• Luther The Geek (88 Films)



    Released by: 88 Films
    Release date: September 11, 2017
    Directed by: Carlton J. Albright
    Cast: Edward Terry, Joan Roth, Stacy Haiduk, Thomas Mills, Jerry Clarke, Tom Brittingham, Carlton Williams, Gil Rodgers, Karen Maurise, Jerome Borgos, Michael Boyle, Gail Buston
    Year: 1990

    The Movie:

    The original definition of geek was a “wild man” who bit the heads off chickens or other poultry at carnival sideshows. Luther the Geek focuses on that definition, beginning in 1938 Indiana, where a young boy, Luther (Carlton Williams, a pseudonym for the director’s son), sneaks into a local freak show. He watches in fascination as a drunken geek bites the head off a live chicken, then spits it out. The resulting furor causes Luther to lose his front teeth; they are replaced by sharp metal dentures, which Luther later uses to murder people by tearing out their throats in morbid imitation of the geek he saw. He’s sentenced to prison but, twenty years later, comes up for parole. Reading a report that testifies to Luther’s status as a model prisoner, the board votes three to two to release him. Not long thereafter, Luther (now played by Edward Terry) visits a local grocery store, acting as uncivilized as a human can be (and leaving one to wonder how he ever could have been a model prisoner). Getting expelled for his bizarre behavior (which includes cracking open eggs and eating the yolk), he proceeds to murder an old woman, after which he sneaks into the backseat of a parked car. That car belongs to Hilary (Joan Roth), who owns a farm on the outskirts of town (ostensibly in Indiana, though the car license says Illinois—a fact you’ll understand once you read the liner notes).

    Back at home, Hilary is attacked by Luther and tied to her bed. When her daughter Beth (Stacy Haiduk) and Beth’s boyfriend, Rob (Thomas Mills), show up to shower and have sex, they, too, encounter Luther. When Luther takes off on Rob’s motorcycle, Rob follows, only to be assaulted down a remote dirt lane. Luther returns to Hilary’s house, but Beth escapes detection by hiding under her mom’s bed. Luther again disappears, but this time when he returns, he has Rob with him. Beth is forced to reveal herself, and when a local police officer shows up to check on the family and to inform them that Luther is on the loose, she refuses to tell him of Luther’s presence for fear he’ll hurt Rob. After the officer leaves, things go from bad to worse as Beth is viciously attacked. The officer returns, and he and Hilary are forced to confront Luther once and for all.

    Luther the Geek is a remarkable film in many ways. Made on a shoestring, the film features surprisingly strong performances from its leads, with Edward Terry and Stacy Haiduk the standouts. Haiduk was fresh into her success as Lana Lang in the hit syndicated television series Superboy (1988-1992) when Luther the Geek was released, though it didn’t affect the film’s box office at all. She turns in a natural, likable performance as Beth and has no qualms showing off her nubile body. A consummate professional, Haiduk continues to get work in television roles today (having had recurring roles in both True Blood on HBO and The Young and the Restless on CBS, for example). The real question is why Terry was unable or refused to parlay his stellar performance as the clucking and bawking Luther into character roles in episodic television shows. He seems a natural fit for one of the many psychotic murderers portrayed in such long-running franchises as Law and Order and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Apparently uninterested in acting, he retired and now lives in relative obscurity.

    Luther the Geek features some realistic gore effects (though it hardly belongs in the slasher subgenre) and strong direction from Carlton J. Albright (The Children, 1980). Its issues are almost entirely related to its script; huge plot holes and ridiculous implausibilities abound. Get past those, and you’ll likely enjoy what amounts to a post-Texas Chain Saw Massacre throwback.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    88 Films has released Albright’s creepy and effective cult classic on Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in rich 1080p high definition as the 29th in its Slasher Classics Collection. The film is presented in 1.78:1, a more fitting aspect ratio than the standard 1.85:1, and comes from a recent 2K transfer from the original camera negative. It’s also region free. Framing looks right, though the real reason to purchase is for the stunning transfer. This is the second release to feature this same transfer (the first was from Vinegar Syndrome in the U.S.), and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Colors are natural and beautiful, and the level of detail is high; this is a film mostly shot on a farmhouse near the Illinois/Iowa border, and the lush scenery provides a great deal for the transfer to latch onto. Bright scenes fare the best, with most of the film taking place in broad daylight. The nighttime sequences are certainly grainer, but the noise level isn’t really distracting and certainly doesn’t detract from the exquisite transfer. The transfer is so clear, in fact, that as Luther runs from the scene of his first murder, you can clearly see the reflection of the cinematographer in a car window. Later, when Rob is running through the tall grass and trees, every greenish-brown blade or leaf is distinct and well defined.

    The film’s only audio track is presented in lossless English LPCM 2.0; it’s as cleaned up as the image. Voices are clear and easy to understand, sound effects are distinguishable, and there are no defects. English subtitles are provided for those with hearing impairments (or who just like to read their movies as they watch them…).

    The extras start with “Bite Me,” a new 20-minute interview with star Stacy Haiduk. Haiduk discusses many things, from beginning her career as a model and dancer in Michigan to moving to New York City, where she got cast in Luther the Greek, her first horror film. She describes her character, the studio where she auditioned and read, director Albright, the other actors, and so much more. She remembers Terry as being very nice, though his characterization was “gross,” and the shower scene as uncomfortable at first. The best memory involves Haiduk’s mother, her former principal, and the film’s nudity. Haiduk comes across as sweet and charming and immensely likable. The interview is punctuated by scenes from the film.

    “Geekdom – Remembering Luther with Calum Waddell” lasts for a little over 14 minutes. Waddell, 88 Films’ resident film historian, discusses Luther the Geek as an example of the waning power of the horror press, particularly Fangoria. That doesn’t mean, of course, that he doesn’t focus on the film and its background; he certainly does. Despite the push, the film failed to catch on at the time, neither with mainstream audiences nor with horror fandom. He also rationalizes why the film is a slasher classic, noting that people who saw it at the time of its initial release really liked it. The film ended up with Troma and received a minor release, though it has grown in stature ever since. It represented the death knell of “balls out, bloody” productions, at least at the time, thanks to heavy governmental censorship, particularly in the U.K., and was replaced by the watered-down horrors of Full Moon Entertainment.

    Next up are archival interviews with director Carlton J. Albright lasting, in total, about 26 minutes. The first of these archival interviews is older and shot on low-grade VHS. Albright discusses the origin of the story as well as the history of the film’s production, Edward Terry and his performance, and how the film holds up. In a second interview, he discusses the fight scene (which is accompanied by innumerable outtakes with narration by Albright), the farmhouse, the bathroom, the notorious shower scene (accompanied by outtakes), the special effects, and so on.

    There’s also an interview with Albright’s son, Will Albright, who played young Luther. This, too, is an older, shot-on-video interview, though it’s recent enough that Will is an adult. He discusses his friendship with Edward Terry as well as Terry’s assistance in helping young Will to act.

    The film’s original theatrical trailer rounds out the extras.

    Printed extras include “Finger Lickin’ Good: The Chickens, Carnies and Carnage of Luther the Geek,” a booklet written by Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain, and a reversible sleeve with alternate artwork. (That artwork can also be found on the limited-edition slipcase.) The 8-page, color booklet not only delves into the history of geeks, the history of the word geek, and the history of geeks in cinema, it also discusses the cast and crew, Albright and Terry in particular.

    The Final Word:

    Luther the Geek is remarkable oddity, an old-fashioned horror film with a very modern gore aesthetic. Working with a low budget, director Albright achieved a minor work of artistic horror that may have taken years to find an audience but today is looked upon fondly, and with good reason: It works. 88 Films has brought the film to Blu-ray in the U.K. with a mix of old and new extras, making it an essential addition to fans’ collections.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!