which happened to include the Chalmers’ funeral home.

The first guest to arrive at the Chalmers’ tourist home is Mr. Davis (Morse), a nice older gentleman who is staying there for the fishing. The next guests to arrive are Harry Browning (Harvey Atkin: Meatballs 1979 , The Incubus 1982) and his “wife,” Florie (Peggy Mahon: ALF series, Dr. Cabbie 2014), and Mrs. Chalmers does not like them one bit, as they are obnoxious and definitely not married, and in her eyes, immoral. Florie flirts with Billy, essentially making a fool out of the slow witted handyman. Mrs. Chalmers strongly suggests to Mr. Browning that he leave as soon as possible, which he refuses. That night, they go to a town dance, where Florie starts a fight that gets continued by a bunch of people, turning into an all out brawl as she and Mr. Browning walk away drunk and laughing. They go to the quarry and park on the edge of a cliff. Suddenly, someone pulls up in the Chalmers’ truck and pushes them down into their watery grave.

funeral home 3
Funeral Home (1980) still

All the while, Heather has started seeing the local boy that gave her a ride from town to the house, Rick Yates (Dean Garbett), and he starts telling her stories about her Grandfather that differ greatly from the happy stories her Grandmother has been telling her, particularly that he was a drunk and ran off with another woman while her Grandmother was in an institution for a nervous breakdown.

The next day, Mrs. Chalmers gives Mr. Davis a ride into town, when she tells him that Mr. Chalmers died 3 yrs ago. Mr. Davis looks perplexed, but reluctantly accepts the story. While she goes off to sell her homemade flower arrangements, Mrs. Chalmers looks concerned as she spies Mr. Davis going into the police station. Mr. Davis isn’t just in the area to fish, but to fish for clues as to the whereabouts of his wife, Helena. He mentions the gossip he’s heard around town, but the Sheriff dismisses it as nothing more than gossip from bored people in a small town. When he leaves, Mr. Davis is approached by Barry Oaks (Robert Craig: Tennessee Stallion 1982), who proceeds to tell him what happened to his wife.  That night, Mr. Davis tells Mrs. Chalmers what happened. She becomes disturbed and runs off crying.  He questions Billy as well, but gets nothing and leaves. Mr. Davis is killed that night by an unknown assailant.

Heather is convinced someone is being hidden in the cellar and Mrs. Chalmers has become increasingly disturbed and her demeanor is no longer that of the bubbly older lady that greeted Heather only a few days ago. Heather and Rick inspect the basement and discover Mrs. Chalmers is talking in the voice of Mr. Chalmers and she then starts to try and kill Heather and Rick for snooping.  After dodging a few swings of the axe, Heather falls into a room where she finds the slightly decomposed, but preserved body of Mr. Chalmers sitting in a chair surrounded by flowers. Luckily, Joe shows up in time to save them and Mrs. Chalmers comes to her senses with no memory of what she had been doing. It turns out that after she was released from the hospital, Mrs. Chalmers discovered Mr. Chalmers with a strange woman and killed the both of them.

Funeral Home is an atmospheric thriller with good acting, slasher elements and a Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) styled twist ending, whose success came mostly from the home video boom of the 1980s. Issued by Vogue Video in Canada in 1982, Paragon Video in 1983 and again in 1986 in a large clamshell case or oversized VHS box, probably both. As with most horror films of the ’80s, the cool cover art would have been hard to miss at the local “mom and pop” video store.

On October 29th, 2015, Lesleh Donaldson appeared before a midnight theater crowd to share some stories about her career and Funeral Home. Cast in Funeral Home at the tender age of fifteen, and being that she was raised on Hammer Horror films, she could not have been more excited to do Horror. Before the aforementioned screening she went on to say that Funeral Home was originally titled Cries in the Night, but was soon changed for the American release because it sounded too much like a porno movie. Her experience working on the film was mostly positive, although it has been reported for other cast members it was not. Funeral Home was shot over the Summer of 1979, and as Donaldson explains, “I remember because, ‘My Sharona’ was the hit song of the time.” On working with director William Fruet, she recalls that he was a very gentle, but serious man. As the lead in the film Donaldson told CrypticRock “Funeral Home was fantastic because I was the lead. I had a huge responsibility and I was on set pretty much every day.

When it was released in Canada, Funeral Home was moderately received, but it has survived due to word of mouth of the fans. In the late ’90s two men, Jason Knowles (sp) and Dan Hunter from the website, TerrorTrap, which dealt with Horror from the ’60s-’80s contacted Donaldson out of the blue wanting to talk to her about Funeral Home, 1981’s Happy Birthday to Me, and 1983’s Curtains. Donaldson’s priceless response was, “why?” To that they explained that each of those films have cult followings, and she was amazed that anybody had even seen those films.

Funeral Home (1980) still
Funeral Home (1980) still

Because Funeral Home is so obscure, it has yet to see a proper DVD release. While there is a commercial DVD for sale from CFS Releasing, it is just the VHS transferred to a DVD, so it is hard to make things out due to the degradation of whatever tape they used. However, with so many DVD/Blu-Ray companies out there, like Scream Factory and Arrow Video, it would be hard to believe that Funeral Home will not get some sort of high definition treatment in the future.  

funeral home poster


Like the in-depth, diverse coverage of Cryptic Rock? Help us in support to keep the magazine going strong for years to come with a small donation.