The Cult of Michael and Roberta Findlay and Shriek of the Mutilated (Part Two)

*contains spoilers

Ed Adlum said of Michael Findlay: “(He) wanted to make real movies, not porn movies, but when you have no money, you make porn movies.” He also said the Findlays had a propensity to film one for $7000 and sell it for $10000. Shriek of the Mutilated was Adlum’s gift to Michael to direct a straight movie as opposed to a porno for editing Invasion of the Blood Farmers.

The yeti isn’t what it seems in Shriek of the Mutilated (1974)

But back to the movie, which Adlum said had “too much dialogue”, and Dr Werner describes a night time encounter with the yeti in a day for night scene which is far too bright to work.

“It was one of the most unnerving experiences of my entire life…,” he says and then the orchestral score which plays throughout much of the movie swells.

Shriek of the Mutilated is one of those trick ending movies with the plans by Prell to “find and photograph” the yeti just another excuse for an expedition to kill young students for the latest regular get together of a cannibal cult who like nothing more than to feast on the flesh of those who have been scared to death!

Alan Brock as Dr Prell

Poor Keith, at the beginning of the film, didn’t know that the dish Gin Soong, which he feasted on at the restaurant was really human flesh, giving him a taste for it “unwittingly to be sure”.

He is present at the climactic feast where pieces of the dead students are presented with Strock’s body “the untouched sacrifice” for dying of fear alone.

“Mr Henshaw… white meat or dark?,” is the closing line as the electric carving knife starts to cut the flesh of Strock. She had died after seeing the yeti – really Dr Werner in a furry suit – something which leads to total heart failure… This is all much to the delight of the fellow cannibals who are gathered around the table with their eyes rolling as Keith begins to salivate in the thrall of what culinary delights are to come!

Jennifer Strock is scared to the point of heart failure in Shriek of the Mutilated

It took years before I saw the uncut version of this film with the local censors cutting out several seconds of a yeti attack and a severed leg. But the uncut version unfortunately couldn’t afford the rights to the song Popcorn at the beginning… hopefully one day it will be fully restored.

The attacking yeti looks somewhat like a sheep dog as it leaps at its first victim… It’s all part of the fun as once more the cast is game and the Findlay’s are at least competent, despite the poor sound at times.

The yeti looks like a sheepdog as it attacks on victim

There’s really nothing quite like this movie, although it is definitely not for everyone. It may not be as original as Invasion of the Blood Farmers but it is the more special experience.

What is interesting is that in the opening few seconds of the uncut version I saw, there is a shot of Michael Findlay laughing at a decapitation of someone beside a swimming pool. It’s a further oddity.

One of my favourite lines in the film is when Prell pulls off a sheet of material on a dining table to reveal the severed leg of one of the students: “This could never be of use to Tom anymore,” he says with plans to use it for bait for the yeti. And Prell won’t stop there… all for the celebration of Saturnalia!

“… White meat or dark?,” Laughing Crow asks an unwitting cannibal

Apparently, Adlum’s daughter Ingrid was a student at university when she was asked what the worst movie ever made was. She said Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Someone else said: “There’s one worse than that. It’s called Shriek of the Mutilated.”

“My father made that movie,” she exclaimed.

Ed Adlum said “acting wasn’t essential” for anyone to be in the movie although Alan Brock who played Prell had some experience.

Remember back to when the salad was “fabulous”

According to Adlum: “Alan Brock was at one time a child star on film (ed. I can’t find any credits) and hadn’t worked in years. He still lived with his mother and though he was well into his 60s, he was so immature in that he had to be driven home every night instead of staying at the motel with the other players and the crew. He had to be in his house and his own bed, then I would pick him up in the morning and bring him back to the woods (in Westchester County, New York) to do the film.”

Despite Adlum and Michael Findlay’s affection for one another, the pair later fell out and wouldn’t speak for years. Findlay was killed in a freak accident in 1977 when he was about to board a helicopter one windy day atop of the former Pan Am building. The landing gear failed and the rotors of the chopper hacked to pieces a few people and killed another unfortunate on the pavement many storeys below.

The scene of the Pam Am building helicopter crash which killed Michael Findlay

Adlum said that when he heard Findlay had died, he cried harder than when he found out his own parents had died.

He also added about the film which seems to morph from a yeti movie into a kind of Manson cult story: “… a lot of stuff was done on the fly and it kind of morphed into that… You think of stuff while you’re standing there. You may find a prop and work that into the film”… Let’s think of Darcy Brown with her broom in one scene… “Then when you’re done with the picture and you’re editing it you say these eight minutes are boring, let’s do something. So, you come up with … inserts…”

The swelling orchestral music in the movie according to Adlum was by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra back in the day of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, when intellectual property rights didn’t exist with America. So, they stole it!

Shriek of the Mutilated (1974) trailer

“I bought the record in the bargain bin, and bought it for $2.98 with the express purpose of using it as background music in the movie.” Adlum said when he told the guy at the cash register what he was going to do, the salesman suggested he should keep the receipt to prove he had the rights!

As for the other half of the team that wrote the Invasion of the Blood Farmers and Shriek of the Mutilated –  his name was Ed Kelleher, who apparently died of a degenerative brain disorder in a nursing home in 2005. Kelleher revelled in the lower reaches of cinematic respectability and admired Ed Wood (1924-78 heart attack). It is apparently his humour which litters the films due to his vast film knowledge.

Prime Evil book cover

Kelleher considered himself as primarily a playwright and he wrote several plays performed in New York and Massachusetts. He would also write six horror novels with Harriette Vidal (no info), and they would adapt some of their work into director Roberta Findlay’s Prime Evil (1988) and Lurkers (1988).

Kelleher also adapted his play Stand-Ins (1997) for the screen. That film was set in 1937 and dealt with stand-ins for actresses Bette Davis, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.

English musician Andy Roberts (1946-) of the band Plainsong, knew Kelleher and he said the writer was a character and remembers them both scoring opium and going to see Lou Reed (1942-2013 organ rejection/liver disease).

“He liked his booze, he liked his drugs, he liked going to excruciatingly horrible low budget horror movies on 42nd Street,” wrote Roberts of Kelleher.

“He once showed me the sales returns for his film Invasion of the Blood Farmers which was playing at the drive-ins of the Mid-west. On a Saturday night in one town the intake was 32 cars and 58 tractors. He loved that!”

“He had the craziest mix of high and low culture that I have seen in one man.”

Poster for Roberta Findlay’s Tenement (1985)

To follow through with the late career of Roberta Findlay, which also featured Kelleher on a couple of occasions, and her later horrors are not very good as her motivation and “inspiration” was not to get “caught out on her tax”. This once budding concert pianist split with husband Michael around the time of Shriek of the Mutilated and went on to do many a porn film before the industry in New York died and shifted to Los Angeles. So, Roberta reinvented herself in New York as a horror director.

If there is a masterpiece or two to be found, in terms of low budget exploitation, those films are Roberta’s early ones Tenement (1985) and The Oracle (1985).

Tenement has “nauseating violence” according to one critic, a complaint which probably saw it on the British video nasty list.

In it, tenants of a building in The Bronx are terrorised and murdered by a violent gang of thugs who don’t mind sticking broomsticks up women’s nether regions as a form of revenge and killing. They also like having sex while covered in blood!

Trailer for The Tenement/Tenement (1985)

No, it’s not Melrose Place and Roberta’s well-lit movie should satiate those who like the trashiness of, say, Deathwish 3 (also 1985), except as the film progresses, it doesn’t look like the good guys will win this time.

Tenement is well paced, has some characterization, even though it’s pretty stock standard of those who live in a tenement building and is streets ahead of her later horrors which were often near-snooze fests.

I am most impressed by The Oracle though, with its automatic writing ceramic hand which works as some kind of Ouija board for the film’s heroine as it conjures spirits from beyond. In this case, it is one particular spirit which gets her into trouble with those who have murdered him.

Poster art for The Oracle (1985)

There is a strange green light which appears as men are murdered, one of them stabbing himself repeatedly, while another is decapitated by a garbage chute. Of course, it’s cheap but it is surprisingly good in what was a good year for Findlay as she seems to have had some enthusiasm to create a quality product of some sort.

It’s got a fair quota of gore and an evil character in the form of Pam La Testa (1944-2019) who is a masculine and plus-sized lesbian who chases our heroine with an axe near the climax after attempting to kill her several times throughout the movie.

Pam La Testa faces cheap special effects in the classic low budgeter The Oracle

“… Can I have her before I kill her?,” asks La Testa of her employer as she has our heroine in her clutches.

The screenplay by R. Allen Leider (1944-) is pretty darn good as it shows that even recreational playing with the supernatural can result in possible psychosis and even the death of loved ones… not to mention visions of half rotting corpses and visits from local serial killers.

Writer Allen R. Leider also worked on Roberta’s porn films

The Oracle was a non-union film which was apparently made for $36,000, using special effects created by two high school kids. Yes, they’re hokey, but still effective. For instance, they used a life-sized puppet as the ghost to save paying an actor for the role.

According to reports, it made more money than a Gene Hackman movie did in a week in a Florida cinema but little elsewhere and with no New York release, the movie was sold to video which recovered its miniscule costs.

The Oracle (1985) trailer

Roberta’s decline after this film started with the bloodless letdown of Blood Sisters (1987), which some people believe was shot in the early 1980s. But it really was about 1986 which it is copyrighted and by the fact that John Fasano’s (1961-2014 heart failure) son Jesse D’Angelo (no info) appears to be the same age as his appearance in his father’s Rock’n’Roll Nightmare (1987). Fasano was assistant director on Blood Sisters.

For a hybrid of ghost and slasher this film lacks atmosphere and scares even with its Phantom of the Opera synth type score courtesy of a Kurzweil K250 which has a history of being invented by Stevie Wonder (1950-) together with others. But that’s another story.

The pretty darn boring and awful Blood Sisters (1987)

Roberta was making films with her partner in life and crime Walter E. Sear (1930-2010) by now and he had his own music studio and pumped out a lot of synth music for films, especially those by Roberta. Sear was the love of Roberta’s life and helped produce her porn and horrors as well.

The ending of Blood Sisters has a touch of Psycho (1960) about it but can’t make up for a film with only one good death scene of a girl plummeting down a stairwell.

As for the end of Roberta’s career, in terms of horror, they are Prime Evil and Lurkers (both 1988). Kelleher’s scripts which he co-wrote are perhaps a sophisticated progression compared to his work on Invasion of the Blood Farmers and Shriek of the Mutilated but that doesn’t mean they are more entertaining.

Prime Evil which tells of devil worshipers who must find victims for their sacrificial ceremonies every so often rings a bit like the cannibals celebrating annually in Shriek of the Mutilated. The twist in Prime Risk is that it is better if a family member is sacrificed.

“Remove your worldly garments…” says a Satanist in Prime Evil (1988)

There’s a sexual scene between a priest and a young woman in this movie… Is it a homage to Michael Findlay and his wife? Probably not but apart from that there is precious little to get excited about except for maybe the climax.

“…Remove your worldly garments and join our flock,” says the head Satanist as nubile women bare their breasts. Roberta knew a dose of this sort of titillation never goes astray… And when you look back, it was perhaps her late ex-husband’s The Her Flesh Trilogy with its sex and violence which was the precursor of the modern day slasher film that inspired her.

I originally rejected Lurkers as pure boring tripe when I saw it on VHS many years ago. But to watch it not as a hardened horror fan, but as someone who may be sensitive to supernatural phenomena, and the film is more a ghost story about buildings around the world that are in fact ‘hell’. And that and the people who inhabit them are ghosts, or ‘lurkers’, who have lived in the building, or hell, in the past.

Lurkers (1988) poster

“Don’t go home, Cathy,” our heroine is warned by a ghostly woman who appears and disappears and may be the guardian angel or even the gatekeeper herself, ready to break the news that Cathy is indeed destined for hell even if she is careful.

Lurkers isn’t a great movie and the ending fails to send shivers down the spine or be as profound as it intended to be but it is an interesting take on the former child or adolescent now an adult being unable to go home or making an ill-advised decision to return home to the past. Most of those who try discover it is no longer as they knew and they only find hell.

For Cathy in Lurkers, she escapes the hell of her childhood home only to be drawn back by the society of demons who dwell there and want to make her one of them.

Lurkers (1988) trailer

It is kind of ironic in that people you know in the past life that you return home to, help create this hell and not the former paradise that once was. Not that Cathy grew up in a paradise in Lurkers. She really wanted to escape her past!

Roberta Findlay as the girl who escaped The Bronx to become a successful director has finished her horror career with a film which questions what is a home… Is it with a man that you’re married to and babies?! Cathy wants that and yet it is all an illusion as her boyfriend is only there to seduce her to return to the building of her childhood.

Kelleher’s script seems to be saying that to avoid returning home, you must avoid recreating one at your own peril as it may lead to the same tragedy or unhappiness, one way or another.

Filmmaker Michael Findlay may be the founder of the modern slasher movie

No, Lurkers isn’t a scary movie, but as an exercise in ghosts and haunted buildings… it’s slightly original.

The four filmmakers mentioned at the beginning of this article made the schlock masterpiece Shriek of the Mutilated. They are interesting characters who played out their lives creating horror, with one coming to a horrific and tragic end in the case of the legendary Michael Findlay. Was he the founder of the modern-day slasher? If so, perhaps it is only fitting his life should end in a fashion which would forever meld the two together.

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