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Wednesday 27 April 2022

Burl reviews Three on a Meathook! (1972)


With a great chopping motion it’s Burl, here to review a down-and-dirty grindhouse number from the 1970s! Ha ha, I like these gritty little pictures, which together form a microgenre I haven’t yet named, but maybe we can call Psychodrama 16! These movies either were shot in 16mm or look like they were, and have some kind of slashery element without actually being slasher pictures, usually; and they frequently center around a single location with a fairly small cast, some family drama, and a lot of bright red blood! Movies like Crazed, Blood Mania, Axe, Scream Bloody Murder, and more fit comfortably into the Psychodrama 16 category, and so does today’s movie, Three on a Meathook!

It’s the second picture from William Girdler, who later brought us such fare as Grizzly and The Manitou before dying too young in a helicopter crash! Clearly he was a big fan of Psycho, because here he’s not only working from the same real-life looney-tune story, he begins his movie by panning across a cityscape to find one certain window in which a couple has just finished making sweet love before the woman has to rush off somewhere, just as Hitchcock did with his own horror picture! The difference here, or one difference anyway, is that the lady in Psycho was wearing a bra, and the lady in this picture is not, ha ha! (The lady, by the way, is played by Linda Thompson, who was Miss Tennessee Universe, then shacked up with Elvis, became a regular on Hee Haw, married Caitlyn Jenner avant la change, and later turned up in Robocop 2! Ha ha, what a life!)

Well, the lady and her friends go on a little camping trip, and stop to do some skinny dipping, and the next thing you know they’re on the side of the road with a conked-out car! Along comes Billy, a genial ginger farm boy, who offers them a place to sleep on the theory that “Pa won’t mind!” Pa, played by Charles Kissinger, whose entire acting career, just about, anyway, was in Girdler pictures, very much does mind; but Billy insists the girls stay anyway! Ha ha, of course once an unseen killer begins a campaign of poking, shotgun blasting, and neck chopping, the poor girls are doomed to stay on the farm forever!

After this lively sequence the picture settles into its psychodrama! Pa claims that Billy did the killings while under one of his tarnation spells, and though the horrified lad can remember nothing, he accepts that, by the process of elimination – because Pa surely couldn’t have done it, could he – he indeed must be the killer! After eating a little of Pa’s special smoked meat, Billy goes off to the city to take in a retrospective screening of The Graduate, then listen to a glitter-funk band called American Xpress play for what seems like three hours! At the bar Billy meets a friendly waitress named Sherry, played by Sherry Steiner from God Told Me To and The Yum Yum Girls, and the next thing you know he’s become drunk as a skunk, peed his pants, and slept over at the waitress’s place! This leads to romance, an invitation to visit the farm, and a climax in which the truth is finally revealed – but not before a pick-axing here and a cleavering there!

Billy is essayed by the redheaded James Carroll Pickett, who reminded me of the 70s gingers from movies like American Graffiti, Rip-Off, Drive-In and The Van, but the horror version! Ha ha, on reflection, this picture is a bit like Homer with a homer-cidal twist! It also reminded me of X, and it occurred to me that if that picture was directly inspired by anything, it might be Three on a Meathook just as much as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! But these pictures are all the children of Psycho, and after aping the opening, Girdler also replays the end of the Hitchcock picture, with several minutes dedicated to a psychiatrist explaining what was going on in the killer's head!

Of course it bears noting that the movie is generally pretty terrible! There are pacing issues, which the ten minutes of American Xpress sure doesn’t help; some bad acting, though Pickett is solid and likeable as Billy; and a general ineptitude of mise-en-scene! There are a few moments that might be described as thrilling or scary, but they’re pretty rare! Still, the gritty early-70s atmosphere is genuine and pervasive, so if that’s your bag, you might well have a terrific time with this picture! Ha ha, I give Three on a Meathook one and a half orders of smoked “veal!”


  1. Girdler got better and better. Who can forget Abby? By the time of The Manitou, he was delivering every dollar of his budget onto the screen. What a short, crazy career!

    1. I have to make a confession: I've never seen Abby! I'll have to rectify that one of these days! I do have a different Girdler movie awaiting in my basement, and I'll get to that one soon!

  2. There seemed to be hundreds of these rural pics in the 70s, and they all had pretty much the same plot. Apart from Blood Freak, if you haven't done that one you really should!

    1. I've seen Blood Freak of course - ha ha, that hacking, coughing narrator! - but have yet to review it here! You're right, I should! And you're also correct that there was a real surfeit of rural horror pictures in the 70s, of which The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is only the most famous and accomplished!