Starring Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, David G. Cannon, Marvin Kaplan
Directed by Thomas S. Alderman
Distributed by Vinegar Syndrome
Long before slasher films ruled the screen and about a year before Bob Clark unofficially kicked off the subgenre with Black Christmas (1974) came a little-known sorta-slasher film called The Severed Arm (1973). Going by that title a viewer might think this is a gory film or maybe something about a detached limb seeking vengeance on its former host or whatever but, no, it’s really just a simple, slow story with a moderate twist. This is a case where the premise sounds cooler than the actual movie: six men are trapped in a cave and after a couple weeks one of them is forced to have his arm chopped off for food while they await rescue. Years later someone is revisiting the men and chopping off one of each of their arms with an axe.
Sounds kinda cool, right? The main issue is that it isn’t because of myriad reasons, chief among them being a glacial pace that moves the threadbare story along like cold molasses. Secondly, nobody here can act; that’s a hard hurdle to overcome. Well, technically one cast member can act – Angus Scrimm, in his first on-screen role – but his part is so brief I didn’t even get a chance to recognize him.
An arm shows up at the home of Jeff Ashton (David G. Cannon) and after freaking out he contacts his buddy, Dr. Sanders (John Crawford), to discuss an incident that occurred five years earlier. Six men, Ashton and Sanders among them, decided to inspect an old mining cave and a nearly-instant cave-in left them stranded in the dark for weeks. Starving and despondent, the men resort to drawing straws with the last man losing a limb – of his choice, at least – for the group to eat. The loser, Ted (Ray Dannis), is understandably hesitant to chop off any body parts and it only gets worse when, literally a minute after his arm is removed, a rescue crew finds the group. Ted, for his part, had implored the men to hold out just a little longer; they couldn’t.
Now, after five years’ time someone is stalking the men who were there and hacking off one of their arms. It shouldn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out Ted is the likely culprit… but didn’t he die soon after the incident? Whatever the case, the men find themselves with little time to waste as the arm hacker shows no signs of slowing down… even if he is moving pretty slowly to begin with.
It isn’t until the final moments that I found myself interested in the story and even then there wasn’t much excitement. The film’s inciting incident is awfully retold, with the men sporting cheap fake beards after two weeks trapped in an area that looks to be the size of a tiny break room with no food and, as they said when the cave-in occurred, little water. I don’t even want to think about the bathroom situation… But then this thing with the arm happens and they’re rescued a second later. Talk about bad timing… Every scene feels perfunctory, like a student film where every department is learning how to do their jobs on the day. I can appreciate low-budget effort when I see it but this film seems unable or uninterested to rise above its limited means.
This killer is s l o w, too. The guy lumbers along, with a giant axe in tow, and most of his victims could have avoided being one if they showed a shred of self-preservation when staring down death. The axe chops aren’t notable so it isn’t like the gore FX can save what the story and editing aren’t able to provide.
What I did like is composer Phillan Bishop’s score, which is a wild kaleidoscope of keyboard delights. It reminded me of Mort Garson’s electronic albums of the ‘70s, which if you’re into soothing synth-y sounds of that era are among the best records to play. I found myself more invested in hearing where this score was going than in any of killings, really.
Vinegar Syndrome has gone back to the original camera negative to produce this 4K remaster, with a 1.85:1 1080p image that shines this old grindhouse feature into a glossy HD wonder. Nearly all instances of dirt and debris have been removed from the image, resulting in a pristine picture. Color reproduction is strong and offers good saturation. Black levels are slightly hazy but still solid. Film grain has been retained, offering a nicely filmic look without appearing either too clean or too noisy. At this point I’d be more surprised to see a bad transfer from VS.
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is a wild one, featuring the aforementioned synth scoring which is practically wall-to-wall. Really, this soundtrack almost never takes a break – but considering it was one of my highlights when watching the film I have no issue. The levels are booming, maybe even a bit too hot at times, but the track is clean and free of defects. Subtitles are available in English.
- NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE
- “Severing the Past” – an interview with actor Vince Martorano
- “A Cut Above the Rest” – an interview with producer Gary Adelman
- Reversible cover artwork
- SDH English subtitles
- REGION-A “LOCKED”
This was a mostly dull watch for me but I was able to appreciate some of the campy elements; the score held my interest better than the feature. Still, Vinegar Syndrome once again gives new life to a decayed husk of a forgotten film and their attractive package will be a godsend for fans.