Part 1 of 3 of Bonkers Ass Bigfoot Week
Enter: Michael Findlay.
Believe it or not, there used to be a time when exploitation films either portrayed graphic violence or graphic sex, but never the two together. Findlay is the director often credited with being the genius who integrated them with his film, The Touch of Her Flesh (1967). Now, in terms of how much credit we should actually give him, I think of the British post-punk band, Wire, who is generally thought of as bringing minimalism to punk music—as if no one else would have done this eventually?
Findlay, along with his wife, Roberta, made a splash in the late 60’s pioneering the “roughies,” which were basically proto-slasher films with a sadomasochistic sexual bent. They would make a bunch of these, even completing the so-called Flesh Trilogy with The Curse of Her Flesh (1968) and The Kiss of her Flesh (1968). Linda Williams, in her book, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” called the husband-wife team “the most notorious filmmakers in the annals of sexploitation.”
By the way, the word “annal” kinda makes me uncomfortable in a sentence with “sexploitation.”
But alas, we’re here to talk about Bigfoot films after all, and Findlay just so happened to pump out one of the more decidedly weird entries in the genre: 1974’s Shriek of the Mutilated, aka Scream of the Snowbeast. (FYI, I’m intrigued by the fact that these two titles seem to conflict with one another, i.e., who the hell is actually doing the screaming?) If you’ve seen any Bigfoot film, the setup is pretty standard. A college professor is taking out his students to find proof-positive the Yeti exists. From there, however, nothing is standard or routine, at least in the way that those words have any meaning at all.
We open weirdly enough with a quick pre-credit sequence, as a hairy-Bigfoot?-like man chops off the head of a woman with an axe, with the head splashing down into a dirty swimming pool. For which I gotta say, where ever this film goes from here, I’ve never seen that before. Cut to Professor Ernst Prell (Alan Brock) lecturing four of his graduate students about the Yeti and their upcoming journey to find it. Then, trying to cut loose the night before their big trip, the students go to a very 70’s-rific party, where they encounter Spencer St. Clair, the sole survivor of Dr. Prell’s last Yeti-scouting trip seven years ago. He’s now an alcoholic with obvious PTSD from the ordeal, raving about being attacked by the creature and narrowly surviving.
A great bit of exposition, if it ends there, right? Oh, no. We follow Spencer home with his wife, where he completely melts down and slits her throat with an electric carving knife. Okay, awesome, even if it stops there. Yeah, right. Immediately after, Spencer is sitting fully clothed in the bathtub, drinking a beer, and half-assedly scrubbing the blood from his shirt. It turns out, though, that his wife has barely survived the ordeal. She grabs a toaster, crawls bloodily through the house to the bathroom, plugs in the toaster, and tosses it into the bathtub, killing Spencer. Okay, surely, it ends there! It actually does. But in another version of this film, I could totally see these two trying to one up one another Spy vs. Spy style into perpetuity. Forever.
The next day, the students begin the journey in the professor’s big white van, Scooby-Doo style to the wilderness. They then encounter what is probably my favorite use of the clichéd-old-crazy-man-harbinger-warning-of-doom character ever. When one of the students asks the old man if there’s something they should beware of, he responds: “It might not make much sense to you, but it makes sense to me.”
Huh?!? That would honestly scare the shit out of me more than anything.
But eventually, we’re going to get to the wilderness. Uh…no, apparently, we’re going to some guy named Karl’s house, where the rest of the movie is going to take place. Dr. Karl Werner’s is a professor buddy of Prell’s, who says he has had heard the Yeti in the woods next to his house. Karl is by far the most interesting character in the film and would probably be the Larry Fessenden character in the Ti West remake. However, the most amazing part about Karl is that he has a house servant named Laughing Crow, who he refers to as “my Indian.”
Woah. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t even kosher in 1974.
From here, I’m not going to give anything else away. This film takes an insane detour that I don’t want to spoil, though you could probably figure it out halfway through the movie. My favorite aspect of Shriek of the Mutilated is that it turns into a type of “creeping dread” movie, à la Let’s Scare Jessica to Death or Kill List. A kind of slow-burning mystery (unbearably slow at times) where a bigger conspiracy against the characters is unveiled. The last fifteen minutes of this film are amazing and don’t even feel in the same universe as to what came before. Very fun, very pulpy stuff.
As enjoyable as this movie is (and I do highly recommend it for revelers of 70’s drive-in schlock), it does suffer from a plodding middle, where it’s pretty standard slasher fare. From the purveyors of the “roughie” film, you’d expect more gore and sex (the latter of which is nonexistent), and it just doesn’t feel as bloody and gross as it should be. That being said, the ending saves it and makes the film truly memorable. A good, solid, bonkers start to Bigfoot Week.
Next up: Night of the Demon (1980)