Directors: Michael Findlay, John Hayes
Retromedia/Bayview Entertainment

Retromedia revisits two of their older DVD releases of 1970s cult horrors with brand new transfers for this “Shock-A-Thon” widescreen double feature.

The plot of SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED has kooky, aging anthropology professor Dr. Ernst Prell (Alan Brock) convincing a quartet of exceptional (in other words, gullible) students (Michael Harris, GOD’S BLOODY ACRE’s Jennifer Stock, Darcy Brown and Jack Neubeck from INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS) that the Yeti exists on a small island somewhere in New York. Dr. Prell organizes a weekend trip with the students to track down the creature. Before the getaway, some of the students attend a party and get a raving lecture from drunken guest Spencer (Tom Grail), a former teacher with a heavy NY accent. He claims to have been a survivor of one Dr. Prell's exhibitions and witnessed the Yeti massacre of his pals. Later when the drunk gets home, he cuts his wife's (Luci Brandt) throat with an electric carving knife after she tries to take his bottle away.

Later, the students arrive on the "island" with Dr. Prell in a van (complete with flower decals), the vehicle of choice in the early 1970s. They are greeted by Prell's eccentric friend, the lanky middle-aged hippie Dr. Karl Werner (Tawm Ellis, who sort of resembles director John Carpenter). It's not long before an abominable snowman is spotted and several of the students end up, well, mutilated. This causes Dr. Prell to use their extremities as bait and articulate such dialogue as, "I want you to listen to me closely... this can never be of any use to Tom anymore." When we get a glimpse of the thing, it turns out to be a guy garbed in what looks like a dyed-white gorilla suit, Santa beard, plastic dime store vampire teeth, and white tennis shoes. And I am not spoiling anything by saying that it's all a big hoax so that a practicing cult of cannibals can get their fill of fresh meat.

As the 1970s fascination with the Yeti (aka "Bigfoot") trucked on in both television and movies, this attempt at the legend was the second effort by the producing/writing team of Ed Adlum and Ed Kelleher (the first being 1972's INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS). This time in the director's chair was Michael Findlay, part of a New York-based husband and wife team of legendary sexploitation filmmakers (THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH, THE CURSE OF HER FLESH, SNUFF), and known for being decapitated in a freak helicopter accident on top of a NYC building in 1977. Michael's wife Roberta went on to do direct many trash efforts after her husband's death, and here served as cinematographer – exercising some really obvious day-for-night shooting (the film was shot entirely in Croton-on-Hudson, a village in Westchester County, New York).

With a memorable title that absolutely stood out during drive-in showings and late-night TV airings, SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED doesn't have the impact of more competent cannibal favorites from the same year (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DERANGED), but stands in a category of must-see pieces of 1970s junk. Inept in every way; the local "dinner theater" acting, the lousy monster, the dated 1970s fashions (Darcy Brown's oversized spectacles make her look like Velma from "Scooby Doo") and an Indian house servant named Laughing Crow (Ivan Agar, BEHIND LOCKED DOORS) who looks more like a deranged Ted Danson wearing a headband. Also, lots of overpowering stock classical music (in lieu of a proper score) adds to the fun. In a nutshell, SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED holds a fascination that fans of the me-decade's schlock have a high appreciation for.

Although known as a "gore" film, the film doesn't have that many graphic moments. Lots of previous video versions, namely the Lightning Video VHS release, were cut TV prints and omitted the brief opening where somebody's head is lopped off into a swimming pool (followed by a shot of the director himself smirking), and other assorted violence. Retromedia’s 2003 DVD of SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED restored all the missing footage, but due to rights issues, could not include the 1972 techno-pop hit, "Popcorn" by Hot Butter which had been removed and replaced with a new synthesized track. The good news is that “Popcorn” is back on the soundtrack (heard during the party scene) for this new DVD presentation. The bad news is that the scene where Spencer’s dying wife squirms across the floor, plugs in the toaster and flings it in the water of his bath, electrocuting the poor bastard, is missing due to print damage at the end of a reel change. There are a few other splices in the print source (and even a short re-play of some dialogue at the 19:31 mark) but those are not anything too severe. Other than the missing scene, the anamorphic presentation is pretty good, retaining the film’s natural gritty appearance with fine grain structure and stable colors. Detail is fairly strong, and there’s only occasional softness, with the 35mm print source displaying a few light emulsion lines. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital stereo and sounds surprisingly good for such a cheap movie, with dialog being especially sharp and the outrageous library music coming off equally well. The original trailer for the film is also included.

The other title on this DVD is one of the many low budget movies to be made in the wake of George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. While running a little under an hour, John Hayes' GARDEN OF THE DEAD played as a co-feature for a double bill package with his superior GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE. Strictly "second feature" material, GARDEN is no CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS or I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (which it also seems to imitate), but it's a satisfactory time-waster if you're in the mood for cheap, late-night fast-paced thrills in the same running time allotted to a 1940s Monogram monster flick.

The thin plot concerns a group of prisoners at a correctional camp that looks more like a abandoned construction site, held together by wood planks and chicken wire. During their lunch break, a group of the convicts sniff formaldehyde for a quick high. Later, the same group of men try to escape the prison grounds, but are all gunned down by the guards. The remaining prisoners are chained together and forced to stand up as punishment. The dead, formaldehyde-filled bodies are then buried, but they immediately rise as green-faced zombies, courtesy of ace make-up man Joe Blasco (ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S., SHIVERS, RABID). Blasco's makeups aren't bad, but it was most likely a real rush job (most of them just have the standard black rings around the eyes), and he didn't have much to do as far as special effects are concerned (unless you count a zombie foaming aqua toothpaste from the mouth). These zombies are fast, and use handy farm tools (to butcher the other prison workers and their car engines), and they also talk ("We will destroy the living!"), but they don't eat human flesh.

The cast has a lot of familiar faces, at least as far as these types of films go. The most recognizable is John Dennis, a chubby actor who by this point in his career could be seen mostly as rednecks and racists, but he's also had small parts in FRANKENSTEIN 1970, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, SOYLENT GREEN and BLACKENSTEIN. In GARDEN OF THE DEAD, he actually plays a sympathetic prison guard named Jablonski. Also in the cast are Marland Proctor (CURSE OF THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN), Duncan McLeod (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS), Philip Kenneally (LITTLE BIG MAN) and Lee Frost as a guard. Frost was one of the most active exploitation directors of the period and occasionally acted in other people's films. Frost often used actor William Smith, star of GARDEN's co-feature GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE, so there's a connection if you want to play "The Six Degrees of Lee Frost" or whatever. One of Lee’s most frequently used actors, tall Fred Hoover (CHAIN GANG WOMEN), plays the most intimidating of the prisoners-turned-zombies and bald Virgil Frye (star of THE LOVE BUTCHER) is also in there.

Retromedia first released GARDEN OF THE DEAD in 2002 in a non-anamorphic videotape-sourced transfer, and now presents a new progressive scan HD transfer for this upgrade. The film is now presented anamorphic in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the transfer will make no mistake that this is an ultra cheap movie taken from a well-worn 35mm print source of the “grindhouse” variety. Color schemes are limited but stable, and at times take on an inky look, and the dimly lit photography causes a number of night scenes to look too dark. Clarity and detail are acceptable, and the source print source has the expected blemishes which include emulsion lines and speckling, but nothing at all too detrimental to the overall presentation. The Dolby Digital stereo audio plays fine with no noticeable defects.

B movie directors David DeCoteau and (Retromedia’s own) Fred Olen Ray are on hand for an audio commentary. Both men saw the film on its original run with GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE, and DeCoteau tells a story about meeting director Hayes, and that Hayes told him it was shot in ten days in Topanga Canyon (and that it was a non-union production). They humorously point out the film’s shoestring shortcomings and Ray sheds light on how these independent film companies made their release prints and how they were distributed, and they share some interesting reflections on the glory days of 1970s drive-in cinema culture. Carried over from the 2002 DVD is a bit hosted by TV horror host Son of Ghoul (2:39), who gives the film a brief introduction with the help of Ray, who is coaxed into smashing a television set with a bowling ball (something I've wanted to do on several occasions). The combo GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE/GARDEN OF THE DEAD trailer is included, as are Retromedia trailers for AMITYVILLE DEATH HOUSE, THE UNLIVING, ZOMBIE PIRATES and AFTER MIDNIGHT. (George R. Reis)