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I Dismember Mama (1974)

Directed by Paul Leder
Video Gems VHS

THE FILM
Now I’m frustrated. I’ve searched all over the house and can’t seem to find any Pepto (as in “Bismol”). It’s a necessity too. “Poor” Albert kind of grossed me out.

As a rule, I never over-research a film before I see it. That kind of behavior tends to ruin the mood. It’s a rare moment when I actually wish I would have delved a little deeper before plunking down a few bucks and 90 minutes. In this case, it’s a double negative; not only was I riveted as a kid from the I Dismember Mama/Blood Spattered Bride double feature trailer, but I’ve also made a point of not reading too much about Dismember, the rarer of the two films, before seeing it. So when I chanced upon an old big box VHS, I couldn’t say no. Gearing up for a sure-fire night of junk entertainment, imagine my surprise as Dismember unfolded.

Albert (Zooey Hall, looking like a mutant Ben Stiller) lives in a loony bin, placed there after an unsuccessful attempt at killing his rich, widowed mother. He spends his days projecting his “films,” which are alluded to as adult entertainment and obsessing about “undefiled” women. After attacking and nearly raping a nurse and killing an orderly, Albert escapes and heads for home. Since his mom is away, Albert tortures and kills the maid, then makes friends with the maid’s 10 year old daughter, Annie. Take a deep breath. Albert falls in love with Annie, who acts like a third rate Jan Brady. He says, “I’d like to be your father…your friend…your playmate.” A police detective screams “Fer Christ Sakes!!” way too much. After a day at an amusement park, Albert gives Annie kisses and brings her to a fancy hotel in the city. Since he can’t bring himself to profess his love, Albert hires a prostitute, brings her back to the room, and strangles her. Annie sees it. The jig is up. Blow some chunks.

While I Dismember Mama is, at times, a successful and original weirdo thriller, the basest levels of enjoyment are overshadowed by a whiff of unpleasantness. And some really awful music. Aside from the uncomfortable plot turns with Annie, the film suffers from an overt misogyny that’s hard to ignore. Of the four kill scenes in the film, the sole male incident is shown to the viewer in a few-second aftermath. Subsequently, each female scene lingers on for minutes on end, as Albert barks degrading orders before moving in for the nudity-filled kill. Add to that the never-ending diatribes about “pure” virginal women and you’ve got a serious streak of mean-spiritedness that reeks of cheap exploitation. But not the good kind. Reign it all in with some bored-stiff padding, a spark of interesting photography, and that ear-ripping theme song: “Poor Albert.” Indeed.

After waiting so many years to see Dismember, I’ve come to the realization that the trailer I saw during my childhood was a masterpiece. There weren’t any actual scenes from this film in it.

AUDIO AND VIDEO
The picture was nice; a little scratchy, but clearer than most old tapes. The mono sound was horrid, which is mostly due to the original recordings. Hey, let’s place a microphone way up in a loft corner to pick up the dialogue. Sounds bad.

EXTRAS
Video Gems is not a company I’ve been previously familiar with. After the glorious purple-screened, distorto-laser introduction, I’m sure we’ll be great friends.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I Dismember Mama is somewhat suspenseful and definitely bizarre. However, given the subject matter and so-so execution, it’s not something I’d ever want to see again. Choose wisely.