Saturday, December 19, 2009

Barn of the Naked Dead (1973)

Simone, Loretta, and Sherri are three cute dancers on their way to Las Vegas to meet their agent. Of course, they have to drive through the desert and break down along the way in the middle of freakin' nowhere. After a night spent in their car, Andre comes to the rescue and takes them in his beat up old jeep to his nearby farm. Left to explore while Andre goes to get something within the house, the girls discover a caged cougar and an outbuilding where at least ten young girls are chained to posts in the floor. Before they can even react, Andre adds these three new lovelies to his menagerie and later becomes convinced that Simone is the reincarnation of his dead mother.

That's about all there is to the threadbare plot which grinds to a halt after Simone and company are captured by Andre. Occasionally, the captives are forced into mock circus acts as Andre bull whips them, but the whole circus thing kinda seems forced. It's like, oh here are some cages at the location we found for our movie - let's tie in a circus theme of sorts! I would have like to have seen it used more to Andre's advantage, it could he's a total psycho and thinks women are animals and the actor (Andrew Prine) plays the part with such chilling aplomb it made it almost difficult for this girl to sit through. He's got some amazing lines like, 'I'm your trainer - you obey me and you'll be part of the greatest animal menagerie of history - disobey me and you will SUFFER!' and 'Breeding is important - some of them seem untrainable - it will be my DUTY as ringmaster to train them!'

However, Andre ain't all that in that he never carries a gun, but can apparently overpower three fit young ladies without so much as a struggle. Director Alan Ruldolph (yes, the same Alan Rudolph who directed CHOOSE ME and TROUBLE IN MIND) seems almost embarrassed by scenes like this, and quickly cuts away before the viewer has time to think about what just happened. But this viewer, who has ample time to think about all kinds of stuff, couldn't help being offended by the outright stupidity of the women in this movie.

Certainly, the minimal brutality we are actually treated to in the film isn't enough to break these women's wills so easily. I cannot be forced to buy that these women at some point or another (some having been held captive by Andre for as long as six months) had tried some form of escape. As a weird film aficionado, I guess you could say I'm used to (for lack of a better term) women being depicted as weak, but being depicted as stupid is another thing entirely.

For instance, when Andre becomes convinced that Simone is his dead mother, he unshackles her and then whips the living daylights out of Sherri. Simone idly watches - couldn't she use her new found maternal authority to thwart Andre's attempts to harm her friend? She does have the smarts to play along; however, instead of trying to convince Andre to let the girls go, she more just pumps him for information to carry the plot and action along.

Another instance of women's lack of intellect here is when one girl who has become useless to Andre for whatever reason is 'set free.' Before letting her go, Andre makes her don a yellow smock which he smears with cow's blood. He gives her a running start and then releases the wild cougar he keeps in a cage for this express purpose to hunt her down. How can she be so naive? The cougar is right there! She could just take the blood-soaked shirt off! But no, she runs out into the desert and of course, gets killed.

Oh, and there's some HILLS HAVE EYES-ish back story (even though this film was made in 1973 and HHE was made in 1977, but you get it) involving some nuclear testing in the area. Andre's dad has been deformed and mutilated by atomic radiation and stalks the farm, occasionally getting his burned hands on a fleeing victim or two. But this whole things seems stilted and arbitrary (a jab at the Man? At the Establishment, maybe?) and meaninglessly tacked on to the end of the film as some sort of plot device (?).

The film was in part modeled after the case of Robert Hansen of Anchorage, Alaska. Between 1977 and 1981, Hansen tortured and sexually abused seventeen women. What was most chilling about his crimes was that he would release the women naked into the countryside, give them a head start, and then track them down with a high-powered hunting rifle. He was eventually caught and received life imprisonment.

It's all grisly enough and weird, but not in a wonderful way like a movie called BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD should be. Prine as Andre is the true star here, chewing scenery all over the place and generally being as menacing as possible. He's a charismatic psycho and charming, if not completely off his rocker. Andre and his creepy dialogue are the one thing keeps this from settling right into an utter waste. The film can be found under the alternate title TERROR CIRCUS.


  1. Jenn: Merry Christmas! -- Mykal

  2. Hi Mykal -back atcha. Good to hear from you!

  3. Is the film played straight, or is it taken as a black comedy? There are definitely interesting points in the whole chaining people up in a barn in some psycho circus, but I cant see it being anything but a Horror Comedy

  4. Oh, it's played straight alright, there no comedy whatsoever here. In fact, most of it is downright offensive, at least as a WOMAN, being as how these girls don't seem to have a brain in their heads. I do like the whole idea IN THEORY, I suppose, of a crazy forced circus, but with some uninspired direction, this misses its mark.

    However, it's a must watch for the sheer craziness of Prine's Andre who really rescues this from the complete doldrums.

  5. I'd never even heard o' this before, but by the title I assumed it would be something released by Something Weird Video, although I see from your pic that's not the case. I'm also largely unfamiliar with the work of Andrew Prine. Thanks for shedding some light on this one, Jenn!

  6. Thanks for reviewing this one, Jenn. Ever since I discovered there was a film called Barn of the Naked Dead I've been quite, erm, keen to see it! Naturally. Slightly disappointed to hear it is not as weird and wonderful as a film called Barn of the Naked Dead should be though.

  7. @Astro. It does have a certain SWV ring to it, doesn't it? Johnny Legend has his fingers in their pie though, so I'm sure they probably have some of the rights somewhere. I'd love to go roll around through their warehouse, wouldn't you?

    @James. Yeah, I'd say skip it. For something with the word 'naked' in the title, there's not really any nakedness to write home about. You might see a side boob or two when the girls are forced to wash each other, but it's not as good as it sounds.

  8. Nice review, Jenn. Code Red announced their official dvd bearing the original title, TERROR CIRCUS a couple years ago, but then Johnny Legend released his bootleg of it before Code Red's could hit the streets and it was put on hold. I just happened to look and it seems the legit one did finally come out after all. The cover has this same artwork, but with its original title.

    I rented it years back in one of those nifty big and colorful VHS boxes (I loved those). I didn't think the movie was all that great, but supposedly, the gore was cut from the VHS.

    Andrew Prine rocks, btw. He's been in his fair share of horror/exploitation flicks.

  9. Thanks, venoms, I like the title TERROR CIRCUS almost as much as I like BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD, but for different reasons. Either title conjures up completely different images, all of which aren't present in the film. Still good times though.

    And I love the big boxes too. MICROWAVE MASSACRE on Midnight Video is probably my all time favorite 'big box.'

  10. I used to own that big box of MICROWAVE MASSACRE. Sadly, I carelessly assumed EVERYTHING was gonna come out on DVD and I ended up selling almost all of my VHS tapes including around 50 of those big box tapes.

    I think my fave was the one I had for Thriller Video's release of MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. That one totally screams out, "Rent me!" That particular tape holds a lot of sentimental value to me as it was the movie that got me in hot water with my grandparents, lol.

  11. Ahhh! That's like my second favorite big box! I bought it for three bucks from these guys at this old video store a few months ago! I was itching to tell them how much they could probably get for it on ebay, but I somehow refrained and got a great deal! Yay for me!

    That sucks about your VHS collection - maybe one day I'll regret selling all my vinyl albums :)

  12. Well I needed the space since I was starting to get interested in DVD's. I think they had been out for a couple years at the time.

    I just regret getting rid of the tapes that haven't yet surfaced on disc. Having just recently bought a house, my DVD collection, posters, lobbies and magazines take up enough space, so the tapes would've had to go at some point, lol.

  13. Thanks for the heads up. I would be mad as hell if I bought this and there were no Zombies in it! And no real nudity either bah I would have smashed the place up and gone on a berzerk killing spree!!! It's on amazon as TERROR CIRCUS but I wont be buying it!