Saturday, August 28, 2021

Severed Arm, The (1973)

... aka: Amputiert - Der Henker der Apokalypse (Amputated: The Hangman of the Apocalypse)
... aka: A Vingança Será Minha (Revenge Will Be Mine)
... aka: Brazo asesino (Killer Arm)
... aka: La grande paura (The Big Fear)
... aka: Los mutilados (The Mutilated)
... aka: Nightmare in Garden City

Directed by:
Thomas S. Alderman

A group of six middle-aged friends: Police detective Mark Richards (Paul Carr), TV writer Jeff Ashton (Paul G. Cannon, also the associate producer), Jewish radio DJ "Mad Man" Herman (Marvin Kaplan), Dr. Ray Sanders (John Crawford), building contractor Bill Hale (Vince Martorano) and Ted Rogers (Ray Dannis), descend into an old mine shaft to "collect rock samples." Due to some ill-advised hammering at the sides of the mine, there's a cave-in that closes off their one and only exit. There's an additional problem other than the obvious: The men are out there in the middle of nowhere as part of a two week camping trip and no one's going to be expecting them home any sooner than that. They also didn't bring along any food and only have a limited supply of water.

Seven days pass... and then two weeks... and then they completely run out of water. As the men start to weaken and wither away, a difficult decision must be made. Based on an old story he remembers about stranded sailors and how they managed to survive sixty days under similar conditions, Jeff suggests they resort to cannibalism. The plan is not to kill one of them, but only take a piece off at a time as needed. The meal supplier will even get to choose which part of his body he's willing to sacrifice. They draw strips of paper and Ted ends up with the shortest one. After he freaks out and convinces the others to hold out a little longer, Ted loses it and attempts to kill Herman while he's sleeping. The men then pin him down and cut off his arm with a cauterized knife. Just seconds later, and before they even have a chance to eat the arm, they're rescued. Oops!

The men concoct a lie to tell the authorities: Their newly de-limbed buddy's arm was crushed in the cave-in and had to be removed. As Ted is being hauled away on a stretcher, he leaves them with a not-so-veiled threat: "I won't forget."

Five years pass and the men have all moved on with their lives and careers. Well, except for Ted, who ended up having to be put in a mental institution. Jeff receives a package in the mail, which contains a severed human arm removed from a corpse in the morgue. That gruesome special delivery just so happens to coincide with Ted's release from the institution. Rightly sensing that's a sign of things to come, Jeff and Ray get back into contact with the three others to discuss what to do. It's agreed they will pay Ted and his family a visit at their home to mend fences. Before they can, someone armed with a hatchet sneaks inside Ray's home, attacks him and chops off his arm. The psycho then hits Jeff over the head while he's showering and writes "Next" in shaving cream on his bathroom mirror.

Jeff and Detective Mark head out to Ted's place, where they're greeted by Ted's adult daughter, Teddy (former Gidget and Beach Party star Deborah Walley). She claims she hasn't even seen him since his release, that her mother is ill and that her brother, Roger (Bob Guthrie), moved to the opposite side of the country as soon as he finished high school. However, she insists her father, wherever he may be, is innocent and couldn't possibly have done what they're accusing him of. After they take her to see Ray, who's in critical condition in the hospital, she agrees to help them uncover who the culprit is. But time is running out as each of the men is stalked and murdered after being threatened over the telephone.

This movie is clearly uneven when it comes to the performances, plotting (including some clumsily-handled mystery elements) and pacing, but I still ended up enjoying it, anyway. There are some well-done horror sequences in here, especially the bits at the radio station and one taking place in an elevator, good use over-lighting for shadow-casting purposes and a very interesting and offbeat electronic score from Phillan Bishop, who provided the same for the memorable MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973). The finale is amusingly warped and this is also historically interesting as a proto slasher due to the amount of stalking scenes, feet tracking scenes, fetishistic weapon-brandishing shots, gratuitous killer POV shots and the killer's amazing ability to seemingly teleport all over the place from one scene to the next.

Speaking of the killer, he / she does take some getting used to. I couldn't quite figure out if they were being sadistic and intentionally toying with victims prior to murdering them or flat out incompetent since they take forever to actually kill anybody! After popping out of the darkness to chop multiple characters (Ray, Jeff, Mark...) in many different sequences, it takes an entire hour for anyone to actually die!

Adding additional interest is the fact this is the earliest film I've seen that uses the whole "The call is coming from the other line inside your house!" plot device and it does it a full year before it was more famously used in Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) and four years before Fred Walton's short The Sitter (1977); the basis for his later film When a Stranger Calls. I was curious about this particular trope and how it came to be and discovered it may have first been used in the 1971 short Judson's Release, which was made by Terence H. Winkless while he was still a film student at USC. I looked everywhere and was unable to find this short to verify the claim but apparently it, as well as other USC shorts from directors like John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon, are going to be included in a documentary called Shock Value: The Movie.

Certainly a very well-distributed and easy-to-find title, this has received numerous releases over the years. However, you have to be careful which version you get as there are several different cuts on the market. The first is a censored edit prepped for U.S. television, which was used for most of the early American VHS (Congress Video Group, Star Classics) releases, as well as most of the bargain DVD releases from companies like Brentwood (included as part of their 4 movie release "Flesh Feast"), Alpha (who've paired it with the 1977 TV movie Good Against Evil) and Rogue Video. Even the initial restored 2012 DVD release from Code Red, who paired with So Sad About Gloria (1973) as part of their "Maria 'B' Movie Mayhem" line, was missing some footage. That leaves the 1981 VHS release from Video Gems as the only uncut, uncensored U. S. release of the film until the 2020 Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome.

In addition to that there were at least two German VHS releases under two different titles: Nightmare in Garden City on the Vegas Video label, and Amputiert - Der Henker der Apokalypse / "Amputated: The Hangman of the Apocalypse" on the Starlight Video label. The uncut German DVD release from CMV Laservision retains the latter title and artwork.

Director Alderman and his co-scripter, Darrel Presnell, had previously worked on soft-core sex movies like The Master-Piece! (1969) and Coed Dorm (1971), which also featured Dannis and Guthrie. It was based on a story co-written by Marc B. Ray, who'd previously written, directed and produced SCREAM BLOODY MURDER (1972) and eventually moved on to a more wholesome line of work writing for The New Mickey Mouse Club and Kids Incorporated.


Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1987)

... aka: Esclavas del espacio (Slaves of Space)
... aka: Esclaves du futur (Slaves of the Future)
... aka: Jäger der verschollenen Galaxie (Hunter of the Lost Galaxy)
... aka: Les captives de l'espace (Space Captives)
... aka: Mujeres Encadenadas (Chained Women)
... aka: Otrokyne z konce vesmíru (A Slave from the End of the Universe)
... aka: Rebelião nas Galáxias (Rebel of the Galaxies)
... aka: Slave Girls

Directed by:
Ken Dixon

Aboard a prison spaceship, a pair of bikini-clad captives; the soft and curvaceous Daria (Elizabeth "Cayton" / Kaitan) and the athletic and toned Tisa (Cindy Beal), break their chains, escape their cell, conk a few dumb guards over the head with a metal pipe, steal a spaceship and then crash land in the ocean on an unknown, though human-friendly, planet. Well, human-friendly when it comes to the atmosphere, at least! Daria crawls out of the water onto a tropical island, makes her way through the jungle and ends up at a castle fortress filled with very peculiar things. For starters, the main room of the fortress is filled with weapons and all manner of dead, stuffed animals, plus nearly all of the windows have been barred. Second, the crazy-eyed, black-clad castle owner, Zed (Don Scribner), is shady and sinister from the second he first introduces himself and spends his days sleeping and his nights hunting. Third, Zed has two android assistants who've been programmed not to divulge too much information to strangers and one of them is tasked with keeping guard over his secretive "trophy room." Finally, two other "guests;" Shela (Brinke Stevens) and her brother Rik (Carl Horner), are also present and ended up stranded there under similar, mysterious circumstances. In both cases, it appears their spaceships were intentionally drawn there by gravitational pull. On the more positive side, Daria's sister in crime shows up there unharmed, so at least there's that.

Our plucky heroine soon learns that there were four guests there only a week earlier, but two have since mysteriously disappeared without a trace. No explanation is provided by their host as to where they went. However, each had been invited into the trophy room prior to vanishing. Rik confesses to Daria that he believes they're all being kept prisoner there. For what reason, he doesn't quite know. However, the excuse Zed uses for why he can't take any of the stranded travelers off the planet - his own spaceship needs repairs - doesn't quite fly since his androids sneak out to make supply runs with it.

As it turns out, Zed isn't just interested in hunting wild animals, but also humans. After killing his victims, he decapitates them to add another "trophy" to his collection and is also a sexual sadist who likes chaining naked girls up, knocking them out and then raping them. During one memorable shot, Stevens is seen lying unconscious and naked on a slab while a shirtless Zed smokes a post-rape ciggie and one of his robots gives him a back massage! Afterward, Stevens' character is used to force the brother into another hunting "game." It doesn't end well for Rik when he becomes ensnared in a giant spiderweb and is shot to death. Wanting more of a challenge, Zed then decides to release all three women into the woods simultaneously, giving them only hunting knives and a one-hour head start. He then goes after them with his crossbow.

Not a bad idea at all here, an updating of Richard Connell's classic 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game (most famously adapted for the screen way back in 1932), given a sci-fi twist and home video exploitation elements. This is also the kind of competently-crafted B-movie that's all but extinct nowadays. You know, actually shot on film (35mm even) with real production design, hand-crafted John Carl Buechler monsters (they throw in robots, mutants, green-blooded zombies AND an impressive Predator-like "Phantazoid Warrior") and whatever optical and visual effects they could squeeze in for the meager budget (in this case, 90,000 bucks). I'd say about every penny of that ended up on the screen. Crucial elements for this type of film (energy, swift pacing, atmosphere, spirited acting, nice colors...) are all here, as well as some humor (my favorite bit being the bickering robots), minor gore, sometimes hilariously pseudo-philosophical dialogue and plenty of skin from the three lovely female stars, though done with some restraint and as an accompaniment to the story, not the entire reason for the film's existence.

Leading lady Kaitan was always considered a second tier Scream Queen during the 80s and 90s and spent most of her time fighting a losing battle competing for bubbly blonde B-movie roles against the reigning queen of such parts: Linnea Quigley. Though Kaitan's career had some promising blips of life during the 80s, it eventually devolved to the point where she appeared to just be getting Linnea's leftovers; evidenced by the fact she was first in line to replace Quigley when she bailed out early from the Vice Academy comedy series. I'm not saying this to denigrate Kaitan in any way as I quite like her as an actress. She was gorgeous, came off as very pleasant on-screen and had fair acting chops. Just like Quigley (here's that comparison again!) she was underrated for her comedic talents, which can be seen in all their glory in Assault of the Killer Bimbos (1988) and several other films. I'm only pointing out that the lane she was traveling in during much of her heyday was already very much occupied, which probably explains why she didn't have quite the staying power of Quigley. Her co-star here, Stevens, has also had a more enduring career, though I don't find her darkly alluring qualities at all comparable to the much more sprightly Kaitan and Quigley. Nonetheless, the three of them always get grouped together.

I must also admit that I was taken aback seeing what became of Kaitan (now going by her married name Elizabeth Ruiz) after she finally threw in the towel on her acting career in the mid-90s. I know one can't expect an actor to be anything like their roles in real life, but her working as a personal assistant for truly nasty hatemonger David Horowitz, author of such books as Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes and BLITZ: Trump Will Smash the Left and Win (published just a few months before he lost the election by over 7 million votes) did genuinely surprise me. But, as this film poetically reminds us, "Fate certainly weaves a curious tapestry."

Slave Girls received another sort of notoriety in its day when the late Jesse Helms, former North Carolina Senator / Moral Majority co-founder, whose beliefs were pretty aligned with where Horowitz is today, actually brought this movie up on the Senate floor as an example of an "indecent" film that should be banned from TV as part of a failed Cable Act amendment he was pushing. That piece of moronic legislation finally had the final nail put through it by the Supreme Court in 1996. After this brief setback, Helms went back to fighting for other worthwhile Christian causes like defunding AIDS research and eliminating free school lunches for impoverished children.

Fully financed and pre-sold around the world on the basis of its title alone, this was a video store and late night cable (including frequent airings on USA Up All Night) staple here in America and much of the rest of the world for many years. It's also one of the most profitable films from the entire Charles Band universe and has been released on VHS (Urban Classics) and DVD (Cult Video, Koch Vision) numerous times, plus received a Blu-ray release in 2019 courtesy of Full Moon. With all that in mind, it's a surprise that director Ken Dixon did not make any other films after this. Prior, he was tasked with putting together a bunch of film clip compilation shelf fillers for Band, including The Best of Sex and Violence (1982), hosted by John Carradine, Famous T&A (1982), hosted by Sybil Danning, Filmgore (1983), hosted by Elvira, and ZOMBIETHON (1986), which had fun new zombie scenes shot to link together the archive footage. Slave Girls certainly showed enough promise to merit additional work for Band but it never occurred.

Clips from this were later repurposed into the utterly useless T&A compilation Bimbo Movie Bash (1997), which was released on VHS and DVD and as a CD-ROM "game" by Full Moon. Nearly 30 years later, Brinke got to duplicate her death scene for Band's surprisingly fun Trophy Heads (2004), which seems to have otherwise taken quite a bit of inspiration from this.

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