A candidate for Greatest Film Title of the 70's, this early effort by Alan Rudolph (his 2nd film in fact) is propelled along by the sheer strangeness of the story, and plenty of sleaze, despite never quite delivering on the flesh and blood of its outrageous title. Rudolph's direction is far slicker than a lot of low-rent exploitation of this era, and the film has a visual spark when Rudolph takes his camera outside to the desert flatlands where most of the action takes place. Shot around Lancaster, California, the desert scapes are suitably grim - in fact the bizarre events of the film are seemingly caused by the military experiments resulting in a poisoned wilderness1, and the horribly disfigured mutant locked up in the outhouse. The film has little of the quirky stylings of Rudolph's later films, but there is one brilliant sequence late in the film where the action assumes a strange, hallucinatory quality quite at odds with the rest of the film which is more Tourist Trap and Schoolgirls In Chains than Trouble In Mind...
|Andrew Prine, proprietor of the barn of the naked dead and all-purpose psychopath|
As with the direction, performances are much better than the usual kind of drive-in fare, Andrew Prine2 especially good as the psychotic circus master. Behind his striking handsome looks, Prine's character is sinister and clearly unhinged. Barn of the Naked Dead was released in August 1974, two months before the release of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the timing was perhaps fortunate. Alongside Tobe Hooper's great masterwork, Rudolph's film looks rather quaint. Still, looking at the film today, it has a disquieting, dark undercurrent, considering some recent high profile media stories about young women disappearing only to be found after years of captivity and mistreatment.
|Something wicked this way comes...|
Barn of the Naked Dead was released on DVD (coded for R1) in 2009 in a joint venture by Shriek Show and Code Red under the more sedate title of Terror Circus. An earlier DVD of the film was released some time back, but this disc is the one to get - featuring a fine, sharp, colourful image using a mostly pristine print. Audio is strong too, showcasing the weird avant-jazz score (listen to those rasping trumpets!) and the disc comes with some very interesting extras - an audio commentary from the film's FX artists, a 24-minute retrospective entitled, “Barn Again: Returning to the Terror Circus” (which doesn't include Rudolph among the participants), the trailer and the alternative title sequence under the Barn of the Naked Dead moniker. If you're a fan of 70's independent Horror, the film is well worth investigating...
1. Wes Craven would re-use the radioactive desert location motif a few years later with his 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes, which has strange mutants picking off travellers that have strayed too far off the path.
2. Andrew Prine is perhaps best recognized as one of the unfriendly "Visitors" in the original series of V, but his filmography has quite a few interesting, and noteworthy films including Simon King of the Witches, The Centrefold Girls, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Grizzly and Amityville II: The Possession