"He wants more than your love"
(back of video blurb):
"What is the relationship between a crippled myopic old man and the grisly murders that have the police baffled? A psychotic killer is leaving a trail of slain women and a news reporter thinks he has discovered the connection. Now if only he's not too late..."
"You're going to love me- satiate me. Fill me with nymphoid action!"
Lester- the Love Butcher, closes in on his prey
Slash with panache?:
That old saying "They don't make 'em like this anymore!" may be overused (especially by me!), but in this case it couldn't be more suitable.
Accompanied by some good time 70's honky-tonk music the film opens with the sight of a woman lying on some grass, pitchfork spikes sticking messily out from her shirt- meanwhile someone nearby is pruning roses. As the credits roll, over a collage of brightly coloured flowers crawling with bugs, the body is found and a scream rings out. A crowd gathers round the corpse (hidden by a blood splattered white sheet), and a bad tempered detective argues with a news reporter- Russell (Jeremiah Beecher), bugging him with questions about the identity of the killer who, it's said, has now been responsible for six similar murders. "Do you think he carries a sign around with him. Saying I'm the psychotic- the killer?", barks the apoplectic cop, as a tasteless photographer pulls back the white sheet to get a better look at the body- causing a collective "ooooh" from the aghast crowd. … Nearby, Caleb a slap headed, bucktoothed elderly gardener tends to his flowers, casting squinting glances at the commotion through thick milk bottle lenses…
Nobody notices the awkward gardener slip away, despite the fact that he's in fact the notorious THE LOVE BUTCHER they're all looking for, or to be more exact, his alter-ego is…
Caleb, as it's quickly revealed, is quite insane. The goofy but essentially harmless old man harbors two personalities, the other being of his handsome brother, Lester. Whilst Caleb is in charge Lester takes the form of a toupee wearing mannequin sitting in a chair who torments him with cruel jibes, "What would you do without me Caleb? … You need me. I am your baby brother". ... After a woman, one of Caleb's customers, looks at him and his disability (he's slightly crippled with a clawed right hand) with scorn and distaste Lester teases him, "Women love me Caleb. I'm not like you. You are ugly. I am handsome. … She shall love me as much as she hated you. Total love." Standing in front of a mirror, glasses off and toupee stuck to his head, he smirks, "I am Lester- and I am alive!"
Lester is quite a hit with the women, well, until he kills them that is. As tasteless premises go this takes some beating. All the women in the movie, bar one, treat Caleb with contempt- one bitching, "Cripples, this bloody place is full of them", after he accidentally soaks her with a sprinkler. Whereas the same women react very differently with handsome luuurve machine Lester in his various guises (and toupees!), which include a Latino disc jockey, a cockney plumber and a randy cowboy (prompting one to purr, "Now I know why they call you Buck!" as she lies, post-coital, with him in bed).
Russell (who's girlfriend, Flo (Kay Neer), unbeknownst to both of them, has Caleb for a gardener and is the only woman in the film who is civil to him) thinks he knows who the killer is and tells the police- "Theodore Vincent. Six months ago he escaped from the Vermont State hospital for the criminally insane. He stabbed five women using an ice pick, a broken car axle…". "I know, I know.", interrupts the cop and goes on to poo-poo his theory by telling him that they already suspected him but he had been sterilised in hospital- and this killer was anything but infertile. He also takes an incredulous look at the assortment of bizarre murder weapons and mutters, "And they worry about banning guns!"
Meanwhile Lester is trying on another toupee in front of the mirror…
THE LOVE BUTCHER is one helluva strange film. The talking mannequin is not the only thing that made me think of the great Herschell Gordon Lewis (THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, especially, sprung to mind), some of the acting is decidedly on the amateurish side too, but really this only applies to a few of the bit parts. The film is too well made (all things considered) to be laughed off in a 'it's-so-bad-it's-good' way. It walks the trapeze between (jet black) comedy and straight horror without ever really tumbling completely into either area. The quite graphic, and often sexualised, violence jars uncomfortably with the, presumably, played for laughs moments with the cartoonish characters and the "wah-wah...waaaah!" comedy sound effects. As such it is certainly a film of its time- past the "wow!" and "dig?" peppered dialogue, this heady exploitation mix could only have come about in the mid-70's, a time when, just before Punk broke, boundaries were being tested and 'political correctness' was a term not yet even dreamed of.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the slasher movie template had yet to be established this proto-stalker manages to surprise in several ways. Certainly, at the heart of the story, despite its frenzied quirkiness, there is a solid 'cops-chase-the-killer' theme. The variety, and bizarre nature, of the weapons used by the killer pre-empt the hack-a-thons of latter psychos like Jason Voorhees. The film also has a violent showdown and climactic killer-final girl confrontation, one which could have come from any of the early 80's films; the major difference being (like many of the films made before the template was well and truly struck with Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978)) it doesn't necessarily pan out in the way you might think it would. All of which is pretty ironic when you consider that THE LOVE BUTCHER sat on the shelf for 7 years before getting a release in 1982; meaning that the subgenre antics on display here, which may have looked quite fresh in its day, were nothing new at the tail end of early 80's big slasher movie boom.
However, when all's said and done, THE LOVE BUTCHER is a fascinating oddity that really needs to be seen to be believed. If you can stomach its uneven rollercoaster ride through multiple genres and, perhaps, don't dwell too much on its dubious sexual politics then it might well be worth a look. Just don't leave a copy lying around next time Grandma comes to visit!
BODYCOUNT 6 female:5 / male:1
1) Female found impaled on pitchfork
2) Female killed off-screen
3) Female stabbed to death
4) Female drowned with hose-pipe in swimming pool
5) Male stabbed to death with garden shears
6) Female slashed to death with garden hoe