Directed by: Mikel Angel & Don Jones
Written by: Mikel Angel & James Evergreen
Starring: Erik Stern, Kay Neer, Robin Sherwood, and Jeremiah Beecher
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“There’s one thing I do know for sure. Whoever did this is weird. Not just sick, but a real weirdo.”
As an unashamed slasher completist, it’s often hard to find a slasher movie that I’ve never seen or at least heard of. It does happen from time to time, though, and one such case is the little-seen 1975 opus, The Love Butcher. In 1975, the giallo was still very much king in Italy (but soon on its way out) and despite the release of Black Christmas one year earlier, the slasher sub-genre was yet undefined for the masses. Still, unique pre-slashers like The Love Butcher and Class Reunion Massacre were being released to an unsuspecting movie public who likely didn’t quite know what to think of them. Though, with titles as frank as those, you kind of know what you’re going to get…especially in the case of The Love Butcher.
Caleb and his baby brother Lester live together in a rundown shack. Caleb is the local handyman/lawn caretaker/gardener, and Lester, well, he doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot. Lester is actually a figment of Caleb’s imagination; A sort of alter ego, if you will. Under the guise of Lester, Caleb sets out to bed and murder all the beautiful women who wouldn’t normally even be willingly seen in broad daylight with a gimpy, backward slob like him. He’s killed six already, and as the film progresses, more curvaceous bodies pile up left and right. The police could probably get a lot more accomplished on the case if they weren’t too busy feuding with the local media. Can the dim-witted Caleb and his alter ego Lester be stopped before more and more women fall victim to the different disguises of The Love Butcher?
The Love Butcher gives up all hope of being a mystery early on and doesn’t really try at to be all that scary either. It’s a pure-bred exploitation film of the most obvious. It’s a film that tries to do nothing more than sate its target audience’s lust for blood, breasts, and carnage. It is in these areas that the film mildly delivers. The body count is less than ten, but the death scenes themselves are pretty interesting. I guess you could call the film more of a character study in madness. It would be a fair depiction of a guy who’s completely insane, but the Caleb character is just too bizarre and backward to be real or intimidating. He comes across as the type of larger-than-life caricature you’d only see portrayed in a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. Despite the over-the-top nature of the character, Caleb actor Erik Stern does come across as being quite talented. With each female victim, he dons a different persona and a different accent. Most of his best scenes unfortunately feature him playing opposite a wigged stuffed mannequin representing Lester. Lovely victim, Robin Sherwood, would later appear in Tourist Trap and the Brian De Palma classic, Blow Out. The other actors range from wooden to passable and were mostly never heard from again. Despite the fact that the film doesn’t present itself at all as a mystery, there is a pretty cool plot twist in the closing minutes.
A lot of horror films of the time were criticized for being misogynistic, but I think many times, critics tend to overreact and use such notions to further condemn films they don’t like and attempt to prompt studios to discontinue their production. However, one has to wonder if the brutal nature of the killings combined with the killer’s very negative view of women sort of signals a hidden agenda on behalf of the filmmakers. The various women in this film are portrayed stereotypically as sex-starved, snooty, and shallow. They are also dispatched in a variety of brutal ways including stabbed to death with pruning shears and viciously raked to death with a garden rake…all of course, after the love butcher has successfully tricked them into the sack. I’m not accusing anyone of woman-hating, but the film does send a strong “women are cruel” message. Somewhere amongst the mess probably lies a social commentary about how nice guys finish last and that if you truly want to win over a woman, you have to have the flawless, superficial strengths of Lester, as opposed to the superficial and personality handicaps of Caleb. Of course, the movie is more concerned with delivering blood and sex to even really worry with any serious attempt at social commentary. However, if you want to find it, it’s there. The filmmakers didn’t even really care much about creating compelling protagonists. The cops and reporters trying to solve the case are fairly bumbling and again, poorly written caricatures. When one reporter finally figures out that Caleb is the murderer, the line of thinking he uses (all heard through a voice-over) to come to the conclusion is so completely ridiculous and improbable that I actually laughed out loud. Only in the 70s, folks.
What is interesting is that the death scenes and layout of the film were created long before the standard slasher movie formula was set in stone by blockbuster big guns like Friday the 13th and Halloween. One standout death scene involves what might possibly be the very first (and only?) death by drowning involving a water hose. Yes, I can assure you it’s just as bizarre as it sounds. The musical score sounds much more like something you would’ve heard playing in the background of a mid-70s soap opera than in a horror film. At times, the score also seems uncannily prophetic of slashers yet to come, with its high-pitched synth stingers rivaling some of Carpenter’s most memorable in Halloween. With no real mystery or fear present, the film isn’t so much about stalking as it is about slashing. The death scenes, while fairly creative in concept, are fairly standard and bland when it comes to technical execution. Writer/director Mikel Angel would later go on to pen such forgettable fare as Psychic Killer and Demon Keeper, while co-director Don Jones would later bestow upon us, The Forest. Enough said.
I find it increasingly interesting to discover more and more films that were released before the slasher sub-genre really took form and that’s why I moderately enjoyed seeing The Love Butcher. It is a truly curious film, if not an altogether successful one. Hardcore horror fans aren’t likely to find much to write home about here, but if you’re a slasher completist like myself, I do recommend viewing it if you can find it. The only other option than the long out of print VHS edition is to pick up the DVD by Substance, although, this may not be a legit release. The picture quality of the full-screen transfer is very shoddy and probably came straight from a VHS edition, if I were betting. Sadly, this may be the only next generation release that the film ever gets, unless someone like Dark Sky, Code Red, or Image can step in and give it a proper release. My personal favorite from the period in-between the releases of Black Christmas and Halloween is still the scary and highly underrated gem, Class Reunion Massacre, but one other rare and enjoyable timekiller that’s well worth at least a single look is the kooky but creative mid-70s curiosity, The Love Butcher. Rent it!
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