‘There’s a psycho loose with an axe!’
The Severed Arm is a 1972 American horror film directed by Thomas S. Alderman from a screenplay co-written with Darrel Presnell. It was based on a story by Marc B. Ray (interviewed in Nightmare USA – see below) and Larry Alexander (Scream Bloody Murder).
Composer Phillan Bishop contributed an early example of a movie ‘electronic’ synthesizer score that is as jarring as the bizarre plot. Bishop’s other horror soundtracks were Messiah of Evil (1972) and Kiss of the Tarantula (1976).
Deborah Walley, Paul Carr (Sisters of Death; Circle of Fear TV series; The Bat People), David G. Cannon, Marvin Kaplan (Kolchak: The Night Stalker; Monsters TV series; They Came from Outer Space), John Crawford (I Saw What You Did; The Boogens), Vince Martorano, Ray Dannis (The Undertaker and His Pals; The Corpse Grinders).
A group of cave explorers are trapped by a cave-in. In order to avoid starvation, the group cuts off the arm of one of their fellow cavers. However, moments after doing so, the entire group is rescued.
Several years later, members of the group are being killed by having their arm hacked off in the same way as their original victim. All suspect the original victim (who has disappeared) and contact the victim’s daughter who offers to help find her father and stop the killings…
“The last five minutes of The Severed Arm are little short of brilliant. The problem is the other 86. Until that sudden and meteoric upturn at the end, the movie is minimally competent, but no more than that.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“The Severed Arm piles on the atmosphere by taking place mostly at night, with lots of shadowy lighting and isolated characters suffering from paranoia; furthermore, the eerie synthesizer score seethes almost nonstop for the entire running time, creating a constant sense of doom and unease similar to Messiah of Evil. The exposition scenes are indisputably a bit monotonous and pokey at times, but the suspense set pieces are actually quite effective…” Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital
“…the film turns from horror into a more straightforward murder-thriller. Alderman allows the pace to slacken and there are just too many talky scenes; although some of them work dramatically, the film lacks urgency. Perhaps with a more daring shooting style The Severed Arm might have been a shoo-in for cult reappraisal, but it’s hampered by plodding camerawork and functional TV-style editing …
At least Phillan Bishop’s electronic score is fun, an analog synth freak’s delight that sounds like early Tangerine Dream gatecrashing a Pertwee-era Doctor Who story, thus keeping the mood, if not the pace, afloat.” Stephen Thrower, Nightmare USA
“This film is as scuzzy as can be imagined, with ultra-low rent lighting, tacky film stock and sub par performances. Also, director Thomas Alderman overuses his electronic score to–and beyond–the point of annoyance. Nevertheless, in the manner of many early seventies productions, the film’s low budget frequently works in its favor, giving it an appropriately hard-edged, unvarnished feel.” Adam Groves, Fright.com
“Sadly, after the first intriguing 30 minutes, the film degenerates into drabness. The murder sequences are poorly lit and edited. None of the characters are developed. The electronic music is primitive and cheesy. Everything moves slowly. At one one point a character remarks: “I just wish something would happen soon.” You’ll know how he feels.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
The film was released theatrically in the United States by Media Cinema Group in 1973.
The Severed Arm has been released on VHS and DVD by various companies, the legality of which pertaining to official licensing rights is in question. In addition, most current releases feature the edited TV version of the film. The only fully uncut version was released on VHS by Video Gems in 1981
Mad Man Herman: “You’ve seen one cave, you’ve seen ’em all.”
Ruth: “Even under heavy sedation, he wakes up screaming. It’s horrible!”