I think you can see why I’d assume a movie called MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE would qualify as a slasher movie, or at least a chopper movie. Surprisingly, if there is a meatcleaver anywhere in the movie I missed it. There is a massacre, but it’s the inciting incident, and the story is about a series of killings to avenge the massacre. I’m using title on the VHS box, but the opening credits expand it to THE HOLLYWOOD MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE, and it does indeed take place in Hollywood. So at least one third, arguably two thirds of the title is accurate in that iteration.
It’s from 1977, before the slasher craze took off, and it’s about a supernatural force killing people, but there are definitely some parallels to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, so if that counts as a slasher maybe this could too.
Apparently I didn’t pay that much attention to the cover, because I was surprised when it opened with “Video Warehouse Inc. Presents…“ and then Christopher Lee was sitting in an office introducing the movie to me. He has a cool ‘70s wide collar and plaid pants and he sits down at a desk and spends a few minutes talking about the occult. He’s sort of the host of MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE, though he didn’t know it – reportedly his part was filmed for a different unfinished movie and then sold to the producer of this one.
It should be clear from that detail and from the shamelessly misleading title that this is a genuine old school exploitation movie, scrapped together quickly and cheaply for mercenary purposes, not expected to survive a few years of circling the drive-in and grindhouse circuit, sometimes under the more accurate titles MORAK, EVIL FORCE or REVENGE OF THE DEAD. At some point, I assume, somebody saw the name “THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE” on the box office charts and said, “I have an idea…”
There’s tons of clunky dialogue and awkward ADR, the plot and depictions of human behavior are total headscratchers, a section about prostitutes at a massage parlor makes no bones about only being there so you can see some boobs, and it’s done no favors by the extremely dark transfer to tape. But – very much to my surprise, honestly – I found the movie totally fascinating. It’s a weird premise that might actually be cool with better execution, but the way they did it is at least an interesting mix of z-grade trash cinema and pretentious experimental technique.
Here’s what’s cool about the idea: it’s kind of like a supernatural DEATH WISH. It’s about one Professor Cantrell (James Habif, “Sperm Donor with Mustache,” FEMALE CHAUVINISTS), a renowned expert in occultism. After teaching his class about a Celtic demon god named Morak, the Dark Avenger, some students compliment him on the teachings but a troublemaker named Mason (Larry Justin, “Doctor at Sperm Bank,” FEMALE CHAUVISTS) insults him for “believing in all that shit.”
This is already so strange because it’s a college professor teaching about demons and curses as a real actual thing. All the good students accept it as being real and you’re clearly supposed to look down on Mason for calling it bullshit. Also he’s a straight up psychopath.
We see him smoking and drinking with his friends, a bunch of dirtbags, one of them kind of a hippie, and riling them up Manson style. “Have you ever killed a man, Dirk?” he asks his dorkiest friend (Doug Senior, THE HUMAN TORNADO). “You ready to go out and raise some Hell?”
So they drunk drive down Hollywood Boulevard and then go to Professor Cantrell’s house, pulling pantyhose over their faces and transforming from ordinary adult delinquents to authentic DEATH-WISH-movie creeps. They kill the professor’s whole family, including his dog Poopers and his adult son (Doug Ely), who’s in the kitchen making a sandwich. The professor doesn’t die, but being hit one time on the head with a candlestick or something puts him in a coma, paralyzes him from the neck down and would’ve killed a man twice his size, according to the doctor (Woody Wise). He is of ordinary adult size, so I assume we’re talking a man between 11 and 12 feet tall.
We don’t ever see what the professor’s students think about this vicious attack, but it’s very upsetting to a police detective (I think it’s Shaye [Paul Kelleher, NIGHT OF THE DEMON] but it might be Wexler [J. Arthur Craig]) because “He’s the only witness I have, isn’t there something you can do?”
Like the doctor’s gonna say, “Oh shit, only witness? In that case give me ten minutes, I’ll get him good as new.”
The only clue the cops have is that they found a patch at the scene of the crime, a triangle symbol worn by the gang led by Mason, who was in the professor’s class and got into an argument with him the same day in front of like five witnesses who are also in the class. So really their only possible chance of ever putting it together would be, like, interviewing the very first people you would want to interview if you were investigating this crime. So it’s hopeless.
Luckily, from his vegetative state (“he’ll just lie there like a big carrot” – “I never did like carrots”) Professor Cantrell is able to summon the demon Morak, a “Dark Avenger” or even a “Super-Batman” as he said to humor a student who compared him to Batman. Now that I think about it this is sort of similar to my first Slasher Search movie this year, APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR, where a guy in a coma could “reach out” to the outside world and kill people. But he was the bad guy, not the protagonist. This movie is about scumbag Mason’s friends, and then Mason himself, one-by-one being haunted by strange visions and then dying, while the cops try to figure out what’s happening. And in between deaths the creeps keep meeting up (including at a comedy club where a cheeseball in a flashy leisure suit does a Peter Falk impression) to panic about it while Mason insults them and does obnoxious things like pour Coors on his poor girlfriend.
The best executed death is the first one, the belligerent hairy guy Sean (Robert Clark). His girlfriend (Pat Nagel) worries about his moodiness, and he angrily tells her he’s fine and “I gotta go hikin or somethin.” So he goes out to a deserty place they call “the rocks” where he’s terrorized and slashed (you, see, it’s a slasher movie!) by invisible forces, kind of predicting Freddy Krueger. This is one of those arty scenes I was talking about – lots of psychedelic dissolves and sunflares, shots of ants, with chaotic, echoey drum improvisation on the score. (I thought the music in this was impressive until it switched to a completely different old time horror score and I realized it must all be library music.)
When the movie focuses on Dirk it gets more goofy-weird. While alone in his apartment (which is decorated with old Hollywood paraphernalia including one sheets for Laurel & Hardy movies and a glossy of Groucho Marx) he decides to commit suicide. In a long internal monologue he laments that he just got jobs at the gas station and biology lab and “Life was really startin to treat me good.” And though he just took part in a senseless massacre he’s nice enough to worry about the mess his death will make. “I sure hope the landlord isn’t gonna be super upset about it.” But as he’s about to slit his wrist he notices, “Ah, Jesus. I’m late for work.” And then he just gets killed by the demon at the garage.
The next day when the body is discovered there’s a radio playing a Christian sermon, saying, “The Lord always watches over his children.” Clearly this scene has some purpose, but I don’t know whether it’s to taunt Christianity as inferior to Morak the Super-Batman, or to say that Dirk isn’t one of the Lord’s children. Either one seems pretty blasphemous, which I guess is fitting in this world where demonology is a standard college course.
There’s some horror that takes place at a movie theater, which is always welcome, plus the mostly unrelated section at the massage parlor, which is less so. When Mason finally gets his we see the actual demon as it smacks him around. It’s a pretty cool rubber suit. One of Mason’s eyeballs falls out, and he ends up in a padded cell giggling and looking at his palm, imagining he’s holding the eyeball. A doctor looks in through the window, explaining his story to a yawning colleague. And then we return to our host Christopher Lee, who asks, “Fantasy, or reality? Do such powers exist?” It’s important to ponder, I guess, for some reason. (Also, all movies with supernatural elements could, and maybe should, open and close with this same Christopher Lee footage. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, THE CONJURING, THE EXORCIST, whatever.)
To me MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE is a good “bad” movie – it’s constantly funny and weird, short enough and with enough variety that I rarely got bored. They mix up the locations well (classroom, dark apartments, sunny desert, parking garage, projection booth) and you never know when there’s gonna be another head scratching choice like when it cuts to Detective Wexler in his suit and tie, walking down the beach barefoot, carrying his shoes, while he describes the murders in voiceover. I kept thinking throughout, and still felt at the end, that this is very worthy of a remaster by AGFA or one of the boutique blu-ray labels, and would be a fun time for some Weird Wednesday audiences or a Joe Bob Briggs broadcast or something.
That may be more likely than I first assumed, because it turns out this movie may have some fringe cinema historical significance. I was surprised when I noticed the name Ed Wood in the end credits, among a group of actors playing unspecified characters. Holy shit, I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for Ed Wood! But it kind of makes sense – there’s an obvious overlap between Wood’s movies and this largely incompetent, but somewhat arty and ambitious low budget exploitation. He was a serious alcoholic and working in porn at that time, but it makes sense he could’ve known these people, especially since many people in the cast also worked in porn.
Everything about the production remains as mysterious as you’d expect for a movie like this, but because of the Wood connection there’s been plenty of attempts to research it, particulary this extremely in-depth analysis from Wood expert Joe Blevins. He says Wood is purported (but not confirmed) to be an extra holding a camera in a crowd scene, and he thinks it looks like him, but has second hand information that Wood biographer Rudolph Grey doesn’t think it looks like his nose. (Based on the screengrabs I really have no idea if it resembles him or not, and it looks like this guy has sideburns but I can’t find pictures of Wood with them.)
I noticed what I believe is a mistake in the article – yes, the Guerdon Trueblood who plays the boy in the Halloween mask may be the same one who became a visual effects artist for Tippet Studio, Weta Digital and ILM (which means he may have composited shots of MEATCLEAVER host Christopher Lee in the STAR WARS prequels and/or LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy!), but the Guerdon Trueblood credited as d.p. has got to be the one who directed THE CANDY SNATCHERS and has a story credit on JAWS 3-D. He’s also credited as “Nuthouse doctor” (seen watching Mason in the last scene).
Nevertheless, the research in the article is extremely thorough, and his primary interest comes from rumors that Wood directed some of MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE. Though Blevins couldn’t substantiate such claims, he exhaustively catalogs MEATCLEAVER’s stylistic and thematic similarities to Wood’s films.
In 2014 when the article was posted, Blevins remained uncertain of Wood’s involvement. The one connection he found between Wood and the production was porn actress Maria Arnold, who appeared in both this and the wood-scripted NECROMANIA. His most convincing data point is that a reader told him on Facebook that editor Jim Bryan (director of THE EXECUTIONER PART II) said that credited director Evan Lee (no other known credits) was fired and replaced by Wood, who shot 60% of it. If we could verify that Bryan really says that I think that would settle it, and this would add a bright spot to the darkness of Wood’s final years – he managed to direct a pretty entertaining non-jerk-off movie!
Until such confirmation, though, I would note that there’s also a Carol Wood credited beside Ed Wood, and I don’t believe there’s a Carol in our Ed Wood’s family. So I think there’s a strong likelihood that the Ed Wood in the credits is some other guy who did not direct PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, a coincidence that brought unearned (but welcome) attention to a random movie that would otherwise be forgotten, except by slasher searchers.
According to IMDb, writer/producer Ray Atherton went on to play a fence in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and to write and produce something called F.A.R.T.: THE MOVIE (1991). My internet pals Drew McWeeny and Rebecca Swan also have a writing credit on that, but I’ve never asked them about it. They’re now my best shot at being six degrees from Bela Lugosi.