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May 1, 2016

Movie Review: Luther the Geek (1990)

Directed by Carlton J. Albright

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Following a parole hearing that resembles a bar fight, it is determined that Luther Watts (Edward Terry), in spite of his previous convictions of murdering three people by tearing out their throats with his metal dentures is now a proper fit for society. Goggle-eyed, clucking Luther is free for a couple hours in rural Illinois before he thoroughly annoys some people at a supermarket and tears out the throat of a little old lady at a bus stop. Luther then covertly follows housewife Hilary (Joan Roth) to her isolated rural farmhouse and after some cat-and-mouse games, ties her to the bed. Hilary's daughter Beth (Stacy Haiduk) and her loutish boyfriend Rob (Thomas Mills) arrive at the farmhouse, and despite her mother's absence and clear evidence forced entry, engage in some hanky-panky. Luther leaps out and engages the characters in numerous chases. A youthful sheriff's deputy (J. Joseph Clarke) appears on the scene, but he's of little help. Blood sprays here and there before a bleakly comic conclusion.

Getting a strong recommendation from Fangoria editor Tony Timpone, who declared it in the vein of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Luther the Geek became a hot must-see among gore otakus, largely because of its unavailability. Unscrupulous distributors withheld the film's release, and later served hard time (as director Albright declares in the introduction to the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray release). A hot item in Chas. Balun's Deep Red bootleg catalog, Luther the Geek, like the director's previous foray into horror The Children (1980), wound up on Lloyd Kaufman's Troma Studios label. Luther delivers the goods, but like most slasher films of the time suffers from some “logic issues.” Chief among them is the fact that Beth leaves her mother tied to the bed while she hides underneath as Luther leaves the farmhouse for extended periods of time! A character's outright stupidity in films of this type usually lessens the blow dealt prior to their death scenes, but Beth's demise carries unusual poignancy later on. The ending scene is also remarkable for its mixture of black humor and irony, elevating it far above the typical indie horror fare for its era. Seeing this film many years later, I was taken on just how closely it resembles the Austrian art-house horror film Angst (1988).

The restoration offered by Vinegar Syndrome is top-drawer. The colors and image are impeccable, and this reviewer was hard-pressed to find any evidence of print damage anywhere. Anyone familiar with Vinegar Syndrome releases will know that this company breaks up the action with “Reels” in lieu of chapter stops, and there are extras galore for this release.

Under the heading of “New Extras” is a full-length commentary with director Albright. The commentary is full of anecdotes, and Albright mentions how the makeup man  felt the film would succeed or fail on the basis of his prosthetic work! “Foul Play” is a 10-minute conversation with actor Jerry Clarke, who played the trooper in the film. He shows examples of his paintings and recalls the shoot as one where he wrassled through “chicken shit.” There is a six minute chat with the loquacious director, “A Conversation with Carlton.” The film's ultra-rare theatrical release trailer is also offered.

Under the heading of “Old Extras” there is a two-minute plus conversation with the director's son Will Albright and how as a young boy he bonded with actor Terry – referred to as “The Freak” in the end credits - during filming. Director Albright then explicates the circumstances surrounding certain scenes in different segments such as “the Shower Scene,” “The Old Lady Bite Scene,” “The Fight Scene,” and “The Final Scene.” Also included is a trailer for Albright's notorious first horror feature, The Children. One who has seen this feature for its black finger-nailed children who embrace their parents for radioactive hugs can never forget it – it was at one time adapted into a musical comedy for the stage!  

Most telling among this clutch of extras is a five-minute chat with Albright about how he came up with the idea for the film. He was having a roundtable discussion with his children when they started to exclaim “that he or she was a 'geek.'” Familiar with the old carny description as a geek as an end-stage alcoholic conned into biting the head off of chickens for a bottle, Albright's imagination went from there. The geek phenomenon is best described in both the novel and film Nightmare Alley (1954), starring Tyrone Power.

Your author was at onetime described by a morally challenged person as an “ubergeek.” While intended as a term of endearment, I have long railed against the term to describe someone with a particular interest on a given topic who is then inspired to do research. As I have noted previously, those without ANY interests, in my humble estimation, are the REAL geeks.

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