Monday, September 5, 2016

Shriek of the Mutilated (1974) - Part 1 of 3

The next stop in our ongoing voyage through the classics of cinema is perhaps the most frightening and realistic movie of the early 1970s. Of course I refer to 1974's Shriek of the Mutilated, a wilderness survival epic featuring shrieks and mutilation.

The critics of your universe have been surprisingly unkind to the onslaught of terror that is Shriek of the Mutilated. Countelvis writes, "Shriek of the Mutilated is one of the worst films I have seen in my life....has hardly a shred of redeeming qualities." Adrian J. Smith calls the film "shoddy in the extreme....including God-awful acting and cringe-inducing fashions and decors." On IMDB, sol1218 writes that the film is "so badly edited and acted it's a wonder that it ever would have made it to the silver screen to be seen by the paying public." These appalling falsehoods must be refuted.

The opening seven seconds of the film illustrate the intensity of the nightmare to follow. A woman stands next to a swimming pool, bound and blindfolded. A man in red pajamas swings a scythe and her head plunges into the pool--the deep end, no less. What can this mean?


Under the main titles, we see black and white footage of a hairy, man-like creature throttling a chicken. Nightmarish stuff indeed.

The story proper begins in a university lecture hall, where Professor Prell is giving an introductory lecture expounding on the existence of the yeti, illustrated in a slide as the middle stage between modern man in a flattering dark suit and an unidentified larger creature holding what appears to be a baseball bat.


In an unexpected twist, the lecture turns out to be not an undergraduate anthropology course but a preparatory slideshow for a small group of graduate students planning to embark on a yeti expedition the next day. After the lecture, most of the students head to a party while one of them, Keith, feels obligated to go to dinner with Professor Prell.

At the party, the students meet Spencer Ste. Claire--former faculty member, sufferer of male pattern baldness, and current groundskeeper at the university--along with his wife April. When Spencer Ste. Claire finds out about the planned expedition, anxiety overcomes him. The music ends suddenly.


"Stop listening to Prell's madness!" Spencer Ste. Claire tells the students. It was seven years ago to the day that Mr. Ste. Claire joined an expedition of Prell's. They arrived at a village on Hudson's Bay after the worst blizzard the natives had seen for years. Prell went on ahead. The students heard a cry. They rushed to the professor's aid. Mr. Ste. Claire was attacked but managed to drag himself across the snow- and leaf-covered ground to safety.


(The flashback to the fateful expedition is a masterwork of cinematic trickery. I am not sure how they accomplished it, but the filmmakers produced the nearly perfect illusion of a vast snowfield, its status as an illusion only briefly interrupted by the presence of a few leaves on the ground where there should be only snow. Kudos to the no doubt massive special effects crew working on this film.)

And now Spencer Ste. Claire holds Prell responsible for the deaths of the students on that expedition.


Meanwhile, at a "specialty restaurant" where Professor Prell has taken Keith, Prell quite sensibly orders the specialty, a combination of wild meat that natives call ginsung. Keith finds it delicious. Prell is excited that Keith shows so much potential.

   

After the party, Spencer and April Ste. Claire return to their tiny apartment. Playful, innocuous music can be heard as the two unwind after the party. Spencer finds a bottle of alcohol and April, fed up with his drinking, tosses the bottle into the sink, smashing it. Without hesitation, Spencer takes a carving knife, slices April's throat, then takes a nice warm bubble bath in his blood-spattered clothes. April, not quite dead, gets her revenge by plugging in a toaster and electrocuting Spencer in the tub.

The End. At least for the Ste. Claires.

The next morning, Professor Prell and his students take the Mystery Machine to Boot Island in upstate New York. Along with Professor Prell and Keith are Keith's girlfriend Karen, fun-loving Tom, and bespectacled Velma--no, that's not right, it's actually bespectacled Lynn. My mistake.


They cross a small bridge over a narrow river, and suddenly they are on Boot "Island," a rustic wilderness of paved roads, attractive water features made of concrete and wrought iron, and the charming two-story suburban home of Dr. Karl Werner. Werner says he heard the yeti clearly two nights ago. It's out there somewhere, waiting for them.

Prell and the students unpack the necessities for their wilderness expedition, necessities which include, as they must for such a trip, a guitar and a stuffed armadillo. 


Wandering around outside, Karen is frightened by a man with an axe, who turns out to be Werner's mute Indian housekeeper Laughing Crow. "He's a harmless old buzzard," Werner says.

   

(Admirably, this film is comfortable casting as an American Indian a man who does not look like an Indian, or, for that matter, an American. Kudos to the no doubt massive casting department.)

Later that night, Tom entertains the others in the drawing room by singing a comedic tune about the yeti while accompanying himself on Werner's grand piano. Then they get down to business. Werner tries to describe the roar of the yeti.

   

Time for a flashback. It was the middle of the night. Werner went downstairs to make himself some tea. He heard the yeti's roar, got his coat and shotgun, and dashed outside. The odor was terrible and he could hear the rapid sound of the yeti's heartbeat. Finally, in the middle of the night, he saw the beast itself among the trees.


And then it was gone.

Terrifying stuff.

(It is now time for me to point out another flaw in your Universe-X. Your nights are too dark. In my Universe-Prime, the darkest night is about the same as one of your overcast days. Hence Werner's ability to see through the trees in the middle of the night.)

After Werner's flashback, the group  prepares for the yeti hunt. Werner has a detailed chart of the island that his father constructed for professional purposes. The narrative does not make Werner Senior's profession clear, but based on certain qualities of his map it can be concluded that he was a preschool teacher, or perhaps a resident of a mental health facility of some type.


Prell is convinced the yeti came across the winter ice and is now trapped on the island, probably sheltering in a nearby cave. They all go to bed to rest up for their wilderness adventure in the morning.




We will leave our intrepid students at this point, asleep in their comfortable beds, wearing their glasses in preparation for the journey tomorrow. At this point in the story, we have not heard any shrieks yet, or witnessed any mutilations, except in flashbacks. We will see if Part 2 of our expedition into The Shriek of the Mutilated changes all that. Until next time, farewell!



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