The Severed Arm (1973)


USA. 1973.


Director – Thomas S. Alderman, Screenplay – Thomas S. Alderman & Darrel Presnell, Story – Larry Alexander & Marc B. Ray, Additional Dialogue – Kelly Estill, Producer – Gary Alderman, Photography – Bob Maxwell, Electronic Music – Phillan Bishop, Makeup – Carol Alderman, Prosthetics – Gordon Freed. Production Company – Media Cinema Corporation/Media Trend


David G. Cannon (Jeff Ashton), Deborah Walley (Teddy Rogers), Paul Carr (Sergeant Mark Richards), Marvin Kaplan (Mad Man Herman), John Crawford (Dr Ray Sanders), Vince Martorano (Bill Hale), Ray Dannis (Ted Rogers)


Jeff Ashton receives a severed arm posted to him in the mail. Shocked, he brings together four other friends to discuss what to do. Five years ago, they went potholing down an old mine only for the shaft to collapse and bury them. Trapped there for two weeks without food, they eventually elected to draw straws to choose one of them to eat. The one chosen was Ted Rogers. However, moments after they cut his right arm off with a knife, rescue came. The group realises that it is the deranged Ted now seeking revenge for the severing of his arm. The masked Ted now stalks the other five, hacking them apart with an axe.

The Severed Arm is an interestingly obscure exploitation film from the 1970s. It came at a time when the horror genre was just starting to realise how the limits could be pushed in terms of gore and splatter. That said, there are several different versions of The Severed Arm in release with the most commonly seen ones (the cable-screened version seen here) having had the gore element that was present in the original substantially trimmed down. The video poster rather amusingly features a severed hand walking around, a la The Addams Family (1964-6), as though trying to market the film along the lines of a disembodied limb film like The Beast with Five Fingers (1947), even though no such ambulatory hand appears in the film.

One suspects that the inspiration for The Severed Arm was the true-life story of the Uruguayan soccer team whose plane went down in the Andes in 1972, forcing them to eat the bodies of those killed in the crash in order to survive – see the film version Alive (1993) for details. The best parts of the film are those set down in the mine with the group trapped and having to draw straws to chose which one of them to eat. There is an undeniable grisliness to the scene, something that even Thomas S. Alderman’s completely pedestrian direction fails to kill. However, the scene lacks credibility – the men look remarkably well fed for people that supposedly haven’t eaten for two weeks, while the beards they grow during this time look entirely fake. Not to mention the lack of any blood that comes during the severing of the arm, or even the depiction of any kind of moral doubt that the men seem to have about chopping off the limb of one of their comrades.

The main problem with The Severed Arm is that after the schlock shock effect of David G. Cannon opening his parcel to find the titular severed arm and the flashback mine scenes, the film slows right down and becomes dreary. There are a variety of killing sequences throughout but in this version all depiction of the killings has been cut and the film drags in between each of these. There is much dull talk about plans to trap the killer. All of which slows the film down to a frequently mind-numbing tedium during the last two-thirds. The film is also shot through with an early electronic score and when this is run over the talky scenes during the middle the muzak makes the show even more monotonous.

The film reaches an improbably contrived twist revelation where it is revealed that [PLOT SPOILERS] the killer is really Ted’s son and daughter who are taking revenge for their father who has become a mental vegetable as a result of the experience. The film goes out quite a nasty scene on where the children lock David G. Cannon up in a cell with a knife, leaving him to cut his own arm off.

Thomas S. Alderman never went onto make any other films subsequent to The Severed Arm.

Actors: , , , , , ,
Themes: , , ,