The Bad Movie Report

Shriek of the Mutilated

Boy, howdy, but it has been a long strange trip to this review. This was one of the movies on my wish list (and the first to have that cheesy "Found!" graphic appended to it), and how it came to be there is but the first stop on our journey.

You see, back in the olden days, when I first began this site, I was (as usual) looking for ways to dodge work, when my friend, Dave (who helped me through my review of KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park with helpful bits of information like "This song rocks!!!") mentioned that Shriek was A Movie I Should Review, and then regaled me with tales of watching it late at night on a local UHF station, and that, in fact, he had taped it from the selfsame station, complete with commercials for the local Smart, Tough Lawyer *. He even had KISS on the same tape. Now, watching these movies with bad local commercials constitute the ideal venue, in my book, so I urged Dave to write a review of this legendary film. He then told me the rest of the sad story, in which his parents taped over his Cinematic Found Art, simply because the tape was plainly labeled, "Crap". Go figure.

So, I began my search for Shriek of the Mutilated. Dave was helpful as always, with questions like, "Have you got Shriek of the Mutilated yet?" and "Loser! Where's Shriek of the Mutilated?" Thus, when I finally got a copy, we settled down to watch, and now, somehow, I still find myself writing this review. Not Dave. Me. So I will no longer be referring to Dave by his given name, but rather, as The Weasel.

To top all this off, this is also the review I was working on when my former computer died in The Great Crash of 99. Yes, my old, wheezing computer, which I had faithfully nudged along all these years, constantly improving it, Frankenstein-like, dragging it fussing and parsing from the mire of 486-dom into the world of the Pentium. Well, it showed me. It took the half-written review with it.

What I do recall about that review (it was over two months ago, after all) is that past all the above complaining, I also complained that I had to watch the damn movie again, because we were having too much fun watching it the first time (which is a good sign). So this makes the third time. Like a lot of movies, the third time wasn't that much fun.

Okay, so there's this Professor Prell (Alan Brock), who is obsessed with the Yeti. He's taking four of his graduate students on a Field Trip to investigate Yeti sightings in what appears to be upstate New York (ah, yes, the fabulous Yetis of Long Island). Friction, or what passes for it, develops The stirring Argument Scenealmost immediately when Prell invites his pet student Keith (Michael Harris) out to a pre-Field Trip dinner that evening. Keith accepts, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Karen (Jennifer Stock) - the two were supposed to go to a party that night.

Now, this is one of those movies where you don't care much about the actual names of the characters, because you supply your own. Karen, in particular, became Whiny Girl, which showed a lot of prescience on our part. The other two students, Lynn (Darcy Brown) and Tom (Jack Neubeck) became Spastic Girl and Richard Lewis - the latter because the actor had a very superficial resemblance to the comedian, and the former because A) she is the Odious Comic Relief of this picture; B) during the stirring Argument Scene discussed in the last paragraph, she and Richard Lewis are on the right side of the frame, discussing a book with far more animation than the two squabbling lovers on the opposite side are exhibiting.

Ladies and gentlemen - Mr. Eric Idle!  (applause)So Keith goes to Prell's specialty restaurant (which, incidentally, seems to have Eric Idle as a waiter - though it is actually a chap named Warren D'oyly-Rhind, which has to be the second best actor name I've encountered, right after Zandor Vorkov) ...oh, hell, where was I? Oh, yes, Prell tells Keith how much potential he thinks the lad has, and introduces him to an exotic dish called gin sung, which the chef will only make for special clients..... can anyone else see where this is going?

Keith isn't missing much at the party, except the hit proto-electronica tune Popcorn. Besides, the hostess has invited Spencer (Tom Grail) and his spouse (Luci Brandt). Spencer is currently a groundskeeper, a former student who has been an alcoholic wreck since going on Prell's last Yeti Field trip. Upon finding that three of his fellow guests are about to embark on a similar journey, Spencer begins to drink heavily and speak loudly, eventually holding everyone spellbound (or something like) as he tells the terrible tale of his Field Trip - from which he and Prell were the only survivors. That damned Yeti!

What? The Dunwich Horror again?A word about Spencer's flashback - it is, bizarrely, rendered in a completely white reverse-negative kinda thing, which must be what it looks like when you're about to go snowblind. It's an interesting choice, never used again - my guess is that the original footage was a botched day-for-night sequence (or actual night, who knows) which was found to be too dark, and then post-processed. More about Shriek's interesting day-for-night later. We should really get back to the story now.

Kids - don't try this at home.Spencer's wife is noticeably miffed at Spence, and when he continues to drink upon their return home, things come to a head (so to speak) when Spencer cuts her throat with an electric carving knife. He receives his comeuppance later, however, when she slooooowly and tortuously crawls down the hall to the bathroom where he is soaking in a hot tub (fully clothed), pushing a toaster in front of her. She manages to push the toaster into the tub and fry Spencer, which shows you the advantages of having a hundred-foot-long extension cord on your toaster. It's an odd little side trip from our major storyline, but certainly an interesting way to pad out the running time.

The next day our four students and Prell pile into his van (which has a suspicious resemblance to the Mystery Machine) and journey to Boot Island, and the residence of Prell's friend, Dr. Waring (Tawm Ellis), who became Doug Henning to us, due to another case of superficial resemblance. Waring has sighted the Yeti on his island, and Prell theorizes that the beast has become marooned there when the winter ice melted. Not that the Yeti could figure out how to cross the same suspension bridge they had used earlier to get there. Laughing Crow, Drooling Idiot, whatever...The flashback in Waring's tale exhibits only the first case of day-for-night scenes which never got darkened, as there is no difference in the light between Waring's nighttime sighting and the "next day" scene.

Anyway, Whiny Girl gets frightened by a man wielding an axe; Doug Henning explains that it's only "his Indian", Laughing Crow (Ivan Agar), a mute, all-purpose manservant. We must pause, once again, to mention that Laughing Crow is one of the hairiest screen Indians we have ever run across, and that is counting the time we watched White Comanche. Perhaps Laughing Crow belongs to F Troop's Hakawi tribe, which was populated by Frank DeKova and other Italian-American character actors. In any case, it is due to Laughing Crow's later antics and outrageous mimings and muggings that he was awarded his new Indian name, Drooling Idiot. (Dave - er, The Weasel's - helpful comment during this seminal scene: "Ah! This guy! This guy!")

Spastic Girl a Go Go!After a festive dinner of what Keith identifies as gin sung (but Doug Henning identifies as an Indian dish - have we figured out where this plot point goes yet?), and Richard Lewis sings a song about the Yeti that caused me to leap to my feet and shout, "He must die! This movie owes me that!" Everybody settles in for a boring night's sleep, and Spastic Girl does not disappoint, as she sleeps while still wearing her early 70's enormous eyeglasses. As a lifelong eyeglass wearer myself, I can only marvel at this character trait.

The next day, our intrepid five trek through the woods of Boot Island. Richard Lewis separates himself from the group to poach some game, so they have something to eat besides that awful gin sung. While hunting, he hears the dreadful heartbeat of the Yeti (oh yes, I forgot to mention - one of the ways you can tell the Yeti is around: you can hear their heartbeat)! Oh, never mind - it was just a loose board in a deserted house. The next time we hear it though, it's not the board - the Yeti jumps on Richard Lewis and kills him (thank you, movie! Thank you!)

Now must we pause again to consider the Yeti... it is, after all, the movie's monster. At this point, the glimpses of the beast are quite fleeting (they resisted all my efforts to grab a good frame). This is, of course, all to the better, as the glimpses should have been even more fleeting. What we do see appears to have been cannibalized from fluffy bathroom mats and resembles nothing so much as the title character in Disney's The Shaggy Dog. Add to that the fact that the soundtrack is overpowered by the Yeti's "growling", which seems to be the nonsense words "Iggly Ooogly Argh!" repeated over and over, and you have one of your better Bad Movie Monsters.

When light returns the next morning, Prell, Whiny Girl and Keith go looking for the missing Richard Lewis. Whiny Girl finds Keith, Doug Henning, Prell, and Richard Lewis' legonly his rifle... and his severed leg! Eeek! Spastic Girl, meantime, has wandered into the Greenhouse, and spotted something there so horrible, it sends her screaming out into the woods... and into the arms of the Yeti! Iggly Ooogly Argh!

Their numbers rapidly decreasing, and the phone out of order (oh, what a surprise), Prell decides to use Richard Lewis' leg as bait in a trap. For his trouble, Prell gets coldcocked by the Yeti. Cripes, what else can they use for bait in a (hopefully) better trap?.....Oh, yeah..... Spastic Girl's body! Whiny Girl goes to the greenhouse to hide Spastic Girl's body, but finds instead... Richard Lewis' body! She faints, and comes to in bed, where Prell assures her it was all a dream.

That night, they tie Spastic Girl's body to a tree and await the Yeti. It comes, but makes a grab for Whiny Girl instead. Keith pursues the Yeti into the night, following the sound of its heartbeat, which he tracks to.... a speaker nailed to a tree. Back at the house, Drooling Idiot is listening to the heartbeat tape, but lets it run too long, and, for some reason, calliope music starts to play. Mystified, Keith stands staring at the speaker (probably waiting for the next groovy tune), until somebody knocks him out with a branch.

Hello! Would you be interested in a copy of The Watchtower?Well, as we've suspected all along, Prell and company are cannibals, and the whole Yeti thing is just their little deer blind for getting fresh meat. Keith steals the van and tries to go for help, while Whiny Girl is being pursued around the house by the Yeti (Doug Henning in disguise). She finally locks herself in a bathroom with a window that's painted shut, and she finds Drooling Idiot hiding on a cabinet with a knife. Somewhat understandably, she drops dead of fright. This, you see, is what Prell and Doug Henning were building up to - as part of a holy observance of their devil cult, they need a victim who died without wounds.

Keith, meantime, has flagged down the local sheriff and brought him to the cannibal confab, only to discover that the cop's a cannibal, too. So is Keith, for that matter - come on, we knew what gin sung was really made of, didn't we? Prell has been grooming Keith for membership in their exclusive little club. Whiny Girl's body is wheeled in, and Drooling Idiot, breaking his silence, brandishes an electric carving knife and utters the closest thing to a famous line Shriek of the Mutilated possesses: "Mr. Henshaw - white meat ... or dark?" The end.

Part of a double feature along with Invasion of the Blood Farmers, Shriek tries to deliver what we wanted from our drive-in fare: a mildly diverting story (which would not rendered confusing by trips to the snackbar, or necking), and some gore. No skin is evident, and unfortunately the long out-of-print Lightning Video release (the only video release thus far) appears to be the edited TV version; for a movie known as a gore film, there is very little on display. The money shot of Richard Lewis' severed leg is incredibly brief. The fact that we followed up our viewing of Shriek with the vastly more gruesome Wesley Snipes vehicle Blade didn't help the former movie's cause.

The acting ranges from adequate to hideously amateurish; Keith and Whiny Girl, in particular, show acting chops more at Iggly Ooogly Argh!home in a community theater than the big screen. There are very few actors here with more than this film on their resumé; the Richard Lewis and Doug Henning impersonators were both in Blood Farmers. Significantly, the person with the most credits in his filmography is the service station attendant in the mandatory "You ain't goin' up there, are ya?" scene. Psychotronic claims that Tawm Ellis (that's Doug Henning, for those of you keeping score) was in Cat Women of the Moon, but the Internet Movie Database doesn't confirm that; however, they have been wrong before.

A major problem with Shriek is, of course, budget - the story, though stupid, is at least different. It has an unfortunate tendency to sit and tell us about things- and only Spencer's white-out flashback and Waring's nighttime sighting get the benefit of actual visual support. The tale of how Laughing Crow was held prisoner in the Yeti's lair for days and Prell's encounter with the beastie are bolstered only by theatrics on the part of the storytellers, which is a pretty barren patch of land, frankly. The effect is like watching Screams of a Winter Night without the dramatizations. In other words, a slow, painful death. An absolutely cavalier attitude as to what time of day events transpire doesn't help matters much, either.

Still, it's far from being the worst movie you'll see - or even the worst movie on this site. Director Michael Findlay, along with his wife, Roberta, had been known primarily for adult films - films like The Curse of Her Flesh or my favorite, Satan's Bed, which features a very young Yoko Ono. They also put together the amazing film Snuff, which rates as one of the better hoaxes perpetrated on a gullible media and moviegoing public. Mr. Findlay, unfortunately, died in 1977 in a helicopter crash, so we'll never know what else he might have turned out. As it is, most people who return to the land of Shriek of the Mutilated do so with a lightly surprised, "You know... that wasn't as bad as I remembered."



Iggly Ooogly Argh!

- June 6, 1999