In "American Gothic", the story revolves around Cynthia, a young woman mourning the death of her baby daughter, for which blames herself (and she really should!). Following her psychiatrist's advice, Cynthia and her husband, Jeff, go on a trip with some friends, but their trip is cut short when they find themselves stranded in a deserted island. During a walk around the woods, the group finds a wooden cottage and they decide to break in (of course they do!). While the guys and girls are snooping around the place, going through the drawers and even dancing the Charleston like complete imbeciles, the owners of the house arrive. The householders are an elderly couple who call themselves "Ma" and "Pa". Jeff apologizes for the intrusion, but Ma tells him not to worry and invites them to stay for as long as they need. Later, we find out that Ma and Pa have a "child" named Fanny, a middle-aged woman who thinks she's 11-years-old. Fanny has two brothers, who are also middle-aged and behave like children.
Up until this point, we assume that this is only a very peculiar family, but the truth is that Ma and Pa are religious fundamentalist who condemn and punish everything that is disapproved by the Bible, and they have trained their "children" to be that way too. As it is expected, the young friends and their modern lifestyle don't quite fit with the family's traditional values and it doesn't take long for the carnage to begin.
"American Gothic" is one of those films where it's very hard not to like the killers more than the victims. The family members are judgmental and self-righteous, which are two qualities that many people dislike, but it is also evident that they simply don't know any better as a consequence of living in seclusion and having been trained to strictly obey the Bible. At first, Ma and Pa actually seem to mean well, since they offer shelter without expecting anything in return. However, this so-called act of kindness could also be explained through the Bible, which they seem to follow unconditionally ("Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless"). It is uncertain whether Ma and Pa were being nice out of kindness or if they were only obeying the book, but regardless of their primary motives, they help the young friends nonetheless. On the other side, these ungrateful bastards show no respect, they laugh at the family's lifestyle, make fun of the obviously mentally ill "children" and expect the family to adjust to their lifestyle, so in the end, one sort of expects them to die horribly. Even though the modern audience would most likely relate to the young friends, at the same time, it is easy to understand why the family members were out to get them. It is evident that the family doesn't kill just to please the Lord, they also get pleasure from it but they are immune from prosecution due to insanity and still less offensive than the young group. The other reason to like the family of lunatics more than the young friends, is that the family members are actually funny and likable due to their hilarious insanity. Crazy characters tend to be more appealing, at least compared to these nasty and generic young characters. I wouldn't exclusively blame "American Gothic" for providing unlikeable victims, as this is a common thing in slasher films. Perhaps, in some cases, it is intentional and we are supposed to root for the bad guys or even take these films as a cautionary tale with some kind of moral, like in this case "Don't be a disrespectful jerk to those who have different values" or "don't barge in and expect the others to adjust to your own ways".
"American Gothic" provides a few funny moments and lines, which in some cases seem intentional and in other cases not. For instance: I think the family members, especially Fanny, are supposed to be somewhat humorous. I refuse to believe that these over-the-top characters were not deliberately written to provide a few laughs. The acting on the other hand, is one of the things that had me chuckling once or twice and I don't think this was supposed to happen. The beautiful Yvonne De Carlo plays the part of Ma and she does it very well. Rod Steiger on the other hand, mostly gave a solid performance, but I also found his acting to be over the top sometimes, which provides this film with a nice campy nature. Actress Janet Wright basically steals the show with her performance of Fanny, the daughter. Not only she manages to be deliberately funny, she also portrays a character that is somehow likable in a condescending way (sort of like a mental patient claiming to be Napoleon, maybe?).
As for the gore, there really isn't much and towards the last minutes, we get a lot of murders in a very short period of time, but it seems rushed and it is hard to appreciate them. I think this is a little bit disappointing, as gore and creative murders are usually expected in films like this. The low amount of gore doesn't ruin an otherwise entertaining film, but it sure gives the feeling that something is missing.
This film goes to a safe place by using the classic formula of a group of moronic friends becoming stranded in a deserted place and ending up dead. "American Gothic" goes out of its way to avoid being too generic and makes a noble effort to stand out, by offering a very colorful family of villains and it works pretty good, even if it's unintentionally funny for moments. We also get a far-fetch twist towards the end, which I won't spoil, but I will say that I found it a little bit unnecessary and rushed, although not enough to ruin a film that is mostly fun and respectable.