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Film Review: The Long Island Cannibal Massacre (1980)

Long-Island-Cannibal-Massacre-1980-movie-Nathan-Schiff-(5)SYNOPSIS:

A series of horrible murders prompts a massive police investigation. Inspector James Cameron, a two-fisted roughneck with his own philosophy on handling crime, heads the investigation. A group of lepers living in the Long Island wastelands have created a terror network, killing and feeding off the flesh of innocent victims. Their leader has mutated into an invulnerable monster; he intends to propagate and strengthen his stronghold. Aided by his son, Jack, and a couple of motorcycle freaks, food is supplied to the clan via murder. As the authorities close in on the cannibal killers, an all-out bloodbath ensues

REVIEW:

Everything about The Long Island Cannibal Massacre is ridiculous. The acting is really, really bad, going from stiff, dull, possibly bored actors barely delivering their lines to over-written, over-dramatic lines that don’t even fit the scene in their tone or feel. The plot itself is bizarre, dealing with a biker and a masked dude killing people, chopping them up, and selling their body parts by the garbage bag full to a weird, Joe Spinell-like character who drives around aimlessly in a van, and the ultimate late 70’s/early 80’s detective, complete with awesome dude moustache, Trans Am, and bad attitude, who quits the police force in order to stop them (say what?). The effects are low budget and show it, I’m pretty sure parts of the soundtrack were lifted from another movie (is it Dawn of the Dead, maybe?), and the ending is completely out of left field. I’ll be honest: I absolutely LOVED this movie.

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Nathan Schiff was either in high school or just out when he wrote and directed this movie (he’s also known for They Don’t Cut the Grass Anymore, Vermillion Eyes, and Weasels Rip My Flesh, the last definitely made while he was in high school). I’ve read a whole bunch of bad reviews of The Long Island Cannibal Massacre, and they’ve frustrated me with their criticisms. Horror fans: Get a sense of humor! This is one of the most fun movies I’ve had the pleasure to review in my two years of working with HorrorNews.net. It has a very low budget, grainy kind of quality to it that is no doubt due to the extremely small amount of money the filmmakers were working with, but thanks to this it ends up feeling kind of like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (something I assume it was aiming for it).

Sure, the acting is, as a whole, pretty horrible, but the ideas are here, and most of them are pulled off quite well, considering. The effects are cheaply made, and for the most part they look it, but a big part of what makes this movie good is exactly that, the independent, underground, DIY feel you get from the very first moments all the way through to the (extremely bizarre and unexpected) ending. I’m not at all sorry a Michael Bay type didn’t come in, throw a ton of money at this, and make it look better and, consequently, ruin it.

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One thing that really impressed me about The Long Island Cannibal Massacre is how it holds some of its secrets until just the appropriate moments. For much of the first half of the film, we know that there are some bad people out there, killing young adults along the beach (side note: wherever this was filmed is one of the bleakest settings I have seen; it all takes place near a beach – not a pretty one, but one overrun with weeds, and with a seemingly perpetual grey sky). We know that there is a detective, interestingly named James Cameron (played by John Smihula, a Schiff film regular), who is trying to figure out what is going on. But we don’t know the why until around the middle, and even then, it still holds some of its cards until the end. And I promise you, the ending is not only completely unexpected, but it is something that I can almost guarantee you have not seen somewhere else.

Just as awesome as I found this movie to be, I can certainly admit to its corniness. There are plenty of unintentional funny parts in here. If you make a drinking game out of all the times Cameron brings up how he quit the force, you’d have a good buzz going by the end. Equally and unintentionally hilarious is Cameron’s reaction when, out on a boat with his girlfriend Susan (Nancy Canberg), he realizes there’s no beer left, flips out, and then just stops the boat and jumps into the water. And instantly enshrined into my personal hall of fame of ridiculous lines is when Jack (weird van maniac, played by Fred Borges) is hitting on a girl and she ends up leaving, and he shouts after her “You don’t know what it’s like to be the son of a leper!” with a completely straight face.

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I love The Long Island Cannibal Massacre. It is a low budget gem that does not get nearly enough praise, if it gets any at all, and I think that is a mistake on a jaded horror audience’s part. It is both a so-bad-it’s-good slasher movie AND a genuinely interesting, bizarre, head scratcher of a movie. I can’t recommend this enough: if you enjoy the feel of 1970’s and early 1980’s horror movies, and you can get over a low budget and homemade gore effects, seek out and purchase The Long Island Cannibal Massacre. Even if you don’t love it as much as I do, you’re sure to find plenty of entertainment value in its ninety-five minute runtime.

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