Severed Arm, The | Varied Celluloid

Severed Arm, The

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 28 - 2011
Review contributed by Prof. Aglaophotis


The Severed Arm (1973)
Director: Thomas S. Alderman
Writers: Thomas S. Alderman, Larry Alexander, Kelly Estill, Darrel Presnell and Marc B. Ray
Starring: Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, David G. Cannon and Marvin Kaplan



The Plot: Jeff Ashton just received a rather bizarre gift in the mail: a severed arm! The message immediately reminds him of what happened five years ago, when he and his five middle aged buddies went on a mining vacation in order to dig for some rock samples. Thanks to one of the bumbling fellows though, the trip resulted in disaster as the shaft caved in with the six men inside with little water and hardly any food. After two weeks pass, the men can no longer continue without sustenance and they slowly resort to cannibalism. They sever the right arm of their friend Ted, only for a rescue team to come to their aide seconds after the deed was done. So all five men swore to secrecy, never to let anyone know what they did and claim the amputation was a result of the cave-in… but Ted said he’d never forget it, even after being hospitalized and institutionalized later. Jeff gathers his old pals together to remind them of the secret and how the truth would affect their long progressing careers. As the reunion finishes however, one of Jeff’s pals, Dr. Sanders, gets attacked, resulting in his right arm getting amputated. Jeff and his detective friend Mark now have little time to protect the others while trying to find Ted’s location and stop the traumatized mad man.

The Review
There are many sad things that can happen in a good Horror movie. The Severed Arm might not be original to begin with, as the premise sounds mysteriously familiar, but it has a good twist to it amidst various mediocre aspects. On the technical side, the production was clearly a few thousand dollars short of being passable.

Night shots are barely visible and the direction of the camera isn’t always set straight. The darkness obscures a lot of the action that is key to the scene’s atmosphere, thus the film’s lucidity is based on natural and in-room light, but even then it doesn’t work. There’s an attack scene where a man falls down a stair case, but the scene is so dark and the camera focuses so little on the event, and the victim’s screaming, that it almost looks like the guy tripped over the cameraman.


As a matter of fact, every death scene in the movie is awkwardly shot. Every time someone gets attacked, the camera always focuses on the actor’s face and the murder weapon at awkward angles; maybe this is to induce panic, but it just made the scenes look silly. Perhaps the best death scene in the whole movie is ruined because the scene is too dark. Another surprising death scene in an elevator is also botched by wretched camera angles and quick cuts. Although the lighting and direction is not entirely the attack scene’s fault: the worst of the death scenes has to be the one where a character is attacked, faints and the scene cuts away practically to the next day.

Yet, the movie makes-up for its technical flaws in its writing and some of its acting. The dialogue between Jeff and Mark is competent and direct enough to really hook me into their situation, and both characters are acted pretty well. For awhile I was actually buying the trouble these men had gotten themselves into, how they were going to handle it and the problems they faced along the way. Then of course there was the comic relief character, late night radio DJ, ‘Mad Man’ Herman. Played by comedic Brooklyn actor Marvin Kaplan, every one of Herman’s lines made my eyes roll so often I thought they’d fall out. He’s not painfully unfunny, (I mean I’ve heard worse in Horror movies) and the character is played pretty well, he’s just not funny at all despite the movie playing him up to be funny.

I was surprised to hear the familiar strains of the late Phillan Bishop here, the same musician who gave us the creepy scores to Messiah of Evil and Kiss of the Tarantula. His work here isn’t too bad, but it’s not the best the man has done (that would be either one of the two aforementioned movies). There are some creepy tracks in the beginning of the movie like when the arm gets shipped out, the cave flashback or any scene with Ted stalking our main characters. Unfortunately, the rest of the music sounds like someone playing through the BGM mode of a cruddy Sega Genesis game! It doesn’t get too embarrassing until thirty minutes in: there’s a driving scene that is followed by such an indescribably goofy electronic score that I can’t even begin to say how inappropriate the song is in this movie. It felt like the director didn’t care what kind of music accompanied the filler scenes.


And yet, despite these mixed factors, the twist and finale weren’t half bad at all. Now it might be easy to guess if you’re into Murder Mysteries, but of the films of that genre I’ve seen this twist actually took me by surprise a little. If anything I feel there should’ve been a buzzsaw; no, I won’t elucidate on that, you’ll just have to see the movie yourself to see what I mean.

If there’s anything else I can question about the movie, it’s the scene with the dog. There’s a moment near the end of the movie where Jeff is chasing after Ted up a sandy hillside and a dog runs in front of him completely out of nowhere! It would’ve made more sense if you could see the extra calling their dog off the set as a crew man pulled them off camera. Also, I think someone should’ve told the extras to snap it up a bit; during the flashback, Ted’s family sees their one-armed father/husband getting wheeled into an ambulance and their collective reaction is more dead than the starving spelunkers who amputated him!

The Conclusion
Overall, The Severed Arm isn’t too bad of a Horror movie. It’s impossible to call it a Murder Mystery, because we’re familiar with who the killer is, we just don’t know when he’ll strike. Yet, The Severed Arm feels like a Murder Mystery: intelligent and squeaky clean, perhaps too much so. Regardless, it won’t hurt to watch it.




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