THE SEVERED ARM
A zero budgeted early
seventies gore fest thatís unremarkable in most respects (and downright inept in
others) but has a curious resonance nonetheless. If nothing else, itís proven
quite influential in the intervening years.
THE SEVERED ARM, about a shadowy figure picking off a group of men, was
released in 1973, and can now, along with Mario Bavaís TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE
(1971), be seen as an early prototype of the slasher films of the eighties.
Frankly, thereís little else to be said for it, as itís become quite dated in
most respects (the gore quotient was initially considered high, but seems paltry
by todayís standards), although Iím guessing it was probably never too
impressive to begin with.
Incidentally, the most experienced cast member, the stocky, bespectacled,
Brooklyn accented Marvin Kaplan, is best known as a comedian, and has appeared
in films ranging from THE NUTTY PROFESSOR to ITíS A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD to
WILD AT HEART. Regarding his appearance in THE SEVERED ARM, I hope he was well
Jeff, a mild mannered working man, receives a suspicious package one day
and opens it to find a severed arm. Shocked, he contacts an old friend and the
two reminisce about an event that brought them and several companions together
five years earlier: an exploration of a cave that became a life-and-death
struggle when an avalanche trapped them all. Eventually it was decided that the
only way to survive would be to amputate an arm and eat it; the unlucky donor
turned out to be Ted, a meek man who vowed to get even with the others. They
were rescued soon after and circulated a bogus story that Ted lost his arm in
Back in the present Jeff decides Ted has returned and is stalking the
survivors of the cave-in. Jeffís suspicions are confirmed when one of the group
is attacked in his own house and has his left arm hacked off at the shoulder.
Another, a disc jockey, gets de-armed in the radio station where he works. Jeff
tries to get in touch with Ted but is unable to track him down; he does,
however, manage to contact the latterís grown daughter. Sheís initially
hesitant about divulging any information about her father, but apparently has a
change of heart after Jeff takes her to visit one of his armless friends in a
hospital. She reveals that her father has gone over the deep end in recent
years and is indeed hell-bent on tracking down and mutilating those responsible
for amputating his arm.
Another arm chopping follows, this time in an elevator, and Jeff receives
an ominous summons to a seaside cliff where Ted is apparently planning a final
showdown. When Jeff arrives there, however, quite a few revelations are in
store: it seems that Tedís daughter, together with his (thus far unseen) son,
has been responsible for the madness, and has a final surprise in store for Jeff
involving a dungeon and a sharp scalpel...
This film is as scuzzy as can be imagined, with ultra-low rent lighting,
tacky film stock and sub par performances. Also, director Thomas Alderman
overuses his electronic score to--and beyond--the point of annoyance.
Nevertheless, in the manner of many early seventies productions, the filmís low
budget frequently works in its favor, giving it an appropriately hard-edged,
unvarnished feel. The lighting, which seems to have been accomplished with a
single key light in every scene (no fill or backlighting), is stark and shadowy
in a way that actually enhances the horrific feel of the piece. Some of the
killings are done with flair (most notably the one in the radio station) and the
whole thing rises to a memorable (though perhaps unintentional) pitch of
psychotic hysteria in the final scenes.
One wonders if
John Carpenter viewed THE SEVERED ARM
before making HALLOWEEN. Comparing the two would be giving the present film far
too much credit, but it does make for a fitting precursor to that and other
subsequent genre classics.
THE SEVERED ARM
Director: Thomas S. Alderman
Producer: Gary Alderman
Screenplay: Thomas S. Alderman, Larry Alexander, Daryl Presnell
Cinematography: Bob Maxwell
Editing: Sonny Klein, Joe Ravetz
Cast: Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, David G. Cannon, Marvin Kaplan, John Crawford,
Vince Martorano, Ray Dannis, Wally K. Berns, Bob Guthrie, Cynthia Gabrielle,
George Dunn, Alan DeWitt, R. Lance Thomas, Gwen Cannon