Shriek of the Mutilated (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1974 (August 30, 2022)
Studio(s)American Films Ltd (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B
In the annals of cryptid cinema, Bigfoot and Yeti movies are a subgenre of a subgenre, and yet there’s an amazingly wide variety of films that feature the hairy beasts. From elegiacal meditations on aging like The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, to found footage efforts like Willow Creek, or Hitchcock pastiches like Abominable, and even inventive comedies like Love in the Time of Monsters, there’s something for everyone. At the fringes of the genre, there are also films that defy description, like Night of the Demon, and a few that simply beggar belief. Shriek of the Mutilated is an example of the latter. It’s difficult to believe that it was ever made in the first place.
Shriek of the Mutilated was the brainchild of Michael Findlay and Ed Adlum, who had partnered together previously on the no-budget horror film Invasion of the Blood Farmers. Findlay had made a grindhouse name for himself with the Her Flesh adult trilogy before moving into the world of horror, and he would end up returning to the world of adult cinema shortly before his untimely death in 1977. Findlay also partnered with his estranged wife Roberta on this one, using her as a cinematographer. (She’s credited as cinematographer on some of his films despite the fact that she says she never worked on them, but in this case, she was actually on the set, for good or for ill.)
The screenplay, credited to Adlum and Ed Kelleher, uses the standard setup of having a group of students accompany their teacher into a remote territory in order to investigate claims about a Yeti living in the woods. (Night of the Demon would end up borrowing the same setup several years later.) The actual story is far loopier than that description would indicate, and Findlay also had some strange tricks up his sleeve. There’s a complete non sequitur of a double murder that has nothing whatsoever to do with the main narrative, and may have been inserted by Findlay to pad things out. (Roberta feels that he was very disturbed, and wanted to see women tortured or murdered.) Ultimately, there’s both more and less going on than meets the eye, and that puts Shriek of the Mutilated in the odd position of being a film made for Bigfoot fans that may not necessarily satisfy Bigfoot fans.
Of course, there’s also not much here that will satisfy people who aren’t already Bigfoot fans in the first place. The actors were all friends of Findlay or Adlum, and there’s a good reason why they didn’t make films for anyone else. The Yeti costume is one of the worst ever made, though arguably it’s not without its own goofy charms. (Roberta hated it so much that she did everything that she could to obscure it during principal photography.) There’s also a particularly cringeworthy ethnic stereotype on display. Yet somehow, Shriek of the Mutilated manages to offer more than the sum of its admittedly problematic parts. It’s hardly a great film, but it can be great fun if viewed in the right mindset—keep your expectations appropriately low, and there’s schlocky entertainment value to be had here. The whole film is best summed up by a comment made by a secondary character: “May not make much sense to you; makes sense to me.”
Cinematographer Roberta Findlay shot Shriek of the Mutilated on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35BL cameras with spherical lenses, matted to 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. It’s presented open matte here at 1.37:1, but there’s plenty of empty space on the top and the bottom of the frame, and there are also occasional splice marks along the bottom edge, so it does appear that the film was originally intended to be shown matted. In any event, this version was restored from a 4K scan of the original uncut camera negative—“recently unearthed,” according to Vinegar Syndrome. The results are... beautiful? Stunning? Gorgeous? It seems sacrilegious to use words like that in describing anything to do with Shriek of the Mutilated, but they do apply here. The film now looks better than it has any right to. The image is sharp, very detailed, and free of any major damage, aside from the aforementioned splice marks that probably shouldn’t have been visible in the first place. There’s just a bit of speckling during one fade to black, and there are occasional flecks of dirt here and there that can be spotted while stepping through things frame-by-frame, but they’re not really visible in motion. (A few shots have blemishes on the lens, but those are artifacts from the original production.) Every hair on the heads of the actors and every strand of fur on the Yeti costume is nicely delineated. The color reproduction is effectively perfect, with accurate flesh tones, and a surprising amount of depth to the shading—Shriek of the Mutilated looks far more colorful here than anyone might expect. The contrast range is excellent, with deep black levels, and well-resolved shadow detail. Shriek of the Mutilated may not be a pretty film, but this is a pretty amazing representation of it. It’s never looked better.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. The majority of previous home video releases for Shriek of the Mutilated have altered soundtracks, as they replaced the bafflingly incongruous instrumental Popcorn by Hot Butter with stock music. Fortunately, it’s included here in this fully uncut and unaltered version. (Why is a song like Popcorn in Shriek of the Mutilated? Well, why wouldn’t it be?) Strangely enough, it’s one of only two pieces of music in the entire film that’s actually acknowledged during the opening credits: “Popcorn by Hot Butter courtesy Musicor Records and Bourne Music.” Still, that doesn’t mean that Findlay actually acquired the rights to it, and even if he did, his license probably wouldn’t have included ancillary releases like home video. All of the rest of the music consists of unlicensed music from a variety of sources, most of them classical records that Findlay had purchased. (He actually beat Stanley Kubrick to the punch by using the Dies Irae from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, six years prior to The Shining.) As a result, the sound quality varies, and it’s sometimes a bit muffled. The dialogue is clear enough, especially the parts that were replaced via ADR, though there’s some excessive sibilance at times, giving it a harsh quality.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release of Shriek of the Mutilated includes a reversible insert featuring new artwork by Robert Sammelin on the front, and the original theatrical poster artwork on the back. There’s also an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 6,000 units, that was designed by Sammelin. The following extras are included, all of them in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Roberta Findlay and Casey Scott
- Yeti Again (12:36)
- So Bad So Great (22:07)
- The Wilds of Westchester (14:05)
- Audio Essay by David Coleman (30:05)
The commentary with Roberta Findlay is moderated by Vinegar Syndrome’s Casey Scott. Her memories are shaky at this point, so it’s nice to have Scott on hand to keep things relatively focused. It’s still more of a rambling series of reminiscences than a commentary about Shriek of the Mutilated, but Roberta has led an interesting life, so there’s nothing wrong with that. They talk about production details like the cast and the music, but they also range far afield to subjects like her one collaboration with director Chuck Vincent. There’s a single brief but noticeable gap that sounds like something that she said was censored, but the conversation is otherwise lively throughout the track. (One of her more disconcerting comments is left completely uncensored, so caveat emptor—even Scott sounds like he’s taken aback for a moment.)
Yeti Again is an interview with Findlay, who explains how she met Michael, and describes their on-again, off-again relationship on both sides of the camera. Shriek of the Mutilated was the last film that they worked on together, before she moved to working in adult cinema. (Michael died in a helicopter accident in 1977.) So Bad So Great is an interview with producer/co-writer Ed Adlum, who says up front that he talks too much, but fortunately he doesn’t let that stop him. (He admits that he became friends with Michael because they were both drunks.) He relates how he got into film, and then tells stories about the making of Shriek of the Mutilated. He’s proud of having made what some people call one of the worst movies ever made. The Wilds of Westchester is a look at the original locations for Shriek of the Mutilated, comparing scenes from the film to how they look today. (It also shows a few locations for Invasion of the Blood Farmers.) It’s hosted by Michael Gingold, who also directed.
The Audio Essay is by David Coleman, author of the indispensable The Bigfoot Filmography, a copy of which was right by my side while watching Shriek of the Mutilated. (Here’s to the hopes that Coleman can create a revised and updated edition one of these days.) While it’s audio only, this is still the meat and potatoes of all the extras. Coleman crams in as much information as he can into thirty minutes—everything from casting, to production, to the limited theatrical release. He also talks about the way that the film found new life on home video, and even provides some biographical details about the Findlays. Coleman ascribes the odd pacing in the film to Michael’s addiction issues, describing him as having had a monkey on each shoulder. (Coleman also goes into the gory details of his tragic death.) The only possible question mark is that he does state that Shriek of the Mutilated made the “Video Nasties” list in Great Britain, but I couldn’t find any examples of lists that included it. Still, if you want to learn as much as possible about Shriek of the Mutilated in the least amount of time, this essay is the best way to fly.
Of course, it takes a special kind of person to want to learn anything at all about Shriek of the Mutilated, but thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, we happy few can do so with the best possible picture quality. 2022 has seen two different cryptid cinema Holy Grails make their debuts in high definition, first Night of the Demon, and now Shriek of the Mutilated. It’s a great year to be a Bigfoot fan. Love it or hate it, Shriek of the Mutilated has to be seen to be believed, and now it can be seen in glorious HD.
- Stephen Bjork
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