A grindhouse trilogy

What common link can be found between yetis and Home Improvement?  The answer is Michael Findlay.

Findlay was a film director and actor who made a series of extremely low-budget movies in the 1960s and 1970s.  My first experience with him was a few years ago when I saw Shriek of the Mutilated, a wonderfully cheesy movie in the Bigfoot/Sasquatch genre.

Shriek is the tale of a professor who invites his students to his isolated cabin where they hope to spot a yeti.  There’s something more sinister afoot, however, then the obviously fake yeti.  Yes, the yeti is a fake, a man in a costume that is part of a ruse that intends to make some of the students the main course for dinner.  This movie, along with such films as Motel Hell, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Terror at Red Wolf Inn, serve as cautionary tales about eating special meat dishes which have origins the food preparers are rather sketchy about.

When I read about Findlay and his wife Roberta (who often worked with him) in Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford, I decided I had to check out their most well-known movies, the Flesh trilogy (of course, with grindhouse directors, even the well-known movies might be rather obscure).

Like many of these types of movies, this trilogy was designed to be seen in the rinky-dink grindhouse theaters most notably found on 42nd Street around Times Square (back before it was cleaned up and Disneyfied).  I don’t think I’d call these movies porn, but there is a lot of gratuitous nudity.  In fact, you get the feeling that about what type of movies these will be with the very first image of the first film, The Touch of Her Flesh:  the opening credits are projected onto a woman’s naked body.

So yes, these three movies do have lots of nudity – notably female nudity – as well as plenty of sex scenes, most of which are not very erotic (which is why I don’t think of these as porn films), but are also quickly tedious (and up to the last movie, very tame also).  The entertainment value of these movies comes from their rather silly stories involving a serial killer.

Touch opens with Richard Jennings (played by Findlay) going off on a business trip.  He is barely out the door when his wife Claudia invites in her lover.  When Jennings returns unexpectedly, he sees them and goes off the deep end, running into the street and getting hit by a car.  This leaves him temporarily wheelchair-bound and without an eye (though occasionally through the other movies, he loses the eye patch and seems to be doing okay).

The betrayed Jennings decides to declare war on all women, leading to all sorts of creative killings.  In the first movie, this will include death by poisoned flower, blowdart and for Claudia, buzzsaw.  Although it appears he is killed at the end of this movie, he will be back for the next two films, The Curse of Her Flesh and The Kiss of Her Flesh.

In Curse, the production values are noticeably better, particularly in the sound department.  The killings are more creative here as Jennings seeks revenge on his late wife’s lover:  murders will include poisoned underwear and a sex toy with an unexpected blade inside.  I should note that these killings are not graphic at all; in fact, Findlay seems to shy away so much from really showing the killings, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what’s going on.

The Kiss of Her Flesh rounds out the trilogy with some more interesting murders, including electrocution, blowtorch, acid-laced feminine wash and poisoned semen.  The plot this time focuses on Claudia’s sister trying to get revenge and eventually setting up a rather clever trap for Jennings.  The sister’s lover is played by Leo Heinz.  Of course, as is common in these types of films, everyone acts under an alias (even the Findlays used other names); Heinz was actually Earl Hindman in his film debut:  many years later, he would be kindly neighbor Wilson on Home Improvement.  Thus, the yeti-to-Home Improvement chain is completed.

It’s easy enough to dismiss these movies as pure schlock exploitation films, but they are a little (not a lot) better than that.  All three movies rate between 5/10 and 6/10 on IMDB based on a good sampling of ratings; that’s usually an indication of a so-so movie, not a complete cheese fest (in contrast, Shriek of the Mutilated gets a 2.6, which is in Mystery Science Theater 3000 territory).  Furthermore, based on when they came out, they may have had an influence on later slasher flicks, though the genre probably owes more to Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve.

On the other hand, these films definitely reflect their low-budget origins (although the DVD transfers are pretty clean).  The acting and the writing is often silly and bare-bones.  In short, the trilogy is far from classic, but it does have its entertaining moments.

Straight from video

I knew that when I got the two movie combination called The Naked Torture Show, I was not going to get anything close to movies that lived up to the title.  I expected early 1970s horror schlock and that’s what was delivered.  The only problem was that these movies were taken from video cassette recordings, and it shows.  It is a good reminder that the days of VHS are happily behind us.

As for the movies themselves, there are two:  Flesh Feast and 3 on a MeathookFlesh Feast has a long-in-the-tooth Veronica Lake as a mad scientist who is breeding maggots to somehow do a rejuvenation procedure (the maggots are the ones feasting on the flesh).  The hazy picture can’t disguise the fact that this is a really rotten movie, one that has the trifecta of bad acting, writing and directing.

The plot, such as it is, has Lake teaming up with an arms dealer who is assisting a South American revolutionary group.  The revolutionaries want to restore their commandant to his youthful vigor.  The commandant happens to be Hitler, a twist that is revealed in the last few minutes of the movie, but also on the cover of the DVD.  There are supposedly some good guy government agents, but they do little more than sit around.  In fact, most of the characters just seem to sit around and do nothing, as if waiting for the plot to come to them.  And by the way, there is no nudity and very little torture (except for the unlucky viewer). Quality 2/10, Fun 2/10.

There is plenty of nudity in 3 on a Meathook, but still not any torture.  This movie is supposed a retelling of the Ed Gein story, a real-life tale that served as inspiration for – among other movies and books – Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs.  In fact, it’s obvious that writer/director William Girdler is trying to copy Psycho.  Both the opening and closing of the movie are very similar to Psycho’s.  (Some reviews have made it seem like he was trying to copy the Texas Chainsaw Massacre too, but actually 3 on a Meathook predates it.)

Girdler on his best day has less talent than Hitchcock on his worst, so he makes up the difference with lots of topless girls and a bit of gore.  The movie opens (like Psycho) with a camera moving in towards a building.  Inside, a blonde college girl is just finishing her liaison with her boyfriend.  As she dresses, she explains how she is going to the lake with her three friends, but she won’t say what lake, which may explain why the boyfriend is out of the movie after this scene.

She goes with her three friends (all similarly college-aged and good looking) and they’re quickly skinny dipping in the lake.  They start heading to their cabin when their car breaks down.  No problem, because Billy is driving by in his pick-up truck.  He takes them to his farm house so they can spend the night before getting the car fixed in the morning.  He shares the place with his father, a cranky middle-aged drunk who warns Billy that problems occur when women are near.

The father’s right.  All four are slaughtered during the night, with the first being killed in the bath (I guess a shower scene would have been too much of a ripoff).  After that stabbing, two are killed with a gun and one with a hatchet.  We’re supposed to believe Billy did the killings, but it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain (which may not have been the demographic Girdler was aiming for) that it’s the father who’s doing the killing.  That twist can be seen coming very early, along with the source of the father’s special meat recipe.

After the killings, things slow down considerably, and it becomes a definitely 1970’s style touchy-feely movie as Billy hooks up with a waitress and invites her to spend the next weekend out on the farm.  The waitress brings a friend who will wind up dead soon enough.  Does the waitress-girlfriend live?  I won’t give that little bit away, but in the end, all is revealed, and a la Psycho, we get a muddled psychiatric explanation and close on the father locked up and talking to himself.  For all its flaws, it still beats Flesh Feast, as it is occasionally entertaining.  Quality 3/10, Fun 4/10.