Charming Lester wants "more than your love" in Don Jones' 1970s slasher THE LOVE BUTCHER, on DVD for the first time in its original scope ratio courtesy of Code Red Releasing.
Six desperate housewives – including Robin Sherwood (DEATH WISH II, TOURIST TRAP) – have been murdered so far in a small Los Angeles suburb, and the police have no clue as to the identity of the killer other than "He's a weirdo". Journalist Russell (Jeremiah Beecher) has worked the public up into a frenzy over detective Don's (Richard Kennedy, ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS) incompetency but even he is runs into dead ends investigating leads. Neither of them are able to recognize a pattern in the choice of victims. If they had looked just a bit closer, they would have noticed all of the weapons are gardening implements, which would have pointed them to gimpy, myopic gardener Caleb (Erik Stern, GARDEN OF THE DEAD) whose handsome baby brother alter ego Lester despises whorish women who drain men of their masculine energy and in turn fills himself with their "nymphoid satisfaction" before brutally murdering them with whatever tools Caleb has on hand. As Russell bumbles around his investigation – including pursuing leads that the police have already looked into – it seems that Caleb himself may be the only person who can stop Lester from going after his next victim, Russell's nice girlfriend Flo (Kay Neer).
For all of its lack of gore and nudity, and dearth of bad performances and eye-straining set décor, THE LOVE BUTCHER makes for cheesy fun viewing. The film was co-directed by writer Mikel Angel (PSYCHIC KILLER) and cinematographer/director Don Jones (THE FOREST), who had previously worked together on INSIDE AMY (directed by Ron Garcia, who had previously composed the score for HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES shot by Jones). Although Jones was involved with the film from the start, Jones would end up doing pick-ups and reshooting nearly half of Angel's rough cut. Although Jones points out some of the scenes he shot on the disc's commentary track, the film isn't quite the patchwork disaster one would expect (partially because he had access to the original actors and made an effort to match Angel's work). The end result is a showcase for Stern – who had previously appeared in Gary Graver's SANDRA: THE MAKING OF A WOMAN on which Jones served as gaffer – playing not only a guy with a split personality, but also Lester's various broad personas for seducing women. It's entertaining enough going through the predictable motions, but manages to throw in a surprising twist or two late in the film that takes it in darker directions. The comic tone of some scenes (including the final shot) suggests that it might have been intended more as a black comedy originally.
Bethel Buckalew (MIDNITE PLOWBOY), production manager, actor, and director on a number of Harry Novak productions, serves as production manager here; but the end product is never as grungy or sleazy as some of those efforts (possibly to the film's detriment). The cinematography is credited to both Jones and Austin McKinney (GALAXY OF TERROR), and it's hard to tell the difference between their contributions. The score by Jones regular Richard Hieronymous (NOTHING TO HIDE) favors romanticism over horror, and there are also two original songs here by TV music supervisor/arranger Don Great – who later composed a couple score for Charles Band's Wizard Video direct-to-video productions – titled "Circle of Love" and "Fallin' In Love With You" which were later used in fuller form by Anthony Spinelli for his adult films CONFESSIONS and THE FIRST TIME. Art director Ron Foreman (ROCKY III) had also previously worked with Jones on HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES.
Previously released in a cropped transfer by Monterey Home Video, THE LOVE BUTCHER is seen here for the first time in its original Techniscope (2.35:1) aspect ratio in a progressive, anamorphic transfer. The source isn't perfect with one or two lines dropped by splices or buzzing on the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, but it's otherwise a fine-looking transfer. The sole extra is an audio commentary by director Don Jones and film historian R.A. Thorburn (who also appeared on a commentary for Jones' SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS), moderated by Lee Christian watching a panned-and-scanned master. Thorburn at first seems a grating choice, but he's actually well-informed and a good fit for Jones who is conscious of the film's ridiculousness while speaking well of the actors and crew contributions. He recalls that Stern thought the lead role would be a stepping stone for him, but then he became self-conscious of his baldness after seeing the film. The film had a forty-thousand dollar budget, but they had additional expense by having to go through Technicolor for the Techniscope format (the 2.35:1 aspect ratio was a requirement by the producers who mortgaged their houses for the film). He does place responsibility for some of the shortcomings from the casting, hiring actresses who would not do nudity, and some run-on dialogue scenes to co-director Angel (who cast the film while Jones was working on another production). Thorburn provides some additional information on actress Sherwood – who he had met recently – who got hired via Stern who was also shooting headshots at the time (nineteen at the time, she apparently received a year's course credit for appearing in a feature). There is no trailer for the film or for any other Code Red releases on the disc. (Eric Contenas)
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