October 24, 2013
In the groovy seventies, true-life monsters became pop culture fads. The big three – Bigfoot (or Sasquatch), The Loch Ness Monster, and the Abominable Snowman (or Yeti) – found their ways into exploitative documentaries, sensationalistic television shows, even children’s toys. Low budget filmmakers jumped on board with fictionalizations of the creatures, making classic films like The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Crater Lake Monster, and Snowbeast. In 1974, husband and wife sexploitation filmmakers Michael and Roberta Findlay (The Slaughter) tried their hand at a Yeti movie with Shriek of the Mutilated.
After a completely superfluous and exploitative beheading scene thrown in just for good measure, Shriek of the Mutilated begins with Professor Ernst Prell (Alan Brock) gathering a few of his most promising graduate students together for a field trip into the mountains where they will search for the legendary Yeti. The night before the trip, Dr. Prell takes his prize pupil, Keith Henshaw (Michael Harris), out to dinner while the rest of the lucky students, including Keith’s girlfriend, Karen Hunter (Jennifer Stock), go to a party. While Keith is being served a strange dish called “gun sung” by the professor, the others meet one of the past participants in Dr. Prell’s Yeti search – a crazy drunk named Spencer (Tom Grail) – who warns them about the trip. The group goes on the expedition anyway and, when they arrive at the cabin, meet Professor Prell’s guide, Dr. Karl Werner (Tawm Ellis), and his assistant, a silent Indian named Laughing Crow (Ivan Agar). They also encounter the Yeti, who begins to pick the students off one by one as they leave the cabin alone. With the help of Karl, Keith and Dr. Prell come up with a plan to trap the Yeti by using the bodies of its victims as bait. They attempt their plan, but there is much more to the Yeti’s story than Keith and the rest of the students realize.
The screenplay for Shriek of the Mutilated was written by Ed Adlum and Ed Kelleher (the writers behind Invasion of the Blood Farmers), and it’s a pretty clever story with a solid premise. The narrative is set up well, the action is paced nicely, and the ending has a twist that makes the viewer regret the fact that they can’t watch it again for the first time. The production isn’t quite as slick as the storyline. Director Michael Findlay seems to have taken the script, put an inexperienced cast in front of the camera, and shouted “Action!” The film is laughingly bad – so much so that it is completely awesome. Shriek of the Mutilated is best viewed amongst a group of friends with plenty of booze around; it’s the kind of crack-up film that just begs for the invention of a drinking game.
In some ways, the low-budget vibe of Shriek of the Mutilated actually ends up helping the film. It’s so poorly acted and is packed with such corny dialogue that the picture has an almost documentary-type of feel to it, similar to the monster hunting episodes of “In Search Of...,” or the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The film was shot by Roberta Findlay (who was the cinematographer for most of husband Michael’s films) on 35mm color film using mostly available lighting, so the film has an air of naturalism and honesty. The realism is reinforced by the fact that the cast was made up of complete unknowns, and most of them never made another movie, so there’s zero star-power to distract the audience. It’s too planned out and cinematic for it to be mistaken for a true documentary, but Shriek of the Mutilated isn’t slick enough to be considered pure fiction, either; it leads the viewer to think that there really IS something out there.
One area where Shriek of the Mutilated loses any grasp of authenticity is in the presentation of the Yeti itself. The creature is basically a man in a Yeti suit, and it looks like it; it could easily be mistaken for a rejected costume from Disney’s The Shaggy D.A. At first, Findlay is sparse with the beast, showing it in small doses using white-washed film processing and quick jump edits, but eventually the Yeti is given the spotlight, attacking and pursuing in full view of the characters and camera. It’s the kind of hilariously campy creature that would make Roger Corman both proud and embarrassed at the same time.
There is a point in Shriek of the Mutilated where a definite shift occurs; it goes from outrageous creature feature to tense psychological thriller. That’s not to say that the production value gets any better; no, the acting and photography stay just as amateurish as ever. But, there’s an ingenious twist that, believe it or not, explains a lot of the strangeness of the film, including why the Yeti looks like a man in a dog suit. The climax of Shriek of the Mutilated contains a serious tone shift, and it’s almost enough for the film to be considered a serious work of art. Almost. Still, it’s jaw-dropping, and leaves the audience shaking its collective head – and not in a bad way.
Like most of the quickly produced true-life creature movies of the seventies, Shriek Of The Mutilated is very low-budget and looks every penny of it. Still, it’s not without its charms, and for those who love a good laugh to go along with their shock, it’s essential viewing.