A great drive-in movie has to have a premise that makes you feel disgusted and intrigued. Such a premise will get you to crank up the car and head down to the big screen under the stars. You want to see if it is truly as disgusting or shocking as your buddy swears. Are you going to puke up your corndog? Are you going to hide below the dash when the gross moment comes? Are you going to brag about barely making it through on Monday morning? The Severed Arm was a drive-in hit back in 1973 and is as creepy of a premise now as it was 47 years ago.
A group of guys go into the hills for a day of cave exploring. Except things go wrong pretty quick when the shaft their investigating collapses and traps them deep within the Earth. They were too stupid to have one person hanging outside in case they don’t return so somebody could alert help. For two weeks the men bare stuck without any hope. The group is starving to death. They decided to take drastic action since the only food source is themselves. But instead of going full Donner Party, the decide they’ll only eat one person’s arm at a time. This seems the right way to survive since they can each have a bite and nobody gets completely eaten. It seems like a perfect solution unless you’re the guy who drew the wrong slip of paper and gets to be potluck meal. He swears they’ll be rescued any minute, but the other guys are getting hungry so they pull out the knife and a belt and cut off his arm like it’s an Arby’s roast beef under the heat lamp. As soon as his screaming stops, they hear the sounds of their rescuers digging those final feet to get to them. So they come up with a story to cover their near cannibalism. Five years after the rescue, one of the group gets a long package in the mail. It’s a human arm. Revenge seems to be coming to the guys who still have both arms. Someone is chopping off their arms with a hatchet and their one arm friend can’t be found.
The Severed Arm remains a movie that has a great premise in the “That’s disgusting” genre. You can imagine a couple hitting the road after checking it out at the Starlite Drive In and asking each other, “Would you just eat my arm or would you want my leg?” The movie makes sure that the killer doesn’t have to worry about the police since none of the near-cannibal cave explorers can fully admit to why someone would be chopping off their arms. They’re alone in their amateur sleuthing.
The film has a notable cast with both Paul Carr and John Crawford appearing in original Star Trek episodes. Vince Martorano was part of the fantastic The Candy Snatchers. Marvin Kaplan had a long career including being the voice of Choo-Choo in Top Cat and a regular diner on Alice. Deborah Walley was part of the Beach Party gang having appeared in Beach Blanket Bingo, Ski Party and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini before partying with Elvis Presley in Spinout. The film is most noted for giving the first on screen role to Angus Scrimm, the Tall Man from the Phantasm film series. Phillan Bishop’s electronic synth score strikes the right creepy tones as the hacking starts.
This is the uncut version of The Severed Arm. You’ll get to see all the limb removing action. Although it’s not as nasty as today’s special effects, it’s the sentiment that makes it more gross. You might not completely eat a friend, but would you nibble on their fingers if they were still alive afterward? The Severed Arm is one of those movies that made going to the drive-in theater legendary.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. Besides being uncut, the 4K transfer was struck off the original 35mm camera negative. It looks as sharp as the hatchet’s blade. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono. You’ll hear the screams from the cave as they decide it’s time for their lunch break.
A Cut Above the Rest (9:04) interviews producer Gary Adelman. He talks about how director Thomas S. Alderman was working at an ad company that invested in the film.
Severing the Past (7:59) catches up with actor Vince Martorano. He landed the role after making The Candy Snatchers for producer Gary Adelman. He says they shot The Severed Arm in two weeks.
Vinegar Syndrome presents The Severed Arm. Directed by: Thomas S. Alderman. Screenplay by: Thomas S. Alderman & Darrel Presnell. Starring: Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, David G. Cannon, Marvin Kaplan, John Crawford & Vince Martorano. Rated: R. Running Time: 89 minutes. Released: May 22, 2020.
Tags: Beach Blanket Bingo, Star Trek, Top Cat, Vinegar Syndrome