The Film: Shriek of the Mutilated
The Principles: Alan Brock, Jennifer Stock, Tawm Ellis, Michael Harris and introducing Ivan Agar as Laughing Crow. Written and Produced by Ed Adlum. Directed by Michael Findlay.
The Premise: A college professor brings his anthropology students to a remote cabin in the woods where numerous sightings of a “Yeti” have been recently reported. They are greeted upon arrival by pure terror in the form of a brutal rampaging beast that stalks and kills them each one-by-one. Listen closely. Can you hear the… shriek of the mutilated?
Is it any good: Well no, definitely not in cinematic terms. But is it so-bad-it’s-good? Oh, hell yeah! This is one of a crop of killer-Bigfoot movies that were all the rage in the seventies; only this one is definitely not your typical example of that awesome sub-genre of horror. No, Shriek of the Mutilated has something really mind-roasting up its sleeve at the end of the third act. I would be a total dick to spoil it for any of you whom have not yet seen it, but for those who have, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The setup is very typical. An anthropology teacher named Dr. Ernst Prell (Alan Brock) brings a selected group of his brightest pupils to his esteemed colleague, Dr. Karl Werner’s (Tawm Ellis) isolated cabin in the mountains of upstate New York. They come in hopes of catching a glimpse of an “abominable snowman” that has been sighted around this area. Sure enough, a savage Sasquatch appears and slaughters all the kids whom are foolish enough to wander off alone.
Despite the usual bad acting, awkward camera angles and ridiculous plot choices, the strength of this film lies in the way all the events unfold. For example: in the opening there’s a college party where the trip to the mountains is discussed amongst faculty and students. The amazing song, “Popcorn” by the band Hot Butter is featured on the soundtrack throughout the entirety of the scene. Oh, just so you know, the party has a hot buttered popcorn machine and there are a LOT of shots of people eating popcorn. Why? Was it a not-so-subtle way to encourage folks to flock to the concession stand for a bag of popcorn when this film played the grindhouse and drive-in circuits back in the day? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that due to a rights issue the “Popcorn” song is not featured on the DVD for Shriek, but it is on the VHS. It’s just one more reason to hang on to your old VCR.
During this scene a professor becomes oddly agitated at the mention of Dr. Prell’s field trip. He drinks heavily, rants a warning and returns home with his nagging wife. Once there, he inexplicably attacks her with a carving knife and cuts her neck open. Then he jumps into the bathtub fully clothed and scrubs the blood off himself with a bar of soap in one hand, while sipping an ice-cold beer with his other. His barely-alive wife takes the toaster from the kitchen and crawls ever so slowly into the bathroom, where she plugs in the appliance and tosses it into his tub for a final cry of vengeance. It’s stupendous!
Once we arrive at the cabin in the woods, we meet the eccentric Dr. Werner. But most importantly we meet his mute, Native American manservant – Laughing Crow (Ivan Agar)! Ah, Laughing Crow. Why are you so goddamned memorable in this film? Is it the fact that you never utter a syllable, yet somehow you overact every moment so sublimely it speaks volumes? Is it that you look nothing like an actual Native American Indian, except for some minor costuming? Is it that we never fully comprehend what your intentions are because perhaps, you never really do either? I don’t know what it is about Laughing Crow that appeals to me so much, but I almost feel like the character deserved his own special origin film. A film where we really get into Laughing Crow’s head and take a good long look at what’s rattling around inside there. The performance is truly awe-inspiring.
The ending of this film will leave you with a melted skull. You’ll be toast and you will definitely NOT see it coming. It’s awesome.
Is it worth a look: If you consider yourself a connoisseur of wonderfully bad low budget horror exploitation flicks like Troll 2, The Visitor, Neon Maniacs, etc. and you haven’t seen this, then you simply must. It’ll rip your face off. I saw a rare 35mm print of this film at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles the other night as part of the monthly Grindhouse Film Festival. It played on a double bill with another film from that era called Invasion of the Blood Farmers, which was also made by Shriek’s producer Ed Adlum. He was in attendance for the screening and in addition to being a really humble and nice guy, he told us a lot of hilarious stories about the making of the film that truly added to the experience. I’ve always loved this movie and once you’ve seen it, I’m sure you’ll get why. The finale is inspired lunacy of the highest order!
CHECK OUT THIS VINTAGE TRAILER:
Random anecdotes: B-movie producer Ed Adlum told all attendees of the New Bev screening that the reason why the Yeti monster (which is very obviously a man in a cheap fur costume) runs with an odd limp is because Ed Adlum himself played the monster and he broke his leg while filming the movie. The production was so small; he had no choice but to continue in the role.
Cinematic soul mates: Creature from Black Lake, Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Night of the Demon, Search for the Beast and Abominable.