Monday, September 12, 2016

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

The yeti expedition to Boot Island in 1974's The Shriek of the Mutilated has fallen apart! This is Part 3 of our expedition. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

When we last saw Professor Prell, two of his graduate students had been mutilated and the others were out of commission. And there were hints that the yeti, and even the expedition, were not what they seemed.

Keith has found the loudspeaker in the woods. He has heard the heartbeat sound of the yeti projected through it, and he has heard the sound change to music from a record player. He begins to realize that everything he thinks he knows is false. This is a moment of anagnorisis. He is immediately knocked unconscious by a two-by-four.

Back at the house, Prell scolds Laughing Crow for fiddling with the record player. Werner will return soon for his dinner. So Laughing Crow casually prepares said dinner: a human head in a pot with some stewing vegetables.

What is going on? Where is the yeti? What are Prell, Werner, and Laughing Crow up to?

In the forest, Keith regains consciousness as suddenly as he lost it. He finds his rifle and returns to the house, interrupting Prell and Werner in the dining room as they discuss what to do with Karen, who is resting upstairs. It would be easy to just kill her like the others, they say, but the code of the Votary demands that she be frightened to death.

"I don't think so," Keith proclaims heroically, holding the two older men at gunpoint. They pay him no mind. Keith fires a warning shot but realizes the rifle is loaded with blanks.

Then, in one of the most shocking scenes in the film, Keith is rendered unconscious yet again, struck on the head by Laughing Crow, who wields what can only be his friend Tom's bloody femur!

With Keith unconscious and Karen upstairs in a frightened stupor, Prell and Werner make arrangements for  a banquet. Prell goes outside while Werner calls the Cozy Rest Motel--shockingly, the phone is not actually dead after all!--and has them summon six of their guests. "Tell them the breakfast is on at the appointed time."

But they haven't reckoned with the resilience of Keith's skull. He quickly wakes up, sneaks out of the house, then knocks Prell unconscious with a shovel. He steals the Mystery Machine and drives wildly through the rain. He must get off the island. In his state of fear, he has even forgotten about his girlfriend Karen.

When he drives closer to the bridge separating Boot Island from the mainland, he sees a procession of cars headed toward Werner's house. This scene is scored with classical music, Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, a perfect accompaniment to what appears to be a funeral procession. It is clear that Keith is in a world of trouble. Could this funeral be his own?

(The skill of the filmmakers is again evident here with the brilliant match of image and music. Kudos to the no doubt massive music department and orchestra.)

Back at the house, Karen wakes up to a living nightmare of her own. She looks out the window to see the yeti racing furiously toward her, its arms waving maniacally in the air.

She races to the bedroom door but she is locked inside. Then, in a moment of abject terror for both Karen and the audience, the yeti's face fills the window--and then it climbs through the window into her bedroom!

(Now that we can see it in closeup, the yeti is truly a frightening creature, with its fangs and other parts of its face appearing to move independently of each other. Kudos to the no doubt massive makeup effects team.)

Karen manages to escape the room and attempts to run downstairs, but the film follows the logic of a nightmare--the yeti is now downstairs and running up the staircase toward her.

Finally locking herself in a bathroom, she hears something and opens the door to a linen cabinet, only to find a zombie-like Laughing Crow inside holding a long knife.

As some of the audience no doubt did in 1974 while watching this film, Karen has a heart attack and dies. Her body falls to the bathroom floor.

The yeti carries her downstairs, then removes its head to reveal it was Werner in a mask.

The plan has succeeded. They have frightened Karen to death.

Meanwhile, Keith flags down a police car. The sheriff and Keith race back to the house to rescue Karen. They wait outside and observe through the window the strange ritual inside. At an ostentatious dinner table, a cannibal cult called le Jeune de Troix has arrived. Prell and Werner play host to this diverse group of cannibals. From year to year, each member of the cult in turn arranges for the death of a victim for the members to feast upon.

Keith bursts into the room with the sheriff behind him. He's going to put a stop to the obscene ritual. But he doesn't count on the sheriff being a member of the cult. The sheriff holds Keith at gunpoint while Professor Prell explains the situation in detail. The last time Prell hosted a gathering was seven years ago in Hudson's Bay. "You remember Ste. Claire's story of that episode, Keith," Prell says, cleverly forgetting that Keith was actually eating dinner with Prell while Ste. Claire told his story at the party across town.

In a ham radio conversation with the cult's leader, Count Carnaro, Prell further explains that Keith was intended to survive the yeti attack and take the story of the yeti back to civilization.

However, Prell believes this change in plans might work out for the best, for Keith has been initiated already, and he has enjoyed the very thing he now condemns. Keith puts two and two together: the ginsung he so enjoyed is in fact human flesh and not a combination of wild meat after all.

But what about Karen? Has she indeed been scared to death?

The answer is yes. In the next unspeakable twist, Karen's body will provide the cult's meal tonight.

Keith bolts from the room, but the cultists follow him with their forks. They stab at Keith but instead of killing him, they simply subdue him. They move him to a chair in the dining room.

Shock upon shock! Laughing Crow, wielding an electric knife, actually speaks--he was not mute after all.

Keith approaches Karen's lifeless body, drooling profusely.

The End.

Shriek of the Mutilated, directed by Michael Findlay from a screenplay by Ed Adlum and Ed Kelleher, arrived at a time when the world needed a terrifying horror movie. The previous year's The Exorcist provided genteel drawing-room drama but could not deliver intensity or suspense. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, released around the same time as Shriek of the Mutilated, was an educational travelogue showcasing the beauties of rural Texas, but again it could not deliver the visceral shocks that the horror audience craved. With Shriek of the Mutilated, audiences finally found a film that could satisfy their need for terror and shocks, but could also stimulate them intellectually with the clever machinations of its plot.

Having completed Invasion of the Blood Farmers in 1972, Ed Adlum and Ed Kelleher had learned how to construct a terrifying narrative. The brilliance of Shriek of the Mutilated can be attributed to their screenplay, which works not only as a wilderness survival film but also as a film about cannibals. Adlum and Kelleher have painstakingly considered every narrative twist so that the film holds up to the audience’s scrutiny.

A superficial observer might take issue with some parts of the story. How can the yeti be climbing through the upstairs window at the same time as it runs up the staircase? Wouldn’t the stories about yeti sightings draw more attention to the cultists’ gatherings rather than drive people away? Why would Professor Prell send Karen off into the woods by herself when he knew a yeti was nearby? Why did Karen bring Tom’s leg back to the house? How did the specialty restaurant serving ginsung pass its health inspection? What did the opening at the swimming pool mean?

These questions are nonsense! The answers are clear from a close viewing of the film. The yeti is in two places at once because there are two yeti costumes. The stories about the yeti are so terrifying that nobody in his right mind would want to investigate them. The professor sent Karen into the woods because, obviously, he wanted her to be terrified to death. And…I can’t think of answers to the last three questions, but I’m certain that Adlum and Kelleher thought them through.

Beyond the narrative skill on display, I believe Shriek of the Mutilated is such a success because of its unique mixture of the naive and the cynical. The similarities between the film and Scooby-Doo Where Are You?, which premiered in September 1969, are numerous and clearly intentional. The characters of Karen and Lynn are modeled after Daphne and Velma, while Keith is similar to Fred and the free-spirited Tom, with his guitar and armadillo, is reminiscent of Shaggy. The group is called “gang” repeatedly by Professor Prell. The van used to drive the characters to Boot Island is adorned with flowers like the Mystery Machine. And of course the plot is modeled after the structure of the animated show, with the monster revealed to be a ruse to frighten some victims and chase others away. The film’s yeti even bears some resemblance to the monster in the classic 1970 episode “That’s Snow Ghost,” at least around the eyebrows.


The mixture of Scooby-Doo naivete with the cynical conspiracy of the cannibal cultists gives the audience an additional level of sophistication to appreciate and savor. On first viewing, the qualities of this classic might not be evident but, much like the ginsung in the film, it may be described as an acquired taste to which connoisseurs of the cinema may return again and again.

Enough! I am certain my discussion of Shriek of the Mutilated has convinced you to reverse your unfair and uninformed condemnation of this cinematic classic.

Until next time, farewell!