Sunday, November 10, 2019

Shriek of the Mutilated

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!

When it comes to writing about under appreciated classics, I generally find that I’m always about two dozen steps behind others who have done a better job of discussing the movie than I ever will.  For instance, this entry from Groovy Doom about Shriek of the Mutilated is an amazing read.

What I do have in my favor, generally due to my advanced age, is, although I am behind in writing about these movies, I believe I’m among the happy few who discovered them long before video stores and the Internet made films like Shriek better known. 

From time to time I’ve been asked how it is I can watch some movies multiple times.  I generally provide some pre-packaged pap.  But I can watch a film like Shriek of the Mutilated several times a year because, each time is like stepping into a time machine.  Whether it is Buckaroo Banzai, Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or Shriek of the Mutilated, I am transported to the first time I watched the movie.  The emotions, sounds, even the odors that surrounded me the first time I saw the film come flooding back to me.  That is the reason there are some films I can’t watch again – I’m looking at you Nightbreed.

Each time I watch Shriek of the Mutilated I’m transported to a fall night in 1979. A small house on the south side of Cape Girardeau. Not a particularly nice part of town.  A few years later I would be told that West End Blvd. only existed so people like me knew which side of town to stay on.  But that evening I didn’t have a care in the world as my Dad and I sat on a couch waiting for the movie to start.  I must admit, I don’t recall if it was on KPLR, a station out of St. Louis, or on WTBS.  I do remember the Slim Whitman and Boxcar Willie commercials (where you had your option of LP or 8-track tape).

This is not a film I discuss out loud very often because that would require me to actually verbalize the title, and how do you say the words Shriek of the Mutilated and not have people turning their heads and wondering if they should head towards the door.  So, I am thankful for the opportunity to write a bit about this film.

In all candor, I’d forgotten this film for some years.  Then Fred Olen Ray (I’m always looking for a reason to mention Fred) released the film on DVD (sans the song Popcorn) and I grabbed a copy right away (back in those heady days of going to Best Buy with their aisles and aisles of DVDs).  Sadly, it is one of four DVDs I’ve lost by lending them out… so I don’t loan out movies any longer.

Luckily, by the time I lost the disk, a copy had made its way to an online outlet and I could still watch it.

One thing I notice about the film, and other films from that era is the title.  Horror films used to really have some crazy titles used to entice thrill seekers into the drive-ins and theaters to see if they could withstand the terror.  For instance, in 1972 alone you had titles like The Gore-Gore Girls, Blood Freak, and Three on a Meat hook. Of course, with the exception of HG Lewis’ films, the titles were often the most horrific part of the movie.  I suppose, based on your taste, the same could be same for Shriek of the Mutilated.

Few films came with a better grindhouse pedigree.  With a screenplay by Ed Kelleher (Invasion of the Blood Farmers) and Ed Adlum (Blonde on a Bum Trip) directed by Michael Findlay, there could be little doubt about the lusty, bloody bravado of the picture.  

This seems like an opportune time to talk about the Grindhouse power couple that was Michael and Roberta Findley (although I don’t believe Roberta worked heavily if at all on this particular picture). They got their start making adult films including the flesh trilogy – The Touch of Her Flesh, The Curse of Her Flesh and The Kiss of Her Flesh. Both of them, under a variety of names (just check out their IMDB pages) wrote, acted and shot a number of adult films before making the shift to the horror genre with Shriek of the Mutilated. 

It should be noted, this film was their second attempt to enter the horror market.  A film by the title Slaughter was, in fact, their first.  But. discussion of that is an entirely different article.

Tragically, Michael Findley died in a helicopter accident in New York City in May 1977 (fans of genre cinema would also lose William Girdler in a helicopter accident in Manila six months later). Roberta Findley, thankfully, continued to make movies for another 10 years, with her last film, acting as Cinematographer, being 1988s Prime Evil. 

Shriek of the Mutilated follows a hunt for the elusive Yeti, headed up by Professor Prell (Alan Brock) who takes a variety of students with him to the home of a friend, Dr. Karl Werner (Tawm Ellis) on a remote, upstate New York island. Early in the film, we discover that Dr. Prell believes one of his students is talented enough to become his protégé and begins to groom student Keith Henshaw (Michael Harris) to continue his work.

Although warned to get a good nights sleep by Professor Prell, a number of the students head off to a party, where a survivor of one of Prell’s previous expeditions (everyone else perished at the hands of the beast) arrives at the party, leading up to a surreal sequence that serves little to the plot, but provides substantially to the “What the fuck did I just see?” element…and sometimes that is more important than plot.

The trip begins the next day and, stopping for fuel, the Prof and his students are warned by a gas station attendant not to continue on, but, of course, what kind of film would it be if they turned around and headed back?
Upon arrival to the island, Dr. Werner regales them with his latest encounter with the elusive Yeti.  At first light, Professor Prell and his students head off looking for the mysterious beast. As you might expect, things take a turn for the worst.

Say what you want about Shriek of the Mutilated, the ending is still one of the most amazing conclusions ever and I would be a fool to spoil it for you here.
A short perusal of the films IMDB page indicates this is the only feature for most of the cast.  I’m not certain why that is, I don’t believe it was a talent issue.  I think most of the performances are strong and would love to see a reunion piece on a special edition Blu-Ray someday. 

I’d also love to see Roberta Findlay get a bit more love.  Joe Bob Briggs did a wonderful commentary for her film Nightmare Sisters and praised her a great deal.  Still, I think it would be wonderful if more people knew her name and showed her the appreciation she deserves, not only for her work with her husband, but, for her own work.  Fans like me owe her and her late husband a great deal.

Shriek of the Mutilated is available on several streaming platforms – none of the transfers are particularly good, but that is to be expected.  Be prepared for one of the best twist endings in film history.

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