Director – Damon Santostefano, Additional Material Directed and Written by Richard Roberts, Screenplay – Henry Dominic & John Nystrom, Story – Damon Santostefano & David A. Casci, Producer – Christopher Webster, Photography – Geza Sincovics, Music – Daniel Licht, Makeup Effects – KNB Effects Group, Production Design – Don Day. Production Company – Fangoria Films.
Billy Morrisette (Harrison Harrison), Oliver Reed (Dr Hans Vaughan), Elke Sommer (Helena Harrison), Garrett Morris (Stripes), Denise Wallace (Eve), Johnny Legend (Preacher)
Harrison Harrison develops a plasma capable of regenerating human limbs. Upon completing it, Harrison is persuaded by his mother, who has funded his research, to sign the formula over to her boyfriend Dr Hans Vaughan. Harrison then learns that Vaughan is planning to sell the formula to the same drug company that marketed Thalidomide. He flees with the formula, only to rip his arm off in a door as Vaughan tries to stop him. Taking refuge in a homeless shelter, Harrison injects himself with the plasma and regenerates a new arm. He then realises that Vaughan has mixed both reptilian DNA and genetic material taken from a serial killer into the plasma, whereupon his regenerated arm develops a life of its own and detaches itself. Harrison sets up a lab in the sewers. There he cultivates a host of arms and uses them to take revenge on Vaughan and his mother.
Severed Ties was one of a trilogy of films produced by Fangoria magazine – the others being Children of the Night (1991) and Mindwarp (1992). At the time, Fangoria had been the leading horror film magazine in the field for the past thirteen years. With Fangoria‘s canny ability to put its finger on the pulse of the horror genre, it was to some surprise that the three films they produced when they ventured into filmmaking themselves ended up being so mediocre. Of the three, Severed Ties is undeniably the weakest.
In terms of the plot description given above, the basic idea of Severed Ties has a wonderfully demented originality. It is possible to see that all of the elements could have made for a zesty tongue-in-cheek horror effort along the lines of another The Evil Dead (1981) or a Re-Animator (1985). It would only have needed the slightest push in one direction. Instead, Severed Ties falls flat.
Certainly, some of the scenes with the arms running about and ripping people’s faces off are entertainingly silly. Mostly though, the tatty cheap atmosphere of a low, low budget horror film shows through. The arm effects are not convincing – particularly when contrasted to the decent effects that KNB EFX supplied to the other two Fangoria films – with the lizard creature at the start and the scene where Eve is regenerated being particularly poor.
Oliver Reed, who was majorly down in his career at the time he made this, plays okay in the surroundings, but Elke Sommer plays with a breathy campiness that shows she clearly indicates she is not taking the show seriously. The only scene that stands out in any way is the nastiness of the scene where Oliver Reed chops off the heroine’s finger in order to test the regeneration formula.
Severed Ties appears to have been a troubled production, having started shooting as Army and undergoing a title change and with another director brought in to beef up the material. The listed director Damon Santostefano had previous made several video-released horror documentaries for Fangoria, including one about cult makeup artist Tom Savini. Subsequent to Severed Ties, Santostefano ended up directing tv and it was not until the late 1990s that he was given a chance to direct another film again – the Matthew Perry romantic comedy Three to Tango (1999), followed by the likes of Last Man Running (2003), Bring It On Again (2004), Another Cinderella Story (2008) and A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (2011).