Monday, May 28, 2012

Long Island Cannibal Massacre (1980)

Written by: Nathan Schiff
Directed by: Nathan Schiff
Starring: John Smihula, Fred Borges, Michael Siegal

Home brew horror flicks are always a roll of the dice in the quality department, which more often than not come up snake eyes. It's only to be expected with something like this, which had a reported budget of around $900. You're just not gonna get Rob Bottin and Phil Tippet to build monsters for you when the compensation, if they get any at all, isn't even going to pay for subway fare and a case of Milwaukee's Best (if that's their best, Milwaukee needs to try harder).

But the great thing about DIY horror movies is that a lot of the time, to make up for the deficit in production values, the filmmakers try a little harder in other areas. Granted they may still have a tin ear for dialog, or the acting might make community children's theater actors look like old pros from the RSC, but I can forgive a lot of amateur production problems for some cool or ambitious ideas. The best example of this I can think of is a nifty flick called Despiser, where a malevolent alien dies when his ship crashes on Earth. According to the movie, whether or not you are a native species, when you die on any given planet your soul is beholden to that planet's major belief systems, and so the creature ends up in Hell. It's not particularly pleased with being trapped in a metaphysical dimension it doesn't believe in, so it uses the last of its power to draw the world's nuclear arsenal into Hell so it can blast its way free. And then things get weird. The acting and the CGI used to realize Hell's landscape are uniformly terrible, but it's such an awesome idea it's kinda hard not to love the movie anyway.

And now that I've got you all excited for something cool, let's settle down to tonight's movie, shall we? As you might guess from the title, Long Island Cannibal Massacre doesn't aspire to such lofty heights as a thoughtful science fiction flick like Despiser. However, as guts'n'grue garage band H.G. Lewis descendants go, it's got some surprisingly good gore effects and an entertainingly loopy final reel to please those of us (and really, if you're here reading this stuff, that includes you) with low enough standards to want to watch something like this in the first place.

We open with a girl doing...well, I don't know what the hell she's doing. Sitting down for a picnic or to study, or some damn thing. But it doesn't really matter because eventually a dude with a bag and welding goggles hiding his face and eyes knocks her down and runs over her face with a lawnmower. Instead of just killing her and running off, though, he collects all the mushed face meat in the clippings bag on the mower and takes off with his drippy prize.

An indeterminate amount of time later, a man discovers another mutilated body on the beach and calls for help. Jack, the man who answers his summons, is reluctant to call the cops, as he claims to own that stretch of beach and is afraid news of a grisly murder will kill his tourist trade. The man who discovered the corpse accepts a bribe to keep his mouth shut and heads back to report to his boss that something fishy is going on. You see, this man is Inspector James Cameron (just remember, that wouldn't have been funny when this was made, unless Nathan Schiff was a big fan of Roger Corman's production design department – which come to think of it, he probably was), and he plans to get to the bottom of the string of gruesome homicides that have been plaguing Long Island.

Meanwhile, we get to find out just what's going on with those murders, Mr. Lawnmower Baghead Man, and Jack the alleged beach owner. Mr. Lawnmower Baghead Man and his motorcycle gang are in the employ of Jack's father, who needs a steady supply of human flesh. You see, dear ol' Dad and some of his friends used to be world-traveling adventurers. When they returned from a jungle outing with leprosy, they took to hiding out in the wastelands around Long Island and discovered that only feasting on people meat could keep the disease at bay. But mixing cannibalism with advanced leprosy has other side effects. You see, dear ol' Dad has been keeping the lion's share of their special deliveries for himself, and it has turned him into a monster that resembles an even lumpier and sillier version of the thing from Brides of Blood. Jack decides he doesn't want to be a part of dad's table service crew anymore, but dad has other plans. He's tired of being an exile, and wants to spawn a whole new generation of gloppy cannibal minions. Good thing Jack brought a chainsaw...

Nathan Schiff had a bit more raw talent than your average gore-slinger. To be sure, the emphasis there is on the raw, but talent it was, nonetheless. As I stated before, the special effects are better than you usually get in a flick this cheap, and going into a movie like this you expect certain things, but I'm willing to bet a mutant leprosy monster and the loopy plot twists unveiled in the third act aren't among them. There is also one fairly effective scene involving the mentally unhinged Jack. He has just taken delivery of a bag of mulched lady and is driving it out to where the band of cannibal lepers are waiting. He starts talking to it like it's still a whole and living person, but even in his mind women reject him, so the conversation takes a violent turn. He strikes the bag several times, poking some small holes in it, and blood begins to leak out, which prompts him to apologize to the imaginary woman for making her cry. Amateur acting aside, the scene recalls enough of the spirit of Maniac to overcome the movie's shortcomings and have a bit of power. Granted, it's doesn't come close to the, “I need to wash my eyes with borax” feeling you get from Maniac, but the fact that a movie like this could bring to mind one of the greatest exploitation movies of all time and still leave a favorable impression at all is impressive.

One thing was driving me crazy for almost the whole viewing, though – the music. It all just sounded so damn familiar. The soundtrack was derived from several public domain sources, including Night of the Living Dead, but the one cue that kept making the back of my brain itch wasn't listed on IMDB or anywhere else I looked. It finally dawned on me towards the end of the flick that this one bit of music seemed so familiar because I've heard it about a hundred times while watching the Cybermen rise from their icy tombs on Telos! I don't know how they managed to put this movie out on DVD without running into copyright issues with the BBC, but one of the cheapest gore movies ever made features music from Tomb of the Cybermen, one of my all-time favorite episodes of Doctor Who. It's a funny old world, innit?

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