LUTHER THE GEEK
Director: Carlton J. Albright
Year of release: 1989/1990
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 80 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "A movie with a fowl bite".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Many years ago “The Geek” was a key attraction on the carnival circuit. People would pay to see a down and out or desperate vagrant as he was charged with biting the head from a live chicken in exchange for a bottle of alcohol or a hit of drugs. We are introduced to such a geek way back in the late 1930’s where a crowd gathers to witness the demise of a poor chicken. Among the eager onlookers is a small boy named Luther. Such is the excitement running through the crowd that young Luther gets bundled over causing him to knock out his front teeth. With his mouth bleeding Luther still looks on enthralled as the Geek completes his grisly task. Lingering afterward to taste the spilt poultry blood himself it seems as if little Luther has found his calling. We then flash forward many years to where Luther, now a middle aged man has just been paroled after a lengthy stretch in prison. Murder was among his many crimes. Far from being reformed it quickly becomes obvious that Luther is still extremely dangerous as demonstrated by his attack on an elderly woman outside a super market. As crowds gather around the victim and the police arrive Luther hitches a ride with an unsuspecting shopper who unknowingly takes him back to her isolated farmhouse where Luther wastes no time in running amok.
Good points: I really enjoyed the opening of the film which educated us to the old meaning of The Geek in carnival terminology. The cartoon style visuals here coupled with the voiceover were both strong and set the stage extremely well. The whole scene of young Luther watching the spectacle of The Geek from what was back in 1938 I think was also well done from the costumes to the action and it proved to be a fine way to introduce us to the main character. It actually left me wanting to see and learn more about Luther as a kid. The very fact that the whole scene took place way back in the thirties was interesting in itself as we very rarely get taken back in time quite that far in slashers.
The blood and gore effects are good at times and despite this being a film with a fairly low body count and something that contains one questionable death it also delivers some graphic memorable ones. Specifically those in which Luther bites his victims to death stand out. Biting them on the neck is certainly a unique method of dispatching a victim, something which is made all the more unpleasant and effective by the sharpened set of false metal teeth that Luther wears for these situations. Seeing Luther literally tear out someone’s throat turns out to be quite visceral and uncomfortable to watch and made me cringe (in a good way) more than most deaths do in such films. There are also some solid gore effects on the couple of occasions that chickens meet their end.
Edward Terry does a superb job of portraying the madman Luther and even though he isn’t a big imposing guy by any means he brings an unsettling quality to the role while retaining an air of menace. Normally I don’t like it when a killer doesn’t have any type of costume or mask but this is the exception to my rule in that at first glance he looks like kind of a normal guy though despite this he actually works really well as a slasher boogeyman. The filed to sharp points set of false teeth go some way to setting Luther apart as a great villain as well as the acting in general by Terry. My favourite thing about the character however was how vocal he was in making almost constant chicken noises along with his chicken like strut/victory dance. It sounds comical and silly on paper but the persistent clucking is actually disconcerting and effective in practice in the film.
Bad Points: There is a bit of a plot hole near the beginning when the parole board, after admittedly some deliberation eventually decide to parole Luther. Seeing that he appears to be a complete nut case from what we see of him and indeed someone who doesn’t even seem capable of speaking English it’s hard to see how they could possibly deem him safe to release. He doesn’t come across either as someone who would have the intelligence to put on an act to fool anyone while in prison.
Once things get to the farmhouse the film does feel a bit sparse and bare bones with not a whole lot going on either in terms of story depth or dialogue. With only Hilary, her daughter Beth, Beth’s boyfriend Rob and later the policeman it seemed to me that there just weren’t enough characters. I think a couple of extra characters here would have helped not only with the body count but also to inject a bit more in the way of drama and dialogue. Beth mentioned a farm worker on a couple of occasions who would ordinarily help out her mother so maybe they should have actually put him in the film if only briefly. Alternatively maybe we could have seen a bit more of the police as they look to track Luther down.
There were a few parts of the film which I thought were a bit weird. Big spoilers ahead for these upcoming points: To start off with I didn’t understand why Luther left Rob alone after first attacking him near the fallen Motorcycle. Presumably he just stole Rob’s boots at this point and then returned to the house but seeing that he later went back to try and finish off Rob why didn’t he just kill him (or try to) in the first instance seeing that he already had him incapacitated? Secondly and more notably Beth’s death is quite strange in that it doesn’t seem as if he does enough to her to kill her. He roughs her up a bit sure but not to the point where I was expecting her to die from her injuries. I was really surprised when she was declared dead and as she was one of the key characters not to mention probably the most likeable I felt she deserved a more memorable demise. Lastly in the barn it seemed like the place was a labyrinth of sorts which seemed unrealistic and it was weird how Hilary just flopped down and sat on the floor after the cop’s death and remained there all the way through until morning. And Luther sure took a long time to find her!”
Verdict: Coming about very late in the day in the timeframe of 1989/1990 when interest in slashers was low Luther the Geek had trouble with securing a release and distribution and as such perhaps unfairly faded into obscurity. Although it’s no classic by any means I’d say Luther is well worth seeking out, chiefly to see The Geek himself in action. He makes for a very interesting and different type of villain but an effective and convincing one and Edward Terry’s portrayal is strong enough to hold the film together despite some other flaws. Mainly it could have done with a bit more effort put into the plot and characters once things reach the farmhouse but what we do have as a finished product is still well worth a gander. I wasn’t sure whether to give this a 6 or a 7. Settled on a 7 in the end though maybe it would be more of a 6.5.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Old lady: Bitten on the neck outside supermarket after she damages an egg.
2)Hunter: Neck bitten in a similar fashion to the old lady.
3)Rob: Killed off camera but we see his chest all mangled as if repeatedly bitten with his heart exposed.
4)Beth: Got roughed up and thrown around, knees to the stomach etc which seemed to be enough to kill her. Revived momentarily to recognise and hug her mother before spitting up blood and dying.
5)Policeman: Has finger bitten off after a brawl with Luther and then his throat is torn out.
6)Luther: Shot through the chest with a shotgun type weapon by Hilary.