It would be tempting to say that 1974’s Shriek of the Mutilated, the final pairing of the legendary filmmaking team of Michael and Roberta Findlay, is a sad capper to a partnership that churned out many pioneering, underground classics. The seemingly sick and dastardly duo who once shocked audiences with a three-story grindhouse of sexual depravity and graphic violence in the Flesh Trilogy were now being reduced to making a no-grade, seasonally suspect Yeti movie for the drive-in crowd. And while this is technically true, Shriek of the Mutilated has a few things going for it that makes it much better than it has any right to be, not the least of which is Roberta’s crisp cinematography that captures the bucolic Westchester, NY and one that casts an evocative, singular mood that would permeate her own horror films the following decade.

The plot of Shriek of the Mutilated concerns itself with a student expedition headed up by Dr. Ernst Prell (Alan Brock) who has been studying and tracking a mysterious creature who lives in the wilds near the home of Prell’s colleague, Dr. Karl Werner (Tawm Ellis), which Werner shares with his Native American man-servant, Laughing Crow (Ivan Agar). Though the trip comes with the requisite warning from a raving mad ex-student of Prell’s (Tom Grail) who tells his own personal tale of horror while swigging vodka from a bottle as if it were flat Shasta, the students (Michael Harris, Darcy Brown, Jennifer Stock, and Jack Neuback) all pile into an Econoline van and hit the road toward certain doom.

Coming relatively early in the Bigfoot cinema sweepstakes, Shriek of the Mutilated gets to futz around with as much of the folk legend as it wants, taking an interesting tack by making the creature not a Bigfoot but a Yeti which, in the film, is hypothesized as having crossed into the continental United States via a frozen walkway. Never mind that Yetis originate in Asia which would make for a hell of a long goddamn walk regardless of foot size or stride. And by letting their imaginations run wild (and letting producer and co-writer Ed Adlum’s wife’s sewing kit work overtime), the creature in the movie is pretty unique even if its approach looks like a big fluffy dog bounding toward you when you hit the door after work.

But, thanks to Roberta, Shriek of the Mutilated looks gorgeous and, when placed next to Adlum’s Invasion of the Blood Farmers, this film’s sister production from 1972 (which Michael cut and provided some pickup photography) one can really discern the added ingredient in the talent recipe that makes Shriek stand a bit taller than Blood Farmers. And it should be noted that Roberta came on board the production as a favor to Ed Adlum as she and Michael had already been separated for a couple of years. Adlum wanted Michael to direct but was faced with the problem that Michael was such an anxiety-ridden and troubled soul that he simply wouldn’t be up to the task unless he had Roberta there as an emotional security blanket.

And, to that point, one of the most interesting things about Shriek of the Mutilated is the barely coded male anxieties on display which feel so much a part of Michael Findlay’s legion of complexities. Recalling his flirtation with male homosexuality that got his character stabbed to death in a rage in 1966’s Take Me Naked, there seems to be something really troubling bubbling around in Findlay’s mind as Shriek of the Mutilated, already replete with sexual frustration and indifference, has a subtext involving a guy getting caught up in a trap by two men who slowly pull him into their circle and then feed him his girlfriend. One could argue that Shriek of the Mutilated is Michael’s subconscious projection of gay panic he may have been experiencing while in a fugue state.

So, instead of being a bummer send-off, there is a lot to mine and enjoy in Shriek of the Mutilated. The only sadness on the menu is that of Michael himself who, after production on the film wrapped, drifted off into co-helming a handful of gay hardcore features with the Amero brothers while continuing to develop a revolutionary 3D system (the bones of which are still used today). But all of that would come to a sudden halt on May 16th 1977 when Michael met a shocking and tragic end atop the Pan Am building in New York City as a helicopter he was about to board tipped over, its spinning rotor blades transecting him.

As for Roberta, she went back to helming her own films which, in 1974, were about to become exclusively hardcore until she shifted to horror in 1985 with The Oracle. In between, she’d work as cinematographer on other filmmakers’ hardcore shoots, lending her unique eye to films that ran the gamut from great (Henri Pachard’s Babylon Pink) to pictures that didn’t warrant such a fine sheen (John Christopher’s Summertime Blue). But Shriek of the Mutilated marked the last of a partnership that was as historically crucial as it was culturally controversial and although it wasn’t designed or crafted to land with the same kind of impact as their earliest work, it’s still a fascinating document and one hell of a lot of fun.

(C) Copyright 2023, Patrick Crain

2 thoughts on “SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974)

    1. It’s definitely an acquired taste. The Vinegar Syndrome Blu goes a long way in highlighting the visual strengths due to Roberta’s camerawork. But it’s not a great movie by any stretch.


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