This third and final movie by Fangoria magazine’s film shingle, produced in conjunction with Columbia Pictures, who wanted to get into the home video horror market, wants to be to the ‘90s what Basket Case and Re-Animator (in particular) were to video renters in the ‘80s. And while Severed Ties doesn’t measure up (does any movie co-starring SNL third banana Garrett Morris, ever do?) to the unhinged, off-the-wall dark humor of either, it will slide in nicely into your retro-horror collection shelf alongside both, along with your copies of the Bill Paxton-starring Brain Dead (1989) and the granddaddy of black humor horror, Return of the Living Dead. And will you flashback to David Cronenberg’s mind-of-its-own asassinating arm in Videodrome? Yes, and it’s a welcomed reminder.
My advice: double feature Severed Ties with Edward Hunt’s The Brain (1988; which is equally off-the-wall, but played straight) and you’ll have yourself one hell of a popcorn-noshing night starring brains and lizard arms swingin’ their tails.
Harrison Harrison (‘80s TV actor Billy Morrissette from Family Ties, Growing Pains, and Blossom) is a young scientist carrying on his dead father’s work in tissue and limb regeneration utilizing reptilian DNA—much to the chagrin of his overbearing and domineering mother, Helena (Elke Sommer; a long ways away from Baron Blood and Lisa and the Devil).
During the course of good ‘ol mom and her ex-Nazi doctor-lover, Dr. Hans Vaughn (Oliver Reed, a long ways away from Burnt Offerings), stealing the formula to sell as their own, the ensuing argument that erupts between the trio ends in tragedy when the lab’s automated door closes and severs Harrison’s arm. So he injects himself with the regeneration serum (in Re-Animator day-glo green, natch) to grow a new arm. And one does sprout—only with reptilian scales. Then it transforms into a lizard-snake monster that can detach from his body, crawl off, and kill. (The arm detachment and reattachments scenes—with, I kid you not, Harrison’s “shoulder vagina” and his phallic arm—are a piss-and-a-half and only darkens the already dark comedic bend of the film.)
Now every on-the-run anti-hero needs a sidekick, so Harrison meets up with Stripes, a homeless war vet (Garrett Morris) who lives with a sewer-based religious cult led by wildman wrestler, actor and musician Johnny Legend, doing what he does best as a crazed, maniacal preacher (Sam? How is it that you never reviewed My Breakfast with Blassie?). Harrison’s lizard arm, of course, dispatches Legend—and Harry takes over as leader of the cult and sets forth to create a lizard-spawn army. Oh, and our anti-hero needs a damsel-in-distress love interest, so he meets Eve, a homeless mute girl (Denise Wallace, who vanished from the business and never acted in another project) that’s kidnapped by the evil corporation that wants the regeneration formula.
And wow . . . just wow. You gotta watch out for that out-of-left field, incestuous twist ending right out David Cronenberg’s The Fly.
Elke and Oliver, being the pros that they always are, know the material is pure camp, so they just go for broke, chewin’ the scenery with relish and aplomb—with Reed stealing the show with his deadpan comedic performance. (Reed is regarded as Britain’s “purest actor”; unlike most stodgy British actors, Reed never studied Shakespeare or acted on the stage. For a brief time in the early ‘70s, he was the #1 box office actor in the world—and had the balls and clout to turn down the role of Quint in 1975’s Jaws. That’s bad ass . . . and a bag o’ chips.)
The most interesting of aspect of Severed Ties—as with Jay Roach getting his start with Zoo Radio—is that it also marks the beginning of a long and successful screenwriting career. Before you can get to write the big, major studio pictures The Net (1995; starring Sandra Bullock), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Cat Woman (2004), and Terminator Salvation (2009), you have to make your bones writing for Fangoria magazine’s bid to create a film shingle over the door. So John Brancato scribed two of their films: Severed Ties and Mindwarp (1992; starring Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm). (Fangoria’s other film was 1991’s Children of the Night starring Karen Black).
(Enjoy this trailer for Fangoria Films/Columbia Pictures Corporation co-productions of Severed Tied and Children of the Night from the 1992 VHS release of Mindwarp (1992). Upload courtesy of the Goremet.)
Severed Ties is another one of those obscurities that never plays on TV (come on Comet and Antenna TV, do us a solid) and is not available on DVD. So if you want it for your collection, you’ll have to purchase one of the many VHS copies available on eBay and Amazon. And watch out for those grey market DVD rips. You can watch a pretty clean VHS rip on You Tube.
Do you need more WTF? movies of the Severed Ties variety? Then check out our December 2018 “Ten WTF Movies” with links to full reviews.