LUTHER THE GEEK (1989)

Movie Review by LL Soares

Another movie that I’d heard about for years, but hadn’t seen. LUTHER THE GEEK came out in 1989 and was directed by Carlton J. Albright. Albright also wrote the screenplay, using the name Whitey Styles. This is another one of those productions where the director only made one film. Although Albright also produced and wrote the screenplay for THE CHILDREN (1980) and produced DREAMS COME TRUE (1984). But that’s it for film credits. And this is the only where he’s the director.

LUTHER THE GEEK is yet another low-budget horror movie, but it’s got some effective scenes, and is worth checking out. The thing is, it could have been even better!

We start out with a flashback to when Luther was a kid. Little Luther (Carlton Williams, who is actually director Albright’s son) sneaks into a circus tent with a bunch of hillbilly men to see a real, live “geek.” This scene is basically just there to show us what a geek is (in case anyone didn’t understand the title). A guy in a cage is given a chicken and bites its head off and drinks its blood. Geeks did exist in carnivals in the America of yore, and were most often town drunks who agreed to play the geek in return for getting all the liquor they could drink. Anyway, little Luther is astounded by the display. At one point, though, a man knocks him to the ground and Luther hits his head, knocking out some teeth. He realizes, though, that he likes the taste of blood.

We next see a parole board discussing a candidate who is being considered for early release. Luther Watts was in prison for 20 years. The vote is close, but Luther is paroled for being a “model prisoner.” When we next see him, we learn two things. First, he replaced the teeth he lost as a kid with some metallic choppers, which he files down. Second, there is nothing normal-seeming about this guy, and there’s no reason why anyone would parole him. Did that board even meet this guy in person? To give you an idea what he’s like, Luther isn’t even called “Luther” in the credits. He’s called THE FREAK and is played by Edward Terry.

Anyway, right away, Luther gets into trouble at a supermarket, eating raw eggs and making a mess. The manager calls the police and escorts him out. On a bench beside a bus stop, he sits beside an old lady (Gail Buxton in an old lady wig), then proceeds to attack her, biting her neck viciously until she bleeds to death. Somehow, the creep gets away!

Eventually he makes his way to a lonely farmhouse, at first to chase the chickens around. There we meet Hilary (Joan Roth), a woman whose husband is either dead or away. She is terrorized by Luther, until they’re interrupted by Hilary’s college-age daughter, Beth (Stacy Haiduk) and her boyfriend Rob (Thomas Mills) who show up unexpectedly. Beth has a sexy shower scene before she and Rob join Hilary in being terrorized. At one point Luther steals Rob’s motorcycle, but can’t ride it, and cracks it up. Dumb-ass Rob chases him down to get his bike back, but learns to regret it.

There’s not much plot to this one. It’s basically a home invasion flick where a psycho breaks into a house and makes some people’s lives miserable. At one point a clueless police officer shows up (of course), played by Jerry Clarke, and let’s just say he doesn’t save the day.

At no point does Luther join a carnival and become a geek, though. He just terrorizes this poor family.

Despite the fact that they had very little to work with that makes sense, Roth and Haiduk aren’t too bad, with Roth being the best performer here, and cute Haiduk doing a decent job. Haiduk, in fact, is probably the most successful actor in this movie, since she has 70 credits on IMDB.com. LUTHER was only her second film, and she went on to get roles on the TV shows SUPERBOY (1988 – 1992, as Lana Lang), the underappreciated vampire series KINDRED: THE EMBRACED (1996), and MELROSE PLACE (in 1997).  More recently she played characters on HEROES, PRISON BREAK, and TRUE BLOOD, as well as the soap operas ALL MY CHILDREN, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, and DAYS OF OUR LIVES!

But here’s where I get to the part about it having the potential to be better. Lead Edward Terry isn’t completely awful as Luther. He is intimidating, and sometimes creepy, but he’s pretty much a one-note character. And he doesn’t speak. All he does is cluck like a chicken. This actually works in the eerie final scene, but up until then, you wonder how this guy is able to move around in the real world at all with his weird clucking and completely psychotic behavior.

It would have been a lot more effective if he was able to act normal sometimes and trick people into trusting him. As a metal-toothed, clucking freakshow, no one is going to go near him if they can help it, and there is absolutely no way this guy would be given parole. He can’t assimilate into normal society at all; he doesn’t even try. He’s more like a cartoon caricature than a real human being.

If Terry had played him as a more articulate guy who vacillated between vulnerable/normal and a complete psycho, I think the movie could have been a lot more effective, and more of a cult classic. More personality and complexity would have made this a plum role! But I can’t blame Terry, because he’s just doing what the script calls for. Albright’s script is the culprit here, keeping the movie from ever being truly scary.

Sadly, Terry was only in this one (the part was actually written with him in mind to play it), and in THE CHILDREN (mentioned previously). But he was in the art department for the John Huston film THE DEAD (1987), strangely enough.

But with a more complex character (maybe he would only start clucking when he was really going off the deep end), or at least a smarter one, LUTHER THE GEEK could have transcended its low-budget limitations. As is, the creepy-ass ending works despite the rest of the weak script, rather than because of it.

That said, I did enjoy watching this one. It’s not a total dud (and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of total duds), but I found its flaws really frustrating. Oh, and for TROMA fans, this one was released on DVD (and I’m assuming on VHS back in the day) by Troma Studios. The special effects makeup, which actually isn’t bad, is by Mike Tristano, who refused to be credited for the film. There’s also an interesting synth score by Vern Carlson, who also did the music for GALAXINA (1980).

Maybe instead of remaking classic movies that were done right the first time, someone could remake LUTHER THE GEEK and get it right. That’s what remakes should be for – helping failed films with potential reach a higher level. Unfortunately, I don’t see LUTHER getting remade anytime soon.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

 

Advertisements

THE PROWLER (1981)

Movie Review by LL Soares

And here we have another review of an 80s slasher movie I always meant to see, but somehow missed. This one puts enough of a spin on the basic formula to make things a little interesting, but it’s still another excuse for a relentless murderer to pick off a bunch of party-going kids.

THE PROWLER (1981), however, begins during World War II, when a soldier gets a “Dear John” letter. We hear the letter’s writer reading it over the opening credits. This was common at the time, when a girl back home felt she had waited a long time for her boyfriend, and couldn’t wait any longer for him to return. After all, he might soon be dead, if he wasn’t already, and she wants to go on with her life. Rosemary Chatham (Joy Glaccum) is young and rich and enjoying her college graduation dance in the 1945, when a mysterious figure in a uniform kills her and an amorous boy in a gazebo with a pitchfork. The murderer is wearing a uniform and his face is concealed. He leaves a single rose at the murder scene. And that’s the set-up for our little story.

Jump to 1981. The local college hasn’t had a graduation dance since Ms. Chatham’s demise, almost 40 years previous, but maybe it’s been long enough for old wounds to heal. We’re in a small New Jersey town, and Sheriff George Fraser (Farley Granger of Hitchcock’s ROPE, 1948, and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951) is just about to leave for his annual fishing trip, leaving his young deputy, Mark London (Christopher Goutman, also on episodes of CHARLIE’S ANGELS and BOSOM BUDDIES in 1981) to watch over things. Even though there’s word of an “escaped prowler” on the radio, the Sheriff says he doubts the guy will even make it to their town, and Mark should have an uneventful weekend.

Thinking it should be a piece of cake, Mark drives over to the college to watch over the dance and his girlfriend, Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson, CARBON COPY, 1981). Except it’s not as easy as it sounds when a killer shows up to slaughter college kids, such as Pam’s roommate, Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath) and her boyfriend Carl (David Sederholm) in a gruesome shower scene, involving first a bayonet through Carl’s head and then a – surprise! – pitchfork to finish off Sherry. While fleeing when she discovers a body, Pam finds a man in a wheelchair in the yard—neighbor Major Chatham, the father of the Rosemary character from earlier, and played by Lawrence Tierney of such classics as BORN TO KILL, 1947 and RESERVOIR DOGS, 1992), whose role is so short it’s one of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” variety—who tries to grab her. Was he the killer, or someone trying to help? We’ll never know, because we don’t see him again. Even when Mark and Pam go to his house to search for clues, he’s nowhere to be seen.

The killer continues to stalk the kids and leaves a single rose near the body of each dead girl (he must have an account with the local florist!). Victims also include a teacher chaperoning the dance named Miss Allison (Donna Davis), and Pam’s friend Lisa (Cindy Weintraub), who at one point tries to steal Mark away at the dance. When Mark tries to call the Sheriff for help on his vacation, the motel clerk can’t even be bothered to look for him. The guy (Bill Nunnery) just puts the phone down for a few minutes, pretending to go look, and then comes back on to say he can’t find him. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Lazy! There’s also a crabby guy named Pat Kingsley (John Seitz) who runs the local hardware store and his creepy brother Otto (Bill Hugh Collins), who makes a surprise appearance later on.

The WWII connection, and those signature roses the killer leaves behind makes THE PROWLER a little more interesting than some of the other ’80s slasher films (there were a lot of them!), but the plot doesn’t do much with it. It’s just another chance to introduce us to more college kids who will get knocked off one by one. Goutman is good as Deputy London, and, as usual, the most interesting character is our female lead/”final girl” Pam, played here by blonde Vicky Dawson, who is fine as our protagonist, even if she isn’t given much to do besides running around, either looking for clues or fleeing from the mysterious murderer.  There’s even a jump scare at the end that no doubt was trying to cash in on the similar one in Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). I’m just sad Dawson didn’t have a bigger career.

THE PROWLER was directed by Joseph Zito, who went on to make more famous films like FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984, a job he got probably because of THE PROWLER); the action movies MISSING IN ACTION (1984) and INVASION U.S.A. (1985), both starring Chuck Norris; and the Dolph Lundgren action flick RED SCORPION (1988). The script was by Glenn Leopold and Neal Barbera.

Not the best of the 1980s slasher flicks, but far from the worst, THE PROWLER is probably most memorable for graphic murder effects by the great Tom Savini, and worth checking out by afficionados of the genre.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares