*. The title helped. As with I Spit On Your Grave, it was changed by the producer to something more marketable (the working title was Phobia). It was also meant to complement the second half of a double bill it appeared on (I Eat Your Skin, a film it had little in common with and that had been shot six years earlier but never released). That the title has nothing to do with anything in the movie is pretty much irrelevant.
*. It is, of course, a poor, no-budget exploitation movie, of interest today only for how silly it all is. At the time it had some notoriety for setting a new benchmark for violence, but by twenty-first century standards even the director’s cut is pretty tame. Only the pregnant woman stabbing herself in the belly with a wooden stake still has any shock value.
*. Perhaps the most disturbing thing watching it today is seeing all the dead animals. Apparently only the chicken was killed for the film, and if you object to that you should listen to John Waters’s commentary on Pink Flamingos. There are, however, a lot of dead animal carcases on display, including numerous rats and a goat.
*. In some ways it can be seen as a transitional film. It’s often compared to Night of the Living Dead, but I don’t think that’s a very strong connection. These aren’t zombies and (despite what’s often said in the literature) they aren’t cannibals. They’re just people infected with rabies. Its nearest analogs are later films like The Crazies and Rabid.
*. But in addition to looking forward it also looks back. One of the first things that struck me was how the horror plot we know so well, where the group of young people take a wrong turn or their car breaks down and they end up in some homicidal backwater, was being reversed. The town here is a ghost town that seems to consist of nothing but a single bakery, but it appears to be a wholesome enough place. The kids whose van breaks down, on the other hand, are Satan-worshipping druggies who haven’t even learned to eat with utensils. This is an older plot, more like The Wild One than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The immediate inspiration seems to have been the Manson murders.
*. The political message would appear to be an obvious one then. After all, it came out the same year as Joe. But Kim Newman, who only briefly mentions this title in Nightmare Movies, makes an understandable mistake when he calls it “a Living Dead spin-off featuring a clash between rabid hippies and hard-hat construction workers.” That’s the conflict you’d expect, but in fact the two groups never confront one another. The construction workers, who are presented as a sleazy enough bunch themselves, are very quickly “converted” to hippie madness by way of a gang-bang with an infected girl. The rest of the movie they run around waving machetes and frothing at the mouth.
*. Much has been made of the multi-ethnic character of the gang. I doubt this was more than happenstance, and if it wasn’t I don’t think it reflects a very progressive point of view. The violent and diseased element aren’t just druggies and devil-worshippers, they’re coloured. They also practice interracial sex, and I don’t think the film approves of that (indeed, the stake in the belly loses some of its power to shock in our knowledge that the baby is probably “infected” and needs to be aborted).
*. You could say much the same for the Satanic cult business. After the laughable nudie opening scene this is basically dropped and nothing further is made of it. I think they just wanted to have a group nude scene and weren’t very interested in the devil worship.
*. I have to say I find this movie a lot less interesting than it’s made out to be by its fans. They’ve elevated it to semi-cult status, but there’s little here beyond the usual exploitation weirdness, more often the result of incompetence or serendipity than any original creative vision. Peter’s bizarre scheme for getting revenge on the punks — injecting blood drawn from a rabid dog he’s just shot into a tray of meat pies — is just one example. It’s certainly hard to forget the shot of him holding the blood-filled syringe over the pies, but it’s a pretty ridiculous idea all the same. Which makes it just like everything else in this cheesy flick.