Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cinemasochism: A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER (1983)

Confession time!  Despite having a doctorate in Cinemasochism (aka The Study of Bad Movies), I have never seen a Doris Wishman film.  I remember the Incredibly Strange Film Show episode on her, but her films have always escaped me.  Odd since you’d think a filmography with titles such as NUDE ON THE MOON (1961) and BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965) would, ahem, raise my interest.  Regardless, the work of the world’s first female nudie director has never graced my home video set up.  A recent bout of 1980s slasheritis made me change all of that as I braved A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER, Wishman’s lone horror feature made outside of her nudie confines.

You’ll know you are in for something “special” after the opening 5 minutes of this film, which throws so much expositional material at you at a pace that would make a meth freak scream, “Whoa, slow down!”  Let me see if I can correctly process this. Detective Tim O’Malley (played by a guy who receives no screen credit) narrates the story of the Kent family of Woodmire Lake.  It seems October 15th is a particularly bad day for the Kents as lots of family members seem to get killed.  At 10:30am, Fiddeus Kent had his family torn apart when his oldest daughter Susan killed his favored daughter Bonnie in the bathtub with an axe before accidentally falling on the weapon herself.  At 1:30pm, Broderick Kent called O’Malley to report his wife Lola had been murdered.  But intrepid O’Malley felt “his story was too pat” and Broderick soon confessed to hiring an ex-convict to kill his wife for the insurance money.  He hung himself in jail.  In seemingly unrelated news, Adam Kent knew nothing of what happened to his family that day, but is preparing for the release of his daughter Vicki, who was sent to the mental hospital for killing two boys she murdered 5 years ago in – you guessed it - October.  As if all that murder and mayhem wasn’t bad enough for the Kents, cousin Clark also never returns their calls and always seems to disappear when Superman shows up.

Your humble reviewer after the first 5 minutes:


Our plot proper begins with the release of Vicki Kent (70s/80s porn sensation Samantha Fox) from the mental institution.  Her folks Adam and Blanche bring her home, much to the dismay of her brother Billy (William Szarka) and sister Mary (Diane Cummins), who think she isn’t cured.  They might be right as Vicki shoves full slices of meat and cheese in her mouth at the dinner table.  Looney, I tell ya!  These siblings have a plan though – Billy is going to drive Vicki crazy through a series of
costume shop-aided hoaxes (pretending to be a water dwelling zombie, wearing a mask to be a creepy old man) in the hopes that she will be locked back up. Why does he want to do this?  We’re never really told outside of they think Vicki might still be dangerous.  But Billy might just be onto something as the moment Vicki is released, the murders start all over again.  Vicki’s old beau Frankie and his new girlfriend get chopped up after Vicki meets up with him again.  And a family that questioned Vicki’s sanity gets wiped out in one rather brutal attack.  And, of course, someone keeps tipping O’Malley (always shown in the same shot in his office; see pic) off to all of these murders.

After watching this flick, I’m not quite sure if the title A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER refers to the axe murders seen on screen or the film’s editing style.  Now, to be fair, Wishman claims that the reason her choppy film runs a scant 69 minutes is that half of the negative was destroyed by a disgruntled film lab worker who trashed the place housing her film after finding out it was going out of business.  So she hacked together something out of the surviving footage to make sure her investors had a product.  A dubious claim (especially since most of the running times on her other flicks land within the 70-75 minute range), but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt as it doesn’t seem someone who has worked in the exploitation field could be this inept.  But then I start thinking about the Millards and the Stecklers out there; folks who haunted the lower tier of the exploitation film world for decades, stubbornly refusing to adhere to conventions such as camera movement or smooth editing transitions.  They’ve waged a cinematic war against mis-en-scene and DISMEMBER is one of the worst.  In fact, I bet Nick Millard would see this and scream, “What the hell is this amateur hour?”  Yup, I ain’t buying your excuses, grandma.

Without the benefit of previous Wishman exposure, I can’t really tell if A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER is below or above her already low standards.  But even a quick scan of something like Wishman’s DIARY OF A NUDIST (1961) on Youtube provides me with enough clues that – even in truncated form – Wishman’s style was definitely one of less is more.  You’ll find the same elements on display in DISMEMBER – static camera shots, scores of stock music, and no use of synch sound resulting in obvious dubbing. It makes it tough to concede that DISMEMBER’s ineptness is due solely a dude going postal on some film reels. The film is rife with inept staging, such as Wishman’s attempts to convey Vicki’s crazy state of mind by having the cameraman jump and spin around in an epileptic craze.  Then you have one of the craziest musical soundtracks I’ve ever heard, switching from classical music to muzak without any rhyme or reason.  I’m talking the type of switch ups that would give Michael Bay a headache. Or how about the scene where a pearl white dummy head is placed into a fireplace to represent a victim's severed head. I'm talking no make up, no wig. Perhaps the greatest example of the film’s clumsiness is when (SPOILER) Wishman clearly films Mary’s face during a murder spree when the audience still don’t know Mary is the real killer.  To further compound this, she has Vicki wearing the murderess’s clothes in the very next scene and the mom says (dubbed, of course), “Must you wear your sister’s clothes?”

Surprisingly, the film is light on the nudity
Perhaps the film’s biggest irony is that Wishman, known for her penchant of filming nudie cuties, delivers an exploitation nearly bereft of bare flesh.  Take the Samantha Fox strip tease scene for example.  The sequence is probably the better of the constructed scenes in the film and yet Wishman shot Fox – at the time of filming one of the adult industry’s biggest stars – from behind and never gets a second of nude footage on film.  Yes, she cast a popular porn star and then didn’t have her get naked. The only greater irony is Fox mostly likely took this project in the hopes of crossing over to more mainstream film work, but ended up in something that has WORSE production values than some of her X-rated work.  That, my friends, takes some talent (or lack thereof).  Despite being a completely incomprehensible mess, I’d actually recommend A NIGHT TO DISMEMBER solely as a recharging station for the burnout Video Junkie who thinks, “Man, I’ve seen it all.”

Moments of Clarity:

6 Reactions:

  1. I love seeing these kitschy directors like her and RD Steckler get sleazy! I'm afraid to venture into the hardcore porn stuff of these directors (Ed Wood included) but I surprisingly loved Hollywood Strangler.

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  2. Fox isn't the only porn star in the film; Alexandra Cass is murdered in the bathtub and Levi Richards plays Broderick Kent. This also indicates how old some of this footage is. Both of them had long retired by 1983. In Cass' case, she was only active for about three years from 1975-1977.

    Wishman cinematographer C. Davis Smith once had a website where he sold copies of some of his films, and most interestingly, touted the "original version" of NIGHT TO DISMEMBER. I never got my hands on it but it's apparently legit. I'd like to see if it makes any more sense...

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  3. HAHAHAHAHA! Oh man, I'm so glad you saw this. I watched it last year since it's going to be included in the HIDDEN HORROR book, and OMG. I immediately contacted the author and said, "What the hell are you trying to do?" and he said pretty much the same as you, and I couldn't agree more, "This is for the smart asses who think they've SEEN IT ALL."

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  4. Haha, that is hilarious. Is it still going to be in the book?

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  5. Man, if you leave that out of the book, you will be totally banned from the cool kid's treehouse.

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  6. Oh, it's still in there. AND getting a special mention in the introduction.

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