CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: Naked Massacre (1976)

Thanks to Jennifer Upton for contributing this review. An American living in London, she is a freelance writer for international publishers Story Terrace and others. In addition, she has a blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi called Womanycom.

Originally (and more appropriately) titled Born For Hell, Naked Massacre is an overlooked diamond in the rough. Released the same year as Taxi Driver (1976) it explores similar themes in its exploration of the life a traumatized Vietnam Vet driven to violence. The plot revolves around an American named Cain played by German actor Matthieu Carrière who has just left one war and – likely suffering from PTSD – lands smack in the middle of another on his way home. An international co-production between Ireland, Canada, Italy and Germany; production took place in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict happening at that time.

French-Canadian Director Denis Heroux makes the most of the war-torn location. Shot like a documentary, the roving camera explores the cold, dreary backdrop of boarded up shops and empty streets. The film features real soldiers and actual bomb sites. Given the amount of actual violence happening at that time in history, it is amazing that a film crew was granted permission to shoot there at all let alone stage a fake explosion in a church.

It is heavily implied through close-ups of anti-violence posters, street tags painted in blood red praising the IRA and reports blaring away on the Television of reports of terrorism in the Middle East that Cain’s constant exposure to humanity’s cruelties are the impetus for his crimes. No matter where he travels next it will be the same story. He is a lost man both literally and figuratively. He is stranded, unable to find transport home. He has little money, is not allowed to work and is therefore forced to stay in a homeless shelter. He is traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam and no longer able to perform sexually as evidenced by an awkward encounter with a prostitute. With no recourse to help for his deteriorating mental condition, he eventually gives in to his impulses culminating in the murder of eight student nurses living together in a shared house. It is here where the film draws much inspiration from the 1966 Richard Speck case. Similarly, none of the women make the slightest attempt to fight back against their aggressor, despite their advantage in number. As was also true in the real case, each nurse is systematically isolated from the group, tortured and killed and only one girl survives by hiding under a bed who alert the police to Cain’s identifying “Born To Hell” tattoo on his left arm.

In the conclusion, Cain is caught while receiving medical treatment for attempting suicide in a dirty public toilet. The film ends with a slide show of the faces of the murdered girls in stark black and white.

Although the last act is similar in tone to the similar Last House On the Left (1972) and its imitators Night Train Murders (1975) and House On The Edge Of The Park (1980), Naked Massacre is not as gory or explicit in its sexual violence. The most blood we see is when Cain tries to open up his own vein rather than that of a victim. Comparatively, Massacre’s subtext is deeper than those titles made so partially by its international cast. Each victim is from a different country. They are all played by actresses from a different place and dubbed with the correct corresponding accent. Their abuser Cain is an American abroad, who terrorizes and slaughters them one by one.

Whether the director was attempting to deliberately portray America as the worst of all invading criminals in a world of violent offenders remains almost irrelevant in the face of the feeling left with the viewer. Each murder is incredibly intimate and yet impersonal all at once. It is perhaps not as powerful as the other films mentioned in this review but it is nonetheless worthy of a look, particularly for fans of this sub-genre.

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