“Basket Case” (1982)

basket-case-dvd-scan

Directed By
Frank Henenlotter

Version Reviewed
20th Anniversary Special Edition Something Weird Video DVD ©2001, Region: 1, Format: NTSC

Total Runtime
~1 hour, 30 minutes, 58 seconds

Synopsis
It’s late one night when a Dr. Lifflander is startled by strange noises outside his home. He locks the front door, shuts his windows and dials the police. Mid-phone call the phone line is cut. So too is the power.

“Oh God, no! No!” he cries as the room goes black. With a crazed look and full flaring of his nostrils, he grabs a revolver and blindly fires all six rounds at the darkness. For a brief moment, silence. Did he get, uh, whatever it was? Hardly! A monstrous hand reaches up from the shadows, ripping his face to shreds. The last thing we see are spurts of thick, painty blood shooting onto a file folder.

Another Rorschach test. Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

Another Rorschach test.
Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

A young man with a large, lidded basket in hand makes a bee line down 42nd Street past a row of Kung Fu grindhouses and XXX book stores selling “rubber goods”. A drug dealer walks up beside him and starts pitching everything you could imagine. “I got joints and bags, nickel and dime bags, gold Colombian smoke.” the salesbro begins. “I got acid, blotters, rainbows, window panes, speed, downs… Valium, mescaline, THC. I’ve got some good cocaine, Quaaludes, beauties, Methergine, chiba, Panama red, angel dust. Check it out, man. Tranquilizers, amphetamines, lithium, Thorazine, Thai sticks, methadone, nugget, rock red, junk, morphine. What do you want, some girls?”

No response.

The drug dealer gets fed up and exits stage right. I love this part because it really paints a picture of how sleazy the film is. Hilariously, the young man with the basket never even breaks stride or acknowledges the persistent pill pusher. He’s walking with a purpose.

He stops at the first hotel that he comes to, a seedy hole in the wall called the Hotel Broslin, which is, to no one’s surprise, inhabited by an equally seedy cast of misfit characters. The man with the basket pulls a fat wad of fifties from his back pocket (according to Mr. Henenlotter, the film’s entire budget) to rent a room, raising the eyebrows of an older man who later exclaims to the manager in a lilting Irish brogue, “Did you see that? He’s loooaded!”

Up in Room 7, the man says “We’re here.” to whatever he’s got in his basket. He steps out, returns with a bagful of burgers, and feeds them affectionately to his cooped-up companion as cartoon munching sounds can be heard. After that, he thumbs through the same blood-stained file folder from earlier. If it wasn’t already obvious, it’s now crystal clear the young man and his basket bud are the ones who killed Dr. Lifflander. But Lifflander isn’t the only doctor on their hit list. They’ve still got a score to settle with a Dr. Kutter and a Dr. Needleman.

Why? I’ll tell you.

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
Our main man with the basket, Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), was born with a monstrous, malformed twin named Belial conjoined to his side. Duane was in all other respects a normal, healthy boy. His parasitic sibling, however, was little more than a gross face with arms. Their mother died giving birth to them. Their father blamed Belial for this, and later paid the above-mentioned doctors to separate the sons out of spite, hoping Belial would die in the process and Duane would be able to phase in with the normies and live out a traditional, boring life.

This is the same look I use when I'm feigning amazement at something my wife says. Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

This is the same look I use when I’m feigning amazement at something my wife says.
Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

The catch is… Belial survived. The brothers (who, by the way, share a telepathic bond) took swift revenge on their disdainful dad, bided their time for about eight years while they lived with their aunt, then finally set out for the Big Apple to bump off the physicians who tore them apart.

A conflict arises when Duane falls for big-breasted, wig-wearing receptionist Sharon (Terri Susan Smith). Belial grows increasingly jealous of his brother’s new love interest and cockblocks him at every pass. Their feelings of resentment toward one another crescendo in a burst of sibling rivalry that will make your own family seem like the Brady Bunch by comparison.

_________________________

It struck me the other day that I’ve mentioned this movie a shit ton, but never actually written about it in depth. Basket Case is a movie that’s near and dear to my heart for at least a few reasons. Besides the obvious — being endlessly entertaining — it’s also the first movie I ordered out of a catalogue. Going solely off of the blurb and the limitless potential of the title, I sent away for a copy of the Something Weird Video DVD from a place called Cinema Wasteland (after having ordered their catalogue from the back of Fangoria magazine). On top of that, Basket Case was one of the first horror films of its kind I exposed myself to. Up until that point, I was only really familiar with mainstream horror (most franchises, “classics” like Poltergeist and The Exorcist, Stephen King movies, etc.) and whatever else there was at my local video store. I’d never actually explored the world of low-budget schlock before. Basket Case had a very profound effect on me as a horror fan and turned me on to the weirder, more obscure stuff.

How’d such an influential film come to be? you may ask.

“The inspiration came from the title and nothing more than that.” director Henenlotter told The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope in 2009. “…I was thinking of Psycho-sounding titles. When I came up with Basket Case, I just laughed and said, ‘Okay, we have a monster that lives in a basket.’ I had all these wonderful visuals… Then, I was in Times Square, at what used to be the great Nathan’s hot dog stand… and all of a sudden it hit me that they were brothers and I started writing the dialogue right there…”[1]

I remember reading a different interview where he said he scribbled that dialogue on the hot dog stand’s napkins.

Photography took place sporadically over the course of a year on a shoestring budget of $35,000. In his own words, director Henenlotter (who’d dabbled in filmmaking prior to this as a hobby) was emboldened to make a legit feature-length film because he didn’t think people would see it. His first idea was a mad scientist movie called Ooze. Drag queen Divine (the one who sucks dick and eats dog poo in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos) was attached, but funding never came through and the project failed to materialize. Henenlotter’s second idea was this. Again, he was going into production thinking no one would see the end product. He was later “horrified” when his brainchild opened at midnight in 1981 and played for the next two years.

You thought you were fapping in private? Think again. Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

You thought you were fapping in private? Think again.
Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

Terri Susan Smith (now a traveling tour guide named Ahu Smith) described the film at the time in a radio interview (which is coolly available as an extra on the DVD) as “gore with charm” and “the most charming horrible movie you’ll ever see.” And I think that sums it up well.

It’s definitely “horrible” in the sense that its disfigured sideshow freak monster, multiple messed-up mutilations, male and female nudity, New York City locations, and grainy 16mm film aesthetic give the proceedings a greasy, sleazy vibe. On the other side of the coin, the enthusiasm that pours from its colorful non-actors and amateurs, and its humorous, fun-loving approach are endearing. Basket Case manages to be both distasteful and heartwarming at once.

The movie is jam-packed with unforgettable moments. One of my favorites is Dr. Kutter’s demise. The woman has five bloody scalpels sticking out of her face, yet she still has the presence of mind to make all these clenchy, dramatic hand movements. I’m also fond of Belial’s poorly executed stop-motion temper tantrum. Then, of course, there’s Duane’s penis — it jumbles around in a sexy dream sequence that sees him run buck-ass-naked through a deserted neighborhood. If that’s not awkward enough, Belial mounts his brother’s sleeping girlfriend and rapes her til her no-nos bleed and she dies.

What I’m trying to say is, there isn’t a single scene that’s not off-the-wall goofy, gruesome, or grimey in one way or another, and that’s why Basket Case remains one of my all time favorite movies and trustiest standbys. I revisit it often.

It’s a movie that’s grown on me over the years like a monstrous malformed twin of my own. At first glance back in 2008ish, the whole thing was rough. Really rough. But each time I watched it, my love for it deepened — the acting improved, the sets and effects seemed a little less chintzy, and more and more of its twisted-mad genius bubbled up to the surface. I began to notice new things and appreciate all of its shortcomings.

Like this new wave guy on the left, for example. I can't unsee him now. Straight baller status. Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

Like this new wave guy on the left, for example. I can’t unsee him now. Straight baller status.
Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

I think one of the reasons this movie works well and stands out to me is because it’s not structured like a dime-a-dozen slasher. Its killers are also its heroes, which makes for an interesting dynamic. It’s easy enough to boo bloodthirsty Belial, but Duane’s so naive and soft-spoken it’s hard not to feel for him.

Another reason this movie works well is because you can tell it was filmed from the heart. It’s a crude, crude tribute to the crude exploitation films Henenlotter grew up on, as well as the city he lived in and still lives in now. There are shots of the Twin Towers, the Statue of Liberty, and of course, 42nd Street. I’ve never been to New York, but this flick makes me wish I could hop in a time machine and go back to the dirty NYC of the past, if only for an afternoon.

Scratch that, I can’t stand big cities. Downtown Chicago is an hour and a half from my place, and it reeks so strongly of hipster pretentiousness, hobo piss and despair I can barely stomach driving through on my way to far nicer places.

basket-case-bluray-scan

As much as I love this movie, I think I prefer the first sequel. Basket Case 2 is on a tier all its own. Part 3 is a bit of a step down when it comes to originality, but fun nonetheless in the same way Child’s Play 3 is. I would definitely recommend the entire trilogy. The blu-ray steelbook set (pictured left) is still affordably priced at, like, $45 and worth every penny.

Extra features for the Something Weird Video DVD include two trailers, a TV spot, radio spots, the above-mentioned radio interview with Terri Susan Smith, audio commentary with Frank Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, and actress Beverly Bonner, excerpts from what looks like a public access TV show starring Beverly Bonner, various outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage (including a boob not seen in the movie!), a gallery of production stills and promotional artwork, a video tour called In Search of the Hotel Broslin (15:29), co-hosted by Henenlotter and rapper friend R.A. the Rugged Man (co-writer/producer of Bad Biology), and to top it all off, a cool animated menu. In my opinion, this disc is a must-have for any half-serious cult movie collector. It’s one of the best, most comprehensive, well-packaged releases I’ve come across. A lot of care obviously went into it. Many thanks to all those responsible.

You can't spell Hotel Broslin without Hot Bros. I'm sure there's a joke there. Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

You can’t spell Hotel Broslin without Hot Bros. I’m sure there’s a joke there.
Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

One last bit of trivia: the fictional Hotel Broslin was cleverly cobbled together from several different locations. The check-in desk, for example, was a freight elevator the crew jammed open. The stairwell was part of a separate building, the rooms and hallways were built for cheap in a loft, and the neon sign (pictured above) was hung from a fire escape outside Kevin VanHentenryck’s studio apartment. I, like many people, assumed the cast and crew had set up shop in a real hotel when I first watched this years ago.

Body Count
5.

Bod Count
2.

NAME

M/F

PENIS

BOOBS

Duane

M

Sharon

F

Overall Enjoyability
5 new wave guys out of 5.

I Got My Copy From
Cinema Wasteland.

Recommendations
Brain Damage (1988)
Slime City (1988)

these sideshow freak/carnival horrors:

Freaks (1932)
Carnival of Souls (1962)
The Incredibly Strange Creatures… (1964)
She Freak (1967)
Vampire Circus (1972)
The Funhouse (1981)
The Ventriloquist’s Dummy (Tales From the Crypt episode, 1990)
Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)
Humbug (The X-Files episode, 1995)
Hideous! (1997)
Sideshow (2000)
Crustacean (2009)

References
1. Freese, Rob. “That’s Franksploitation! Frank Henenlotter From Basket Case to Bad Biology!” The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope. Fall 2009: Page 34. Print.

“Ganjasaurus Rex” (1987)

Scan NA

Directed By
Ursi Reynolds

Version Reviewed
N/A

Total Runtime
~1 hour, 29 minutes, 26 seconds

Synopsis
Guys, I have a confession to make. I’ve never smoked weed. Like, not even once.

(hold for boos)

Hear me out. I’m not a complete and total gaylord. I at least have my reasons for being this lame. The fact of the matter is, drugs would do me no good, only bad. I’m weird enough on my own. I don’t need to compound all this strangeness with mind-altering substances. That, and I couldn’t possibly be more relaxed than when I flick my brain off and kick my feet up with a good (or in most cases, catastrophically crummy) exploitation or horror movie.

Some people probably assume I’ve used drugs and I’m fine with that. I can’t imagine my long hair, vegetarian diet, love of hacky sack, and laidback demeanor scream clean-living straight edge. I realize I project a particular image. At the end of the day, though, I am who I am and people’s opinions won’t change that or bother me too much.

I choose to live my life without drugs and alcohol. I know that’s unusual, so I also have a sense of humor about it. My beliefs haven’t stopped me from enjoying other B-level stoner movies like Full Moon’s Evil Bong series (now on its sixth installment), or even the classics like Friday.

It doesn’t really matter to me if a movie depicts drug use, as long as it’s entertaining. Even if all the references to bud were removed from the topic of this month’s review, we’d still have a rare shot-on-video flick from the late 1980s on our hands, and that right there is enough to pique my easily-piqued interest. So let’s get to it, shall we?

_________________________

Text informs us the voyage we’re about to embark on takes place along the Lost Coast of California. A jazzy scat number kicks in as aerial footage of the coastline rolls by. We’re shown a beach and a rolling tide. Without warning, this thing appears, flailing its arms about while emitting a series of teenage death metal band pterodactyl howls. At this point, I was gobsmacked. Gobsmacked I tells ya. I had to see more.

The blue matte lines almost sent me into hysterics.

The blue matte lines almost sent me into hysterics.

I'm not sure what that partial border is attempting to prove up there at the top like that.

I’m not sure what that partial border is attempting to prove up there at the top like that.

Two rural hippie types who are also brothers come to a clearing in the woods in search of a place to grow weed. The less-spacey of the two, Frank (Paul Bassis, who apparently co-wrote and co-produced this thing), asks the other one, Cloud, if he managed to bum any seeds off their friends, stressing that his livelihood depends on a good year. “What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m going for broke.” he says with a bunch of hand gestures. “What I’m saying is I’m broke, I’m going for a crop. I gotta have it.”

Cloud explains in a long-winded, round-about way that he only managed to get one seed from a friend of theirs named Honey who he calls “the genetic genius”, but guarantees it’s been modified to grow to the size of a redwood tree.

Satisfied with this answer, Frank follows Cloud to a rock and they meditate. The two are unnerved when the ground moves beneath them. A snarl is heard through the valley.

The aforementioned Honey is then shown concocting a “sprouting solution” of sorts that she pours on a batch of what looks like coconuts. These are in actuality what she terms Cannabis sequoia seeds. These are the seeds Cloud referred to that grow as big as trees. Honey mentions it took her ten years to develop this strain. She and her Jesus-looking boyfriend Moss dress up in camo, face paint, and leaves, and trek off into the woods to look for a place of their own to grow weed.

Insert whimsical planting montage.

Meanwhile, reporters have gathered in front of town hall for the annual CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) press conference, hosted by an Arlene Arden, the county sheriff, and a suit named Cromwell who was dispatched from DC to coordinate the whole shebang. Cromwell goes on to say that he considers marijuana a threat to national security and that he actually plans to eradicate the plant from the face of the earth. “As of now, marijuana growers are an endangered species.” he vows. “Next year, they’ll be extinct.”

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
Soon after, a second montage of what looks like authentic DEA raid footage plays through when SUDDENLY, OUT OF NOWHERE a net full of weed being towed by a government helicopter is swiped from the sky and devoured by the same thing from earlier, somehow looking even less convincing than it did then.

This effect brought to you by a sponge, a rubber cleaning glove and a papier-mâché helmet.

This effect brought to you by a sponge, a rubber cleaning glove and a papier-mâché helmet.

The CAMP pilot speeds off unharmed. Back at headquarters, Cromwell instructs his team to keep the event under wraps. Cromwell is then shown attending a lecture being given by a crazy white-haired professor type to a single student of his. The professor (who’s standing next to a six-foot inflatable Godzilla toy), just so happens to be going on about the titanic Theropod sighted by CAMP, which he identifies as the four-hundred-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus herbivorous ganjasaurus rex. The professor postulates that THGR fed exclusively on cannabis sequoia plants as far back as the Paleozoic Era (which contradicts Honey’s claims) and that doing so caused its “brain mass ratio to increase.” He ends his speech by stating he believes it’s still out there, roaming the hillsides of rural 1980s California cos why not.

At this point, the movie slows down to a crawl. Cromwell decides to bombard the prehistoric pothead with nukes while Professor What’s-his-name and the protags attempt to come up with a nonviolent solution. By film’s end, however, CAMP is still in full swing and the real conflict is left unresolved.

_________________________

With such an outrageous title and dopey-looking dinosaur plastered smack dab on the front of its home video box, I was thinking Ganjasaurus Rex would be along the lines of a monster movie parody — key word being monster — with helpings of low-brow stoner humor thrown in for good measure.

G-rex is actually a she, not a he (mild spoiler).

G-rex is actually a she, not a he (mild spoiler).

In truth, the title creature is more of a plot device than a danger or sympathetic character. It only appears for a total of maybe one minute, and most of the time it’s on screen it just stands there growling benignly. On top of that, it was brought to life with some of the absolute worst, bottom barrel stop-motion ever. From now on, the intro to Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars! won’t be the only thing coming to mind when I think of bad stop-motion. A far cry from something like Jan Svankmajer’s work to be sure.

As a casual fan of monster movies and lover of oldschool practical effects work, I would have liked to have seen better stop-motion. I also would have liked to have seen more than one friggin’ minute of the creature advertised on the cover.

I should have known better, though. As anybody who lived through the magical, bygone era of mom n’ pop video stores could attest to, VHS distribution labels gave zero fucks about accurate advertising. Their tapes were often adorned with illustrations and images glaringly absent from the actual movies or ones that were taken out of context, as well as erroneous titles and blurbs, and even black & white headshots of the movies’ actors in place of screen shots. Having come across some real head-scratchers during my years of weird movie watching, I can find it within myself to forgive Ganjasaurus Rex for its misleading cover, as this isn’t the most heinous case of misrepresentation I’ve seen.

This guy, for example, is nowhere to be seen in Confessions of a Serial Killer.

This guy, for example, is nowhere to be seen in Confessions of a Serial Killer.

This one's not terribly relevant, but it makes me laugh. Here, the person who typed up the blurb for Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland failed to remember the name of the film's setting and pulled one out of their ass (for the record, it's Camp New Horizons, not Happy Woods).

This one’s not terribly relevant, but it makes me laugh. Here, the person who typed up the blurb for Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland failed to remember the name of the film’s setting and pulled one out of their ass (for the record, it’s Camp New Horizons, not Happy Woods).

So yeah. To those of you that were hoping this romp was an action-packed Kaiju collision, it’s not. It would best be described as political satire, a jab at the farcical “war on drugs” that’s still waged to this day, costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year, told from the point of view of a people who consider growing pot to be one of their basic human rights, not to mention a means to support their families.

From what I’ve pieced together from online resources, Ganjasaurus Rex was shot in or around Humboldt County, California, Humboldt County being one of three to comprise California’s infamous “Emerald Triangle”, an area claimed to contain the highest concentration of marijuana plants in the US.

The flick is an obvious blast on the real-life antidrug program CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) that was formed in 1983 to crackdown on the large scale production of Mary Jane that was, according to the California Department of Justice, causing rampant deforestation, killing wildlife, poisoning the environment, damaging natural resources, diverting water supplies, posing a threat to its citizens, and promoting Communism (that last one might be made up). CAMP was comprised at the onset of twenty-seven federal, state, and local agencies, and received its largest contributions from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

CAMP was, by all accounts, a domestic terrorist organization. Its members (volunteer police officers, mostly) would buzz people’s homes in UH-1 helicopters searching for grow sites, repel down paramilitary-style in full Army getup brandishing hatchets and M16s, hack any contraband up and haul it away on tow lines for burning. The program was highly criticized at the time and was said to be running roughshod on people’s civil liberties by engaging in “out-of-control, dangerous, and probably illegal” activities.[1]. One newspaper article, dated September 25th, 1988, states that more than 250 formal complaints had already been filed against the program at that point. Amongst these complaints were claims that CAMP had “chased residents with [its] helicopters, held innocent citizens at gunpoint, charged through gardens and yards without search warrants and… shot a family’s dog.”[2]

I find it compelling that portions of the raid footage we see dated 1985 are in fact legitimate. These portions were shot by the non-violent hippie group COG (Citizens Observation Group) that would follow these raids around as they happened and videotape the proceedings, then take declarations, its main objective being to obtain photographic evidence for a group of lawyers known as the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project that specialized in matters of civil rights abuse.

Pretty interesting stuff if I say so myself. I think I had almost as much fun digging into the backstory behind this flick as I did, you know, watching it. In doing so, I reached out to a person who may or may not have been the director of Ganjasaurus Rex and they had no comment, not even a “leave me alone”.

Interesting backstory aside, this movie is, well, kind of boring. On the other side of the coin, I wasn’t expecting that much, so it’s not like my hopes were dashed. If you consider yourself a patient viewer and lover of all forms of film (or, of course, a dope smoker), Ganjasaurus Rex can still be a goofy good time. Its tongue is firmly in cheek and it even pokes fun at itself by perpetuating the stereotype that druggies are grungy soy burger and lentil eaters. Cloud and Frank’s lines are perhaps the funniest, coming off as though they were adlibbed. However, I have to admit, I may have laughed hardest when the sheriff began listing agencies partnered with CAMP. “…DEA, FBI, IRS, CIA, FDA, FAA, DOJ, DOG, CAT, BLT, McDLT, GOD…”

One of the movie’s biggest highlights is actually its soundtrack. Standouts include a pair of reggae rockers — “Police State” and “You Have no Right” — by Humboldt area legend Rod Deal that play over the raid footage. Part of a third song of his titled “Shockwave” can also be heard early on when G-rex is shown for the first time. Rod and his band “The I-deals” would later record new versions of these songs for their 1991 album “Truth & Rights”, which is currently available for purchase in both physical and digital formats from Amazon.com. I bought a copy out of curiosity (I’m also claiming research purposes) and it’s honestly pretty impressive. A solid effort all the way through if a bit short at just thirty-five minutes in length. My favorite track is the earwormin’ opener “Helicopters”.

It came in a CD-R-style slimcase.

It came in a CD-R-style slimcase.

Deal would ironically die of a drug overdose sometime in 1995 after years of defending marijuana use. RIP. The man’s voice was too smooth for this world.

Ganjasaurus Rex was released only once on VHS by Rhino Video and is therefore obscure as all fuuuuuhhh. It can, however, be watched free of charge on a popular video streaming site that starts with the letter Y and ends with the letter E and is called YouTube. Here’s hoping an official DVD release comes our way soon!

Body Count
0.

Bod Count
0.

Overall Enjoyability
🚁🚁🚁 out of 5.

I Got My Copy From
N/A

Recommendations
Evil Bong (2006) and its sequels

References
1. Anders, Jentri. “Citizens Observation Group”. Sojourn in the Land of Shum. September 19th, 2011. Web.

2. Isikoff, Michael. “Seeds of Success or Budding ‘Police State’?”. Washington Post. September 25th, 1988. Web.

“Yes, We Perform Abortions Here.” — Nick Millard’s “Butcher Knife” (1987)

Scan NA

Directed By
Nick Millard as Nick Philips

Version Reviewed
N/A

Total Runtime
~56 minutes, 53 seconds

Synopsis
Abortion physician Roger Thorn (Albert Eskinazi) makes an unannounced house call to a patient of his. “One of the standard tests we do came back positive.” he informs a young woman (Leslie Simon, one half of the Cemetery Sisters) from across her dining room table.

Befuddled, the young woman replies, “I didn’t know you made any tests.” Perhaps she meant ran.

The doctor responds sharply — well, sharper than he was speaking. It may have been sharp were he not so glum, so emotionally checked out. “Of course we do. We do more than just perform an abortion.” Then, only briefly elaborating, “It’s necessary to start you on vitamin injections to clear up the infection.”

“What infection?” you’d most likely ask were you in this woman’s shoes. I mean, I would. I typically prefer to know what’s wrong with me before signing off on the treatment for it. Well, the young woman on screen doesn’t care, consent is implied, I guess, and without so much as another word, Roger grabs a needle from his little black bag and sticks her right there at the table.

“Something’s wrong,” the soon-to-be-murder-victim murmurs almost instantaneously. “I feel tired.” Less than ten seconds later, she’s out. That’s a fast acting sedative!

In stone faced silence, the doctor carries her unconscious body upstairs to a bathroom and lays her down in the tub. He returns to his bag, grabs the title weapon — a big ol’ butcher knife — plods upstairs once again, and proceeds to robotically stab away at the young woman’s midriff. She groans and gasps a few times in discomfort — either due to the dying or actor Eskinazi’s unbearably rigid, over-pronounced body language — then expires, her body a bloody mess.

That spatter could work as a Rorschach test.

That spatter could work as a Rorschach test.

The action then cuts to a shot of a San Francisco street. Two cable cars slow to a stop. A man crosses traffic. I assumed at first this was stock footage, but judging by the arbitrary zoom at the end, it’s Nick Millard’s own.

We reconvene with Roger as he wraps up a seminar he’s giving in what I presume is supposed to be an auditorium full of his colleagues (which was, in actuality, a bedroom). He drives his speech home on a Hippocratic — and hypocritical — note, stating “…a doctor’s primary concern has always been, and must always be, the health and well-being of his patient. Thank you.”

That evening, Roger plops onto his couch looking stressed. Upstairs, his wife (Irmgard Millard) rubs perfume on her old lady pancakes in front of a large, ornate mirror. She comes down, explains that she’s gussied up for a “garden club banquet”, then secretly rendezvouses with a balding, out-of-work poet named Jersey who barely speaks English and bums money off her, cos hey a plot. On her way out the door, Ms. Thorn tells her white maid Juanita (?) to cook Roger dinner.

The cutaway shot of the ethnically-incorrectly-named maid that comes next was taken from Satan’s Black Wedding. Here, believe it or not, Millard actually spliced footage in of a separate character from an older, unrelated movie of his. The biggest problem with this is that Butcher Knife was shot on video (i.e. recorded directly to VHS with a camcorder), whereas the moments featuring “Juanita the maid” were filmed nearly fifteen years prior on actual film stock and look nothing like it. In short, this is one of the least seamless edits you’ll see, probably ever.

Back at the crime scene, a black man with moles on his face named Lieutenant David Chandler shakes his head in what might be disgust peering down at the strangely intact and pristine looking corpse of the victim from only a few minutes earlier. “Poor kid never had a chance.” he says to himself in a wannabe hardboiled tone.

Another spliced-in character, this time a policeman, shouts up from the floor below, “We’re finished down here Lieutenant.” At this point, I couldn’t help but suspect the whole reason Roger carried that woman upstairs to begin with was to set up this splice — in which case, I’m extremely disappointed but not in the least bit surprised.

Lieutenant Chandler (who is of unknown relation to Faith and Charity Chandler of the Death Nurse dulogy) looks back at the bloodless dead body before him. “I’m gonna find the son of a bitch that did this to you. I promise.” he vows. Will he make good on his word, or simply pop in to say various cynical things and make asinine observations without actually following through the way most detective types do in these kinds of movies?

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
I don’t think that question needs answering.

Some time shortly thereafter, Roger knocks on the door of a second former patient of his (Joan Simon, also from The Cemetery Sisters), again with the pretense of anomalous test results, and proceeds to invite himself in. When pressed, the pixie-haired woman admits she’s alone, even though I can hear children yelling in the background gwwaaarrrgghh. Roger moves in with a meat cleaver raised overhead, indicting his prey monotonically, “Murderer.”

_________________________

It’s Roger’s conflicting indictment that separates this shot-on-video slasher from Nick Millard’s others. Butcher Knife, or Doctor Bloodbath as it’s more widely known, is the closest Millard ever came to a serious, psychological horror movie — that’s not to say that it is one per se, but hey, it’s got the leg up.

Here, techniques such as lighting, composition, and editing play more of a part than they have since the guy’s glory days shooting actual films with an actual, you know, camera twelve years prior. As a result, Butcher Knife stands out as the most well-made and dare I say artsy of Nick Millard’s no-budget home video ventures. One “artsy” flourish worth noting is the way Roger’s unstable state of mind is portrayed, bolstered by ten or more shots of him twiddling his thumbs all compulsively, as well as with claustrophobic close-ups of him sitting in church (at least I think it’s a church) looking deeply introspective, or something close to it.

Technically speaking, Butcher Knife is the best of a bad bunch. The Bloody Pit of Horror describes it as “a little more tasteless, a little bloodier, and slightly better made…” All that’s true, but you’ve got to remember, Butcher Knife is still a Millard-er, and that means it bears all the hallmarks of one. It was “filmed” in the crackpot director’s own home on a budget of (no foolin’) nothing, starring his family and friends, and incorporates masturbatory amounts of recycled 70s footage for no apparent reason at all. It clocks in at just under an hour, but runs for six weeks. More over, it gives me that all-too-familiar feeling I’ve stepped through a door to to a parallel universe where nothing fucking happens and everything somehow repeats itself. In other words, Butcher Knife is a poorly made, plodding affair, so much so it’s compelling, hypnotic, addictive even.

Albert Eskinazi, errrm, showed up for the lead. His sole mode of delivery — deadpan — suits the role well and in this instance works. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s really no defending this guy’s acting chops. However, I will say again that he brings a weird charm to the table, and as always, his chin and mustache games are on point.

Get on my level, bitch.

Get on my level, bitch.

Refreshing is the manner in which this movie removed itself from the moral connotations that come with its subject matter. And for that, I’m thankful, as otherwise it would have opposed everything Nick Millard’s movies stand for — nothing. A whole lot of nothing.

The premise of a doctor so ravaged with guilt from performing abortions that he goes off the deep end and starts killing patients is something you’d halfway expect to be loaded with right-wing conservative commentary, and could even be seen by some as pro-life propaganda in and of itself. Yet, for some reason, I doubt director Millard ever gave so much as a thought to the social ramifications behind this thing, or to anything else for that matter besides upping his game only slightly enough to make the proceedings intelligible. Here, he approached the material as only he could — as daftly and drably possible.

The outcome is more or less what you or I or anyone else would expect.

Nick Millard’s movies are by their very nature impossibly pointless and boring. What’s more, they’re content with that standing. They exist for the sake of existing and for no other reason. They have zip to say, do, or prove. It’s an almost existential experience to endure them.

These movies exist, but why? Why do I exist? Why do any of us?

The real genius of it all is how they manage to be genuinely entertaining in the face of these limitations. That, my friends, defies logic. That takes some skill.

Now, for me, a big part of the fun to be had with these types of movies is playing Where’s Waldo? with the goofs and quirks their directors either overlooked, or didn’t think we would notice. In this case, it’s not even challenging. One of Butcher Knife‘s most baffling, head-scratching moments occurs when this woman sits down on screen:

Q: What kind of a tan would you like? A: Just fuck my shit up.

Q: What kind of a tan would you like?
A: Just fuck my shit up.

“I want to have the abortion.” she says.

Roger asks if she’s considered the alternatives.

The woman replies with a lisp for some reason, even though she was speaking just fine but a mere moment earlier. “Yeth, but thith is the eathieth way.”

“Alright.”

HOLY SHIT. WHAT?

The first thing I did after all this transpired was ask myself why the actress/monster above was so tan. I mean, Jesus. There’s no way her look was an oversight, right? Surely Millard would have noticed how grossly unnatural her skin was. Then it dawned on me. Maybe the woman’s not tan after all, maybe she’s decked out in Birth of a Nation-grade blackface. If indeed that’s the case, I pray it’s not cos Millard was unable to find a black actress and felt he could pass this one off as such. However, I wouldn’t put it past him. Let’s not forget, this is the same guy who substituted a washcloth for a surgical mask in Death Nurse, and in this flick alone, a run-of-the-mill turkey baster for a medical device and a kid’s baby doll for a fetus. That’s right, a run-of-the-mill turkey baster for a medical device and a kid’s baby doll for a fetus.

More shocking than Dumplings.

More shocking than Dumplings.

I don’t know what to believe after watching this. Scratch that. I believe Nick Millard believes one of his daughter’s toys he had laying around was a good enough special effect. I believe Nick Millard believes pregnancies can be terminated with turkey basters. I believe Nick Millard believes this is not a bad movie. And you know what? The more I re-watch it, the more I begin to agree with him.

God help me.

I need help.

Like, lots of help.

Sadly, Butcher Knife was released only once by a mail-order VHS company and is therefore impossible to find. It can, however, be watched free of charge on a popular video streaming site, which is where I succumbed to its wiles. Here’s hoping an official DVD release comes our way soon!

Body Count
6.

Only three of these victims are killed via butcher knife.

VICTIM #

NAME

KILLED VIA

1

unknown

butcher knife

2

Ms. Stanley

meat cleaver

3

Ms. Andrews

screwdriver

4

Ms. Rogers

hammer

5

Mrs. Thorn

butcher knife

6

Juanita

butcher knife

Bod Count
0.

Overall Enjoyability
5 old women in blackface out of 5.

I Got My Copy From
N/A.

Recommendations
this alphabetized sampling of other shot-on-video (horror) movies:

555 (1988)
Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984)
Blood Cult (1985)
Boardinghouse (1982)
Cannibal Campout (1988)
Death Nurse (1987)
Demon Queen (1987)
Ganjasaurus Rex (1987)
Goblin (1993)
Las Vegas Bloodbath (1989)
Mutilations (1986)
Redneck Zombies (1989)
Sledgehammer (1983)
Spine (1986)
Splatter Farm (1987)
Tales From the Quadead Zone (1987)
The Burning Moon (1992)
The Cemetery Sisters (1987)
The Hook of Woodland Heights (1990)
Venus Flytrap (1987)
Video Violence (1987)
Violent Shit (1989)
Woodchipper Massacre (1988)
Zombie Bloodbath (1993)