Saturday, 20 November 2010

Barn of the Naked Dead

Laaaadies and Gentlemen ! Children of all ages ! The Greatest show on earth is about to begin - we have 3 beautiful showgirls chained up like animals in a circus for the perverse desires of a psychopath in top hat and tails, wielding a whip and nursing a Mommy-fixation. Watch them dismally try to escape only to be captured and face the biting sting of the lash ! Gasp in horror at the severed head in the birdcage ! Shriek in terror at the strange freak of nature locked up in the outhouse ! All these heart-stopping thrills n' spills await you at the Barn of the Naked Dead !

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...

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


  1. Thanks for the cool review Alex, of a rather bizarre sounding little flick that, not did I miss, but that I've never heard of. I think I'll check it out.

  2. This was on VHS in a video store I worked at in the early 90's - and was on my list to watch - but my employment there ended long before I'd seen all the movies I wanted to see.

    I'm a big Andrew Prine fan - first noticed him in Empire Pictures' Eliminators, then started seeing him in lots of 70's movies, including most of the ones you listed. He also menaced Cathie Lee Crosby's Wonder Woman in that earlier pilot that failed before Lynda Carter proved herself genetically engineered to play the role. He still turns up now and again - he's worked for Fred Olen Ray this century, and did have a nice high profile guest turn on CSI: Las Vegas as George Eads's character's father - in the episode(s) directed by Quentin Tarantino!

  3. Thanks for that bit of info Craig, good stuff to know... I watched Andrew Prine just last week in the 1974 horror The Centerfold Girls and he's terrific in that as the glamous girl killer...