Directed By: William Girdler
Starring: Charles Kissinger, James Carroll Pickett, Sherry Steiner
Tag line: "A Padlocked Shed, Hooks of Cold Steel -- a Maniac on the loose"
Trivia: Loosely based on real-life killer/cannibal Ed Gein
Several years before he went into the woods to make Grizzly and Day of the Animals, William Girdler directed Three on a Meathook. Inspired by the true story of serial killer Ed Gein, Three on a Meathook also borrowed heavily from Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho (another Gein-related picture), resulting in a low-budget movie that’s as much a psychological thriller as it is a blood-soaked horror flick.
While on a weekend getaway, Debbie (Linda Thompson) and her three friends find themselves stranded on a country road when their car breaks down. The first person to drive by is Billy Townsend (James Carroll Pickett), a polite, somewhat shy young man who invites the four girls to spend the night with him and his father, Frank (Charles Kissinger), at their nearby farmhouse. But when he arrives home with his new guests, Frank tells Billy to send them away immediately. It’s not that the old man is inhospitable; he’s just afraid of what might happen if Billy has another one of his “episodes”. But Billy refuses to turn the girls out, and even agrees to sleep in the barn so that two of them can share his bed. Unfortunately, Frank’s worst fears are realized, and at some point during the night, the girls are brutally butchered. Frank is convinced his son is responsible for the killings, though Billy is certain he never left the barn. Is Billy truly a sadistic murderer? If not, then who is?
The above occurs in the first 30 minutes of Three on a Meathook, and to be sure, the murder scene is both tense and bloody (by way of POV shots, we look through the killer’s eyes as he ascends the stairs, then watch as he uses various weapons to finish off his poor, unsuspecting victims). From that point on, though, the film adopts a more psychological approach, with Billy trying his damnedest to remember his supposed crimes, yet unable to do so, leaving him to wonder what it is that’s causing his subconscious to lash out so violently. While the middle of the film is bogged down by needless filler (an extended sequence set in a bar features a live band, which is given enough screen time to perform two songs), the last act, where Billy falls in love with a barmaid named Sherry (Sherry Steiner), then invites her and her friend Becky (Madelyn Buzzard) to spend the night at the farmhouse, sets the stage for what proves to be a shock-filled finale (part of the story’s twist is easy to figure out, but there’s an added surprise towards the very end that I didn’t see coming).
From its basic setup (a young man who, since the death of his mother, has allegedly started killing women) to one of its more memorable murder scenes (which involves both a knife and a bathtub), Three on a Meathook owes quite a bit to 1960’s Psycho (even the final shot will remind you of Hitchcock’s masterpiece). But regardless of whether it was intended as a tribute to, or a straight-up rip-off of, that classic film, Three on a Meathook has enough violence to keep the gorehounds happy, and plenty more besides.