The Long Island Cannibal Massacre (1980) Review by RevTerry

Currently, CGI is overused and incorrectly utilized in modern filmmaking, as if by policy. There's a long muddled discussion attached to that statement--about mediums, blockbuster formatting, economics, and real-life vampires that gives me a headache, so I'll leave it at that. I can say without reservation, that computer-generated gore specifically, always fucking sucks. Technology has made many things better all around the world and repeatedly converted once revered, delicate crafts into automated processes. This does not yet, however, include cinema splatter, and it may never. There is perceivably no replacement for the corporeal in this department, the authenticity is integral to the finished product, and it has to be felt on some level. It doesn't need to be genuine human meat or anything ghastly like that, but something actually needs have oozed out, been sliced open, and/or ripped apart to really sell it. No super-imposed slime or digital spray has ever left me fulfilled. It just doesn't cut it. There is no “oomph” or natural reaction to it. It's as if the brain always subconsciously rejects computer generated dismemberment and gloop. Don't get me wrong, CGI can help make a traditional effect stronger and more seamless, but if it doesn't start with something real, the finished product is always hollow.  Big Hollywood went really crazy with it for a while. Things looked hopeless before the 80s rehashing trend forced their hand back towards live action carnage. Similarly, the tempting price tag on shitty graphics made some great recent trashy films possible, but with a terrible penance that leaves them dated before the DVD reaches my hands.  It can stain otherwise great films, no matter the budget quality or genre. Even the best modern kill set up can end in disappointment if it climaxes in a spray of pixels. “Real” or practical cinema gore, on the other hand, can add a layer of enticement and satisfaction to the most modest of productions. The right weirdo (me) will return to a movie year after year based on some spirit, an eye for kitchen-based crafting techniques and little else. I love computers, a lot, but I don't think they could ever replicate the slippery soul behind the good old fashioned kind of movie gross, like the quality, home-prepared meat slinging you find in The Long Island Cannibal Massacre (1980).
Somewhere, on what I can only assume is Long Island shoreline, an unnamed woman pulls to the side of a roadway for some biology homework and a cigarette.  Not long after she has relaxed and lit her cigarette, an armed man with a sinister looking bag on his head appears from the tall grass and creeps up behind her. With a roguelike skill, the man overpowers the woman and after some light taps of his pickaxe, ties her arms behind her back. He then leaves the scene and immediately returns with a push mower from out of frame like Bugs Bunny (because the mining implements are reserved for capturing only, I guess) for some juicy human landscaping. The film cuts over to undercover Inspector James Cameron (no relation) who has just abruptly ended a beach-date with some high school style nihilism. While walking (alone) he comes upon a woman's decapitated head sticking up out of the sand, but just as he about to do his cop thing, he is interrupted by a shifty gentleman. The off-putting fellow(Fred Borges), who claims to be the beaches owner, seems eager to re-bury the head and offers Cameron (John Smihula) a friendly bribe to not call the police. Wanting to keep his cover intact, the officer takes the dough. Back at the station, he reports the events to his boss and explains his hunch that the severed head is just one in a string of related murders. The captain is less than helpful, in fact, he reprimands the fervent inspector for leaving his position in the field and significantly downplays the entire situation. Freshly scorned and still full of deep helpless emotions, Cameron quits the force in a rage (or fit) with plans to solve the grisly string of homicides on his own, sans badge. As it turns out the murders are indeed related, unfortunately, what's brewing along the Long Island shore is much more complicated than the average New York area massacre. Gross-out insanity follows, involving more disembowelment, paternal complexities and mutant cannibals that don't mind their human flesh cold, straight from the trash bag.
By the title’s implication (and director’s legacy), one could safely anticipate a gruff platter of ridiculous, plentiful violence, paper-thin characters, and little tact. The Long Island Cannibal Massacre could hardly be considered a letdown in this regard, as most scenes are a hammy garnish for gruesome imagery and bodily harm. As a bonus, the film also manages to squeeze some grimy creativity into the morbid, childish antics and lifted concepts. There is plenty of straight slasher influence, but that is almost equally matched by monster film tropes and seasoned with slimy body horror. Most of the kill setups involve interrupted young lust in line with the era’s mainstream genre flicks. The cliche cop drama and plot twist are open parodies of cornball crime thrillers but also make slight nods towards the horror genre, pre-Halloween. There is a backwoods flavor to the blend as well, despite its supposed location, only instead of bridging into Texas Chainsaw style family values, the awkward interpersonal relationships boil into comedic takes on slimy grindhouse characters and cheesy drive-in sci-fi. The writing is never serious but more coherent than anyone should expect it to be. There is a borderline satirical nature to some of the elements, but like everything else in the film, it falls second to sloppy gags. The film spends a lot of time with the gang of eccentric and extremely varied antagonists and follows along with the rainbow of fucked up thought processes between them. They are juvenile and basic monsters but also relatively complete characters in the vane of an action-cartoon’s recurring crew of bad guys, brought to a twisted reality just north of a snuff film. Towards its middle the movie slows almost to a crawl, padding the run time with long, somewhat meaningless exposition. The dialogue is humorous, but the amateur conversations have a tendency to overstay no matter how over the top. Luckily, it devolves into slapstick butchery before it gets too dire at any point and even throws some possible twists the viewer's way for the trouble (it's not exactly crafty, but I didn't see it coming the first time).  It comes together like a flesh-munching chimera of Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) and the original Ninja Turtles animated series reimagined as an east coast family-weekend vacation tape from the early 80s.
Long Island Cannibal Massacre has been constructed entirely of scrappy ambition, Super 8mm film, and what seems like a deli’s worth of sandwich meat (condiments included). The camera quality fluctuates wildly throughout scenes, with a murky focus that gets distracted if there is too much movement. To its credit, it sticks to mostly well-lit daytime settings to avoid shadows, making its drawn-out displays of postmodern vivisection as clear as possible when it counts. The film's action is accomplished with a haphazard combination of ambitious angles, daredevil performances, and ample amounts of practical gore on the cheap. As the undisputed selling point, the film’s literal guts, seemingly crafted from butcher scraps, are sufficiently disgusting and realistic enough to keep their shocking effect as the camera lingers with close-ups for long periods of time.  Each homemade technique ranges in quality and effectiveness but always succeeds in being disgusting. Lepers apparently resemble Fulci cake zombies covered in fry sauce, and there is a wide variety of fluids to accompany every on the spot autopsy. The film's self-aware humor allows for the inclusion of ridiculous murder weapons, without explaining their proximity in most cases. Looking like the paper mache prototype for Frank Henenlotter’s Elmer in Brain Damage (1988), the design for the (final) final boss is a little of a let-down after it's revealed, not faring as well with the film’s unfiltered, extended shots in the daylight. Despite this, the infamous chainsaw battle that makes up the film's climax is a thing of pure beauty, employing a  fleshy flurry of chunky spray with each attack. According to legend, this came along with some added danger as it was accomplished using a working chainsaw on a moving actor with only some Teflon and deli meat for protection. For the most part, the film is made up of one take-- whatever happens, happens type film-making, which in most cases just adds to the type of enjoyment. There are a few moments sprinkled in with visibly motivated framing that work extremely well, along with one or two functioning scares. Outside of surface noise, the soundtrack is infamously made up of stolen scores from other films which it has repurposed for an awkward comedic effect. Overall, Long Island is no-budget trash that knows how to play to its fucked up strengths and sits at the head of its class.
Without the capital needed to make major motion pictures, Nathan Schiff at age sixteen opted for the next best thing--frugal blood-soaked exploitation films. While still attending high school in 1979, Schiff and his friends completed their first full-length feature Weasels Rip My Flesh (a title only reference to a The Mothers of Invention song) with four hundred dollars worth of household supplies. An ode to 50’s drive in sci-fi cheese stocked with ample bloodshed, Weasel's successful release inspired a quick follow up in the form of The Long Island Cannibal Massacre (1980) which boasted a five hundred dollar increase to the budget (read gore) and proved even more popular than Weasels at the time. Most of the same actors returned, and in both cases, Schiff is listed for all technical roles. He would complete only a handful of full-length films, but the work is credited, in part, for inspiring countless no-budget filmmakers throughout the 80s and 90s.
The Long Island Cannibal Massacre is cheap, shameless, gorehound fan service blessed with a cartoon soul and an infectious can-do attitude. It's also one of my favorite ways to watch grainy low-quality footage of lunch meat being torn apart. Despite being a relatively early entry, Long Island is still a gold standard for the horror of its type and is, honestly, a  better all-around film than it has right to be. Most importantly, its gore still satisfies to this day-- in many ways, just like it did when it was released. It is certainly still gross. CG splatter just doesn't have that kind of lasting power.  If I can continue eating fried chicken following your cinematic disembowelment, does it even count?
1h 35min | 1980
 Director: Nathan Schiff
Writer: Nathan Schiff

Links:
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On Amazon


Review by:
RevTerry

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your reviews. I just wish I could watch all of these movies. Especially this one, it sounds awesome

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