The Butcher of Binbrook/Review

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Necrophagus follows standards set by similar European horror movies, utilizing the region’s rich gothic ambience to great visual effect. Filmed among ready-made locations including crumbling castles and creaky graveyards, Necrophagus sends cloaked individuals lurking through darkened cemeteries, spinning a tale of a flesh-hungry monster spawned through scientific research gone awry. Unfortunately, Necrophagus supports this good looking film with a confusing plot that wanders lifelessly towards an equally disappointing conclusion; an ending that doesn’t really “end” until everything is explained to viewers via voice-over in a last-ditch attempt to tidy up several loose ends which the previous eighty minutes failed to satisfactorily address.

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Watching mysterious characters dart furtively through darkened corridors or across wind-whipped graveyards engages viewers just enough to remain with Necrophagus, which has the strange ability to command viewer attention while weaving the allusion of substance through appearances alone, as though the ambience of castles and overcast graveyards itself would somehow reward the audience by movies end. Ultimately, Necrophagus fails patient viewers, who leave this exercise in tedium with little more than snippets of impressionable scenes as though they’ve just woken from a troubling nightmare.

Journeying home by rail to his ancestral castle, Michael Sherrington shares a train car with an older lady who listens to Michael blow a tune on his harmonica and boast of his beautiful bride Elizabeth and their new baby, recently born during his absence. The kerchief wearing passenger then gets royally embarrassed after her luggage pops open to reveal a bleeding, desiccated piglet that she stuffed inside(!?). This strange scene appears inserted into the movie simply because someone had the idea, because it otherwise has absolutely nothing to do with anything else in the film. Michael arrives at the train station, and is greeted by a somber cadre of relatives who share the horrible news that his wife died during labor, and also lost their child.

The Sherrington family is composed of a sour-faced bunch of unhappy individuals, jealous nieces fight for the attention of Michael and argue with their stern mother. Ann, the wife of Michael’s missing scientist brother allows herself to be abused both sexually and financially by Dr. Lexter, (Euro film regular Frank Brana) who gladly “helps” Ann keep her husband alive and hidden from view after her failing loved-one succumbs to physical complications caused by conducting experiments on himself. Mr. Fowles, a creepy cemetery groundskeeper (played by Victor “I’ve seen that guy before” Israel, an actor appearing in everything from Paul Naschy movies to a brief scene in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), and a police detective named “Harrison,” sent to investigate a spate of disappearing townspeople, round out the cast. For a low budget monster movie, Necrophagus involves too many characters and attempts to depict all of them as playing an integral part of its convoluted plot.

Michael soon goes missing after first shocking everyone with his request to exhume his wife’s body, then going ahead in the dead of night and digging her up anyway after being continually rebuffed by authorities. Someone doesn’t appreciate Michael’s earnest search for the truth, because he’s knocked on the head by a pair of robed individuals after discovering that his wife’s coffin is empty. Michael wakes from his attack and comes face-to-face with a horrendous creature that seemingly rips him to bits with its sharp claws; however, his nieces swear to spying Michael lurking around corridors and through the forests nearby, while physical evidence of Michael’s presence, his harmonica and an embroidered handkerchief, are found on the Sherrington estate. Michael’s “signature” tune, introduced during his train journey, is repeated over and over again on the soundtrack; maybe Michael is alive, or is it the police inspector impersonating Michael while attempting to uncover clues to the missing persons? Ultimately, it makes no difference to Necrophagus’ muddled story.

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A creature, only glimpsed briefly attacking people with no explanation, finally appears in full towards the end of the movie. Someone wearing an all-too-obvious green rubber mask over their head and rubber claws over their hands carries one of the Sherrington nieces in their arms while wandering out of the woods. Up until this single occasion, anyone in close proximity to the creature was immediately attacked and devoured, why it suddenly decides to carry someone is inexplicable. Continuing the implausible, the beast walks straight into the path of inspector Harrison and a couple of local policemen who effortlessly gun the beast down with a few blasts of their machine guns.

Killing the creature ends the film, but the movie continues for a few more minutes with a voice-over explaining that the creature was actually Michael’s missing scientist brother who engaged in experiments to discover the origins of man. The lengthy monologue continues with scientific mumbo-jumbo concerning the “transmutation of human cells” and something about the “primal component of matter,” all of which contribute to the scientists’ eventual degeneration into a flesh-eating creature. Incidentally, a creature borne from primordial stew was featured with much greater success in the wonderful 1973 feature, Hunchback of the Morgue. Necrophagus’ last-minute narrative provides clarifying explanations to footage seen previously of something buried alive in a shallow grave, fed a liquid diet through tubes attached to a machine with blinking lights and plastic bottles, before eventually feeding on live humans. Incredibly, such juicy details of the plot are glossed over while Necrophagus busies itself capturing characters starting wide-eyed at the smallest of noises, peering through creaking doorways, running through darkened forests, and encountering objects which the camera zooms in on while appropriate “dum dum da dum” music fills the soundtrack. Necrophagus is full of the horrible clichéd horror movie conventions so succinctly parodied during Second City TV’s “Count Floyd”comedy sketches featuring Joe Flaherty and his library of spooky movies like Dr. Tongue’s 3-D House of Stewardesses.

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Aside from a few shots of a mound of earth heaving to the sounds of heavy breathing and a beating heart, and a few creature attacks, there is little to differentiate Necrophagus from a popular genre of film flooding European theaters during the 1970’s known as giallo cinema. Gialli were movies based on a successful run of sensationalistic crime novels most often appearing on store shelves in their trademark yellow covers, (Giallo is Italian for “yellow”) written by authors such as Edgar Wallace, and often including elements of the macabre. Indeed, scenes of masked individuals wearing heavy cloaks while stalking people through windy graveyards could easily be mistaken as appearing in any number of Europe’s more macabre giallo entries like The Night Evelyn Came Out of The Grave.

Gialli also feature morally corrupt characters, not unlike Necrophagus’ jealous niece Pamela, depicted in flashback abetting the mental deterioration of Ann by stealing the daily letters sent to her by Michael and fabricating the rouse that Michael doesn’t care about her. Necrophagus reveals parts of its convoluted plot through various flashbacks as Michael slowly unravels the truth to the mysterious deaths and disappearances plaguing his family. Viewers learn that Pamela and her sisters were so jealous and covetous of Ann’s caring husband that they go so far as to ignore her desperate pleas for help once she goes into labor, making them all directly responsible for Ann’s death. Although attempting to meld mystery with horror, Necrophagus fails as both a compelling mystery and an engaging tale of terror.

Necrophagus/ Cemetery of Horror flounders between the genres of giallo and horror, creating a confusing story buoyed by a cast of unlikeable characters who weigh the movie down with grim portrayals of human nature, a deadly combination leaving viewers with little to engage their interest aside from its interesting ambience of dread and despair and the occasional well-shot scene conjured up by the film crew.

Reviewed by NateMINER

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