THE SEVERED ARM theatrical 1 sheet poster
3 stars  

directed by: Thomas S. Alderman
starring: Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, David G. Cannon, Marvin Kaplan, John Crawford, Vince Martorano, Bob Guthrie, Angus Scrimm, Ray Dannis

choice dialogue:

“You’ve seen one cave you’ve seen them all.”

- and they'll be seeing a lot of this particular one.

slash with panache?
[review by JA Kerswell ]
  Like many later slashers, a tragedy or deed done wrong is behind th future mayhem in proto-slasher THE SEVERED ARM!

THE SEVERED ARM is a proto-slasher that is remarkable for the elements it includes years before they appeared in later films. Even pre-dating what is perhaps the biggest scare in Bob Clark’s seminal BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). Six men survive a mining accident, but not before they nearly resort to cannibalism after plotting to feast on the severed arm of one of their number. Five years later, the men are stalked and killed by a one-armed madman carrying a hatchet. Not entirely satisfying, this slowly-paced psychodrama throws in enough suspense scenes to show it’s not entirely armless.


Jeff (David G. Cannon) receives a severed human arm in the mail as a special delivery. Understandably spooked, he calls a meeting of the group of men that survived the cave-in some five years before. All apart from Roger (Bob Guthrie), who had drawn the short straw after the men agreed that they would starve to death if one of them didn’t donate a limb for them to eat. The irony was that the group were rescued mere minutes after severing the limb. Roger was committed to an asylum after the incident and the group swore to maintain the line that they cut off his arm to save his life. Jeff is convinced that Roger - who has recently left a mental hospital - has sent him the arm through the post and could be dangerous.

As members of the group are subsequently attacked by the hatchet-wielding killer, Jeff joins forces with Mark (Paul Carr), a police officer who was part of the group, to try and set a trap for Roger before he can do any more damage. They persuade Roger’s daughter Teddy (Deborah Walley) to help them. But will they be able to stop the killer from claiming a severed arm from them all one-by-one …

  The killer in THE SEVERED ARM may have watched one too many Gialli!

It is always worth tempering expectations with proto-slashers, as they don’t necessarily stick to a formula because that formula hadn’t been honed yet. However, it is staggering how many elements in THE SEVERED ARM turn up in later slashers. It isn’t too much of a stretch to think that Bob Clark lifted the police telling the potential victim-to-be that the killer is calling from inside the house (or in this case a radio station) for BLACK CHRISTMAS. It was, of course, recycled once again for WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979). There are breathy, threatening phone calls (PROM NIGHT (1980)), a bloody murder in a lift (DRESSED TO KILL (1980)) and the killer writing a warning of “NEXT!” on a potential victim’s mirror (I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997)).

However, THE SEVERED ARM does some borrowing of its own. The psycho killer on the loose was hardly a novelty even back in 1973 - and the way the killer is framed very possibly could have been influenced by the then-peaking giallo wave. The central plot of reluctant cannibalism was almost certainly inspired by the real-life events that befell the survivors of the 1972 Andes plane crash that saw them having to eat the dead to survive. The all-middle-aged male victim list was possibly inspired by DELIVERANCE (1972). Still a rarity in the subgenre, the later RITUALS (1977) has a similar cast. THE SEVERED ARM also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo with a pre-PHANTASM (1979) Angus Scrimm.

  Although not overly gory, the film has its fair share of splatter.

There is a general sense of nihilism in THE SEVERED ARM that is somewhat typical of 70s shockers - and the film is topped off with a decidedly downbeat ending. Curiously, though, although the film generally plays it deadpan there is the comic relief of ‘Mad Man’ Herman (Marvin Kaplan); a radio host who quips throughout the film like he thinks he’s Groucho Marx. This does tend to limit the film’s effectiveness as a chiller despite some strong suspense scenes that are a little too short-lived and far apart.

THE SEVERED ARM completed principal photography in May 1973. Actor David Cannon described the 15-day shoot as a “labour of love” and said that many people were working for free to make it. As somewhat typical with low-budget guerilla making it came with its hazards, with Cannon injuring his leg in a car stunt that went wrong and a cameraman fell off a cliff and broke his back. Curiously, an article in the newspaper The State (27 May 1973) said that the film erroneously starred Joan Crawford. Although Crawford had made a good number of horror movies and suspensers in the 1960s her last acting role was in 1972. It is difficult to think - even if she had been involved in the project at some point - what role she would have played. In the end, it appeared it was a typo, with the journalist mixing up John and Joan Crawford!


THE SEVERED ARM is available on Bluray from Amazon US.


BODYCOUNT  bodycount!   female: 0 / male: 3

1) Male attacked with a hatchet and arm chopped off
      2) Male attacked with a hatchet and arm chopped off
      3) Male pushed off a cliff



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