A film review by Rex Hurst
One snow-clad evening some friends and I stumbled across The Love Butcher at our local video shop. This was back during the golden age of video stores (perhaps the shortest golden age in history) where it was easy for a mom-and-pop store to make money renting films before the corporate video stores (Blockbuster and Hollywood Video) drove them all out of business.
The place we frequented was a joint called Video Factory which specialized in all of the gory low budget flicks that other chains refused to carry. You could tell this type of film simply from the packaging. For some reason, the best bad films always came in an oversized box, usually blue with black and red text splattered on it. The Love Butcher was one such film.
At first, it was just one of several films we had plucked out that night, squashed between The House of Psychotic Women and The Blood Beast Terror, but it quickly rose above them for verve and guts. And, unlike the other two, it didn’t depend upon cheap monster props and insane plot twists (there is a plot twist in it, but it actually makes sense). There is no mystery either. You see the killer ten minutes in and find out exactly what kind of weirdo he is.
This is a bad film, low budget and with horrible acting and contorted dialogue- for example, in one scene the killer screams, “Your feminine pulchritude is detestable!” right before sticking in the knife. But, like The Room and Troll 2, The Love Butcher represents the best qualities of a bad film. Mainly that the people involved were trying their best to make a good film, but failed spectacularly. There is no intentional campiness here, it is all completely by accident.
The plot is thus: Caleb, an older bald gardener with a “gimp” hand and coke-bottle glasses, works in an area where multiple women have been raped and murdered, but not always in that order. At night, Caleb puts on a toupee and traipses around as his own brother Lester, who doesn’t need glasses and has a much larger vocabulary. Russell is a reporter trying to get to the bottom of these murders. While Russell fights with his girlfriend and searches for clues, Lester (The self-proclaimed “Great male Adonis of the universe”.) infiltrates the houses of women in Caleb gardens for using a series of disguises and unconvincing accents.
These do lead to one amazing scene where Lester, after he drowns a woman with a garden hose, stares in the mirror and begins recreating the scene in his mind- we see the action reconstructed to show Lester as more dominant. The perspective of Lester shifts as well. In one he is seen as the smiling Adonis, and the other as the deranged maniac. It is superbly done and of a type I’ve not seen recreated elsewhere.
Meanwhile Russell and the police cannot find a connection between the victims despite:
- All of the women being killed in the same area.
- All of them having the same gardener.
- All of the women being killed with gardening tools.
Russell’s girlfriend Flo, who also employs Caleb, makes the mistake of being nice to him and offering him lunch. In Caleb’s diseased mind this is practically a marriage proposal, which drives Lester wild. This leads to a confrontation between Lester and Russell and a rather different twist ending- which was very satisfying.
The Love Butcher was made in 1978 just when the supernatural slasher pics were being stamped in stone, thanks to Halloween. So while it conforms to most of the conventions of the genre, it also plays off of them very successfully.
As is typical of a lot of these B-movies, most of the stars of The Love Butcher never appeared in another film. The exceptions being Erik Stern, who played Caleb/Lester, while never again being a star in a film, became a character actor in the 80s appearing in episodes of Night Rider, Riptide, The Love Boat, The Fall Guy, Hunter, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Matlock, Murder She Wrote, with bit parts in Assassination (staring Charles Bronson) and Wargames (staring Mathew Broderick and Dabney Coleman). After the 80s his TV and film career petered out and he became an acting instructor, dying in 2012 at the age of 74.
Second is Richard Kennedy who plays the police detective Don Stark, and is perhaps the only competent actor in the film, was also in episodes of a number of TV show, most notably, Happy Days, Beretta, and Little House on the Prairie, and handful of bad films- such as the Nazi general who is urinated on by Diane Thorne in Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS, Henry Kissinger in Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, and a hillbilly in Invasion of the Blood Farmers. His career continued on into the 80s where he died in 1985 at the age of 78.
The Love Butcher is a satisfying romp of cinematic effluence. It is truly a film I have seen over 50 times, can recite it line by line, and in every viewing I notice something new. It is the definition of “so bad it’s good”. Like most bad films its best viewed with a few friends and a some alcohol, the communal atmosphere somehow adds to the event. Follow those guidelines and I guarantee you that it won’t disappoint. It is truly the Citizen Kane of crap.
Watch the trailer below. Enjoy!
Born into the blue-collar city of Buffalo, NY, Rex Hurst was traumatized as a small child by the suffocating rabbits scene in the animated adaptation of Watership Down. Ever since, his mind twists towards the macabre, until his inevitable blossoming as a horror and sci-fi writer. When not writing he is an assistant professor of composition, public speaking, and literature.
Rex Hurst is the author of the horror novels The Foot Doctor Letters: A Serial Killer Speaks Out; What Hell May Come & the sci-fi novel Across the Wounded Galaxy as well as several novellas. He is also co-host of the weekly radio show Write On SC. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, www.rexhurst.com, and What I’ve Been Reading blog- https://rexhurst.blogspot.com/