Nathan Schiff Round-Up : “Long Island Cannibal Massacre”

Posted: April 9, 2012 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The unfortunate few still dim-witted enough to romanticize the Reagan era talk about 1980 as the year everything changed — and they’re right, though it wasn’t in any positive sense. “Morning in America” had arrived, no doubt — if you were rich and not afflicted with too strong a conscience. For the rest of us, though, the process of essentially farming the middle, working, and lower economic classes that continues unabated to this day really began in full swing with the election of “Uncle Ron,” and while terms such as “yuppies” and “leveraged buyouts” were still a good few years from entering into the popular lexicon, Long Island Super-8 auteur Nathan Schiff was one of the first to see the ugly new writing on the wall  and his sophomore back-yard horror effort, Long Island Cannibal Massacre, captures the angst with which many were greeting America’s supposed “return to glory.”

Granted, there’s only so much political allegory one can fit into a flick with a $900 budget, and those who choose to willfully ignore the anti-elitist subtext on display here can do so pretty freely and just kick back and watch a particularly nasty piece of homemade gore cinema. Schiff’s socio-political sermonizing isn’t exactly subtle by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s always going to come in second on a “things I noticed about this movie” checklist when we’ve got stuff like lawnmowers running over heads, faces and bodies being torn into bare-handed a la Herschell Gordon Lewis, and five-minute chainsaw duels commanding our attention.

Nevertheless, you can’t really deny that there are some pretty obvious to parallels to then-contemporary (and, frankly, still contemporary) reality in a story that revolves around a rich clique of Long Island “high society” elitists that have returned from a big-game-hunting expedition in Africa carrying a new and highly powerful strain of leprosy that has stricken them with an insatiable taste for human flesh and blood and who then hire some of the island’s more “undesirable” elements, including a couple of disaffected bikers, to procure food for them by any means necessary from amongst their own lower economic “caste,” can you? Didn’t think so.

Now, whether or not Schiff chose to really — and I do mean really — up the ante in the gore department over his debut effort, Weasels Rip My Flesh, as a way of  displaying in the most stark and unforgiving terms possible the economic violence being perpetrated upon the lower classes by the wealthy, or he did so simply to show off how much better (relatively speaking, mind you — it all still looks pretty damn fake, and around here that’s a compliment) he was getting at these DIY effects is an open question, so it’s possible that he may have furthered the less-than-disguised political allegory in his script essentially by accident just because he felt like pulling out all the stops on the blood, guts, and innards scale.  Nevertheless, whether he intended to or not, he’s certainly delivered what more or less amounts to a no-budget primal scream of deep-seated anxiety against the formative stages of America’s new “me first” mindset.

Oh, sure, there’s still plenty of shit going on here that makes absolutely no sense — why the leader of the cannibal clan has evolved (or maybe that should be de-volved) into some sort of monstrous creature, why his son, Jack (Schiff regular Fred Borges) is so eager to help his old man out, why lawnmowers can run over human heads without jamming up, and why the character of ex-cop-turned-private-investigator James Cameron (yes, really! ), the “head honcho” when it comes to sleuthing out these cannibal murders,  changes so completely and without explanation about 2/3 of the way through the film (then again, maybe that’s just down to the always-less-than-capable acting of fellow Schiff “stock player” John Smihula), but hey, just because ol’ Nathan has chosen to inject some political commentary into the proceedings doesn’t mean we need to go and start over-thinking things too much, does it? The key order of business here is still stupid, lower-than-low-budget fun, after all.Still, it’s nice to see a guy of Schiff’s considerable pluck decide to marry something of a message to his blatantly obvious madness, and thanks to the folks at Image Entertainment, this early piece of decidedly gruesome extremely-early-Reagan-era-nervousness has been preserved for posterity on DVD. The remastered full-frame picture is still incredibly grainy and choppy and the remastered stereo (if you can even believe that!) sound is often wildly uneven, but hey, that’s par for the course (Schiff would probably kill me for using that golf analogy) for super-8 films shot for less than a thousand bucks. For extras, we’ve got a Schiff interview that runs about 15 minutes, a Smihula and Borges interview of about equal length, a feature-length commentary track from Schiff that’s occasionally a bit tedious but mostly pretty interesting, and trailers for this and the other two Schiff titles available under the “Cult Cinema Collection” banner. Given that the actual movie itself runs a full 92 minutes, easily making it the longest of Nathan Schiff’s super-8 less-than-epics,  on the whole you get a considerable amount of bang for your buck here.

For those who think I might be reading just a little too much into things here, rest assured, Nathan Schiff’s next cinematic venture into the Long Island wilds, 1985’s They Don’t Cut The Grass Anymore, only reinforces, with less plot and even more gore, the themes he explores here. By then, the “yuppie era” was in full swing and our guy Nate was even more pissed off about the whole thing. But as an early slice of homemade “rage against the machine,” Long Island Cannibal Massacre ain’t half-bad stuff. It’s nonsensical and incompetently-executed on the whole, sure, but it’s also inventive, honest, completely unpretentious, and frankly even a little bit ahead of its time. I’m not saying Schiff’s a modern-day Nostradamus or anything, but he could read the tea leaves and see which way things were heading, and he was one of the first to stand up and say “hey, wait a minute here, these rich SOBs are ripping us all off.” The fact that he chose to slather copious amounts of ultra-cheap gore on top of his rather prescient message is just a nice little bonus.

Try showing this movie at an “Occupy” meeting — it’ll probably be quite warmly received. Hell, if you’re part of the Long Island chapter, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nathan Schiff himself was even a member.

  1. Mike says:

    Regardless how you choose to paint the picture, it’s still a bad film from every point possible.

    • trashfilmguru says:

      I suppose every Schiff film is “bad,” fair enough, but there are plenty of bad films that are either interesting, fun, or both, and of course plenty of others that are neither. I think there are always interesting ideas at the heart of Schiff’s work, and that his movies never fail to be be an entertaining, if admittedly insane, brand of fun.

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