The Cinefessions crew loves sharing their opinions on films, but not every movie can get the attention it deserves with a full review. Enter the Cinefessions’ Capsule Reviews. These capsule reviews cover five of the most important aspects of a film, which allow the crew to deliver their opinions on any movie clearly, decisively, and with brevity. These are not our full thoughts on any film, just a highlighting of the major pros and/or cons.
Story & Script
The Severed Arm is a story of revenge, and a slasher film from before the slasher film era really began. Through a flashback, we learn that five friends caught in an underground cave-in decide that, in order to survive, they must start eating each other. They draw straws – well, pieces of paper – to decide who will lose a body part for the good of the group. The loser begs for a few more hours, but the group goes ahead with it and cuts off his arm. As soon as the arm is off, they hear help on the way. Now, five years later, the group leader gets a package with a severed arm inside, kicking off a revenge killing spree as the killer tracks down the old friends one by one, cutting off their arms as he goes.
The best aspect of the film has to be how unique it is. I love that it was released before the slasher craze began because it’s able to succeed without having a set of rules that the producer’s would force it to follow. That said, the script does get a bit bogged down towards the end of the film. There is one death in particular that could’ve used some major editing to tighten up as most of it just feels like it is there to pad runtime (though I doubt that was actually the point). The dialogue is pretty fun, though.
The acting is pretty standard fare for a mid ’70s horror film. The only character that stands out over the others is Mad Man Herman, played by Marvin Kaplan. Mad Man Herman is a radio DJ that works the night shift, and he has a ton of one-liners. Many of them are moan worthy, but it’s all a part of his charm. Deborah Walley, who plays the daughter of the man who drew the short straw, is also great in her role.
As solid as this film is – and seeing as the slasher film would become a big hit in less than a decade – it is surprising to me that director Thomas S. Alderman went on to do virtually nothing in Hollywood, at least from what I can tell in the short research I’ve done on him. This film is clearly shot on a low budget, and because of that, a lot of the death and gore scenes feel neutered, but that doesn’t really hurt the film. There are some pacing issues that could have been ironed out, but for a first effort at a non-adult film, The Severed Arm is a solid effort.
It may be interesting to see this film done with the cave portion of the story being told in real time instead of as a flashback. It may not have effected too much, but it could have been a stronger choice to get the audience connected right at the start.
This is one of those films that only needs to be seen once to fully appreciate it.
The Severed Arm is one the more unique films I’ve seen in a while, not only because of the origin story of the killer, but also the fact that it was released before the slasher craze of the late ’70s. It isn’t a great film, but one worth seeing. This also feels like a film that is ripe for a remake. If I ever start directing, you bet your ass that this will be a film I look at to remake in the future. I would love to see this done again with a bigger budget and modern special effects. Could be a damn fun film to see.