Three on a Meathook (1973)

It’s the middle of nowhere. A watch stops. A car dies. It’s twenty to midnight and a thunderstorm approaches. So sets the stage for Three on a Meathook, the wavering, semi-sparkling second film from writer/director William Girdler. Very loosely inspired by the horrible exploits of serial killer Ed Gein (who would later inspire two genre benchmarks, Deranged and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Meathook is all about letdowns. Your letdown. Midway through, the film’s cheap-yet-potent initial clout falls victim to a one-two punch of passé elements and lousy padding. The results are unexpected and nearly ruinous. Fortunately, hope perks up; you just have to know where to find it. Check out back by the old shed. That’s where Paw keeps the meathooks.

Billy lives in a secluded farmhouse with his Paw (Girdler regular Charles Kissinger). Some years ago, Maw had passed on. When Billy brings a group of stranded women home, Paw sees red. So do the girls. Paw blames Billy for the butchery (“You know how you get. . . .”), but something’s rotten on the farm. And that’s where things go rotten for the movie. Billy roams the streets while a schmaltz rock band called The American Xpress slop through “You gotta be free!” (think late 60s era Tommy James & The Shondelles, but worse). Billy sips cocktails while the Xpress keep on chuggin’. Billy falls for a waitress named Sherry, pisses himself in her bed, and invites her to a weekend getaway back home. Much obliged, Sherry, your “yes” just saved the film.

Filling the cracks between Frederick Friedel’s Axe and Pete Walker’s Frightmare (only with half the excitement and budget of both), Three on a Meathook banks on a seething climax, lots of tan-line nudity, and a swell twist ending. It almost works. Although the film wallows in a cold, distant regionality that cushions the dated shortcomings (merciless wah-wah pedal wanks, montage padding), it’s still restricted by technical poops. Long, static compositions rule the frame. Robotic actresses deliver awkward monologues. Eerie establishing shots work well with Pat “Doctor Gore” Patterson’s split-second gore effects, but there’s not enough of either. Given the film’s nearly perfect mix of simplicity and sincerity, the lack of cohesion is unfortunate. You can swallow the whole thing, but it’s gonna be bitter.

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