Shriek of the Mutilated (1974) -***
Now, if these guys had put half as much thought into their movie as they put into its title... But alas, they did not. We can forgive them, though. Really, who but an Italian director could have made full use of a title like Shriek of the Mutilated? Certainly it proved more than a match for Michael and Roberta Findlay (probably the world’s only husband-and-wife team of exploitation filmmakers), who-- despite a promising premise, an endearing hint of madness, and a commendable “fuck you if it doesn’t make sense to you” attitude-- regrettably dropped the ball on the all-important point of socially irresponsible sleaziness.
Just tell me this doesn’t sound like it could have been a real gem. A professor of anthropology (Alan Brock) by the name of Ernst Prell (not Ernest Press, as it reads on the back of the video box-- isn’t it great when you find a movie whose promotional copywriters seem not to have watched the film?) takes four of his most promising students on an expedition in search of the Abominable Snowman, or Yeti. This expedition is not, however, destined for the mountains of Tibet, which every grade-schooler with access to a TV set knows to be the Yeti’s natural habitat, but rather for the much less exotic Boot Island, home to a certain Dr. Karl Werner (Tawm Ellis)-- but otherwise uninhabited-- and which appears to be located somewhere off the east coast of southern Canada, or perhaps in upstate New York. Now, you might scoff at this choice of Abominable Snowman-hunting territory, but Dr. Prell has gone in search of the Yeti in such diverse places as Alaska, Siberia, and Hudson Bay (which the characters insist on calling “Hudson’s Bay”), and by God if he didn’t find the monster in every single one of them. But one thing Prell never did manage to do is catch one, either alive or dead, and let’s face it, in the cruel world of cryptozoology, getting that specimen is all that matters. That’s where Dr. Werner comes in. As it happens, he’s got a Yeti on his island. He’s seen it with his own eyes (albeit at quite a distance, and with lots of trees blocking the view), smelled its “fetid stench,” and heard its distinctive call (which is “higher than a grizzly bear, more raucous than a moose”). Prell thinks the Yeti crossed the two-to-three miles of bay to the north during the winter freeze, and became trapped on the island when the ice melted. With just one of these animals thus confined to a very tiny parcel of land, Prell thinks the chances of its capture to be strong indeed.
But it just wouldn’t be a horror movie, would it, if Dr. Prell didn’t have a secret and unsavory history? Of course not, so here it is: Seven years ago, he staged an expedition not unlike the one he has planned for Keith (Michael Harris), Tom (Jack Neubeck, from Invasion of the Blood Farmers), Lynn (Bacchanale’s Darcy Brown), and Karen (Jennifer Stock, whose sole other credit is-- get this-- as the rack girl in Bloodsucking Freaks). A graduate student named Spencer Ste. Claire (Tom Grail) was with Prell on that trip, and he and the professor were the only ones that lived to tell the tale. The Yeti that Prell encountered on that occasion seems to have been in an exceptionally foul mood (maybe he was pissed off because some asshole shanghaied him from his home in the Himalayas and plunked him down in the woods around “Hudson’s Bay”), and by the time Prell was ready to call it a day, the beast had eaten three of Ste. Claire’s classmates and dealt the sole surviving student some nasty injuries. Ste. Claire divulges this information to Tom, Lynn, and Karen between swigs of straight vodka at a party, in the face of his wife’s withering disapproval. The whole experience has left Ste. Claire quite mad, of course, to the extent that he and his wife promptly slay each other when they return home. (No, I’m not making this up! He slits her throat with a bread knife, leaves her for dead, and then takes a bath, giving his not-quite-dead-yet spouse the opportunity to electrocute him with a toaster!) Just in case that sorry tale of woe doesn’t raise enough red flags, there’s a scene early on in which Dr. Prell introduces Keith to an old Indian dish called Jin Sung (this particular tribe apparently speaks Mandarin), the ingredients of which are a closely guarded secret. Take it from El Santo, folks-- people who like exotic meat dishes with secret ingredients are even more dangerous than people whose names are anagrams of “Dracula.”
So it should come as no surprise to anyone when, after separating from the group for no remotely defensible reason, Tom is killed amid the unexplained ruins of a very large building by the most fake-ass-looking Yeti you could possibly imagine. (Watch for the shoes!) Some of the movie’s most ridiculous dialogue follows, as the rest of the cast attempt to rationalize Tom’s disappearance. Pay attention, and you’ll notice that the “comforting” explanation with which the men attempt to placate Karen and Lynn boils down to, “Tom’s an experienced woodsman, so it’s only to be expected that he get lost in the woods for over five hours.” When the remaining characters finally go looking for him nearly 24 hours later, it is Karen who finds Tom-- or rather his leg-- in the still-unexplained ruins. Shortly thereafter, it is revealed that Lynn slept late, and thus missed being in on the search party. That makes her separated, and we know what happens to people who get separated don’t we? Goddamned right, we do. And no, the Yeti doesn’t look any better the second time.
That makes two down, five to go (Dr. Prell, Dr. Werner, Keith, Karen, and Laughing Crow [Ivan Agar, who presumably is not related to John], Dr. Werner’s conspicuously white Indian housekeeper), but now Dr. Prell has a real plan to trap the Yeti. The key is Tom’s leg. Karen, you see, had the presence of mind to bring it with her when she returned from the apparently-never-to-be-explained ruins, and Prell means to use it to bait Werner’s wolf trap in the hope of catching the monster. Try to envision the scene as Karen voices her understandable objections: She, Keith, and the two professors are seated around Werner’s coffee table, while Tom’s leg waits expectantly on the table top, wrapped in grayish butcher paper. Karen says something to the effect of, “You can’t be serious!” and Prell reasonably counters that the leg isn’t doing Tom any good now, so they may as well try to get some use out of it. I could watch this scene again and again.
The trap predictably fails, as does another, more elaborate effort employing Lynn’s corpse. But by this point, you’re probably going to be more interested in the hints that have been dropping for some time now that there is more going on around Boot Island than initially met the eye. What follows isn’t especially surprising, at least not for a seasoned veteran like El Santo, but it was nevertheless pretty satisfying to watch the filmmakers find a way to work in an angle that I knew had to be coming, but that seemed glaringly at odds with the basic direction of the movie. And to my surprise, the “shocking twist” actually works pretty well. Unfortunately-- and this cost Shriek of the Mutilated at least half a star-- the Findlays put the twist too late in the movie to give them room to do much with it. The nastiness potential was very high-- again, look to the Italians to get some idea of what could have been-- and fully exploiting it would have given the film the infusion of sleaze necessary for it to live up to its title, but with so little time remaining, the slipshod treatment of the last few scenes was probably unavoidable. Even so, the movie’s certainly worth a look, provided you don’t let its inspired name get your hopes up too high.