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Severed Ties (1992)
I want to say that Severed Ties is a bad film that's fun to watch, but the problem is that most of the time Severed Ties is just a bad film.
Perhaps the saddest thing about Severed Ties is that it was produced by the Fangoria magazine crew. Fangoria is my favorite horror magazine in that they're not simply a nostalgia rag; they try to present comprehensive coverage of the entire genre, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the latest teen screamers opening at your neighborhood Cineplex in a month or two. Severed Ties' producer was Fango publisher Norm Jacobs. It's the only film I've seen produced by Norm, or even promoted by Fango, (such as I, Zombie), but hopefully it isn't indicative of the quality of the others, because Severed Ties stinks.
The premise lies within one of the lesser-known subgenres of horror-"body parts gone wild." Unfortunately, scripter David Casci and director Damon Santostefano (tellingly, neither has gone on to work much after this film) decided to make the wild body part a hand/arm, which is the same body part that has been the subject of this genre 9 out of 10 times, from Thing in The Addams Family to Evil Dead II to more recent films like Idle Hands, all quality works of art, unlike Severed Ties. Also, just prior to the time that production was progressing on Severed Ties, there was another film being made in this subgenre, simple called Body Parts. It is also a much better film.
But despite the unoriginality of the premise (since when did horror films have to be original to be good, anyway?), the idea is actually not bad. Harrison Harrison is the son of a genius biochemist who is about to discover a means of human limb regeneration. He has a scheming mother who wants to use Harrison's dad and his limb regeneration technology for profit only, whereas his dad wants to use the regenerator for more humanitarian purposes. When dad is "accidentally" killed, Harrison takes over the cause. But soon, mom moves in again, this time with her new beau and companion in profit-over-purity, Dr. Vaughan. While fighting over the regeneration serum, Harrison accidentally loses an arm, grabs the serum, and runs off. He ends up living with a motley crew of homeless mutants in an abandoned prison.
Out of generosity to the Fango crew, let's look at the positive aspects of Severed Ties first. The premise has a great Frankenstein subtext, going so far as having Harrison's human test subject be the corpse of a serial killer. The Frankenstein subtext continues throughout the film, and makes an attempt to be a bit of a black comic spoof of Frankenstein ala Frankenhooker. The prison setting is nice, and is a sly way of incorporating a gothic atmosphere for the Frankenstein stuff.
Secondly, the gore aspects are well done, as we should expect from Fangoria. Everything from the severed iguana tails to the more traditional gore to the regeneration serum will make you queasy-as gore should. There is a nonchalance to the gore that always works for me, and there is a darkly disturbing gore scene that results in the most disturbing monster of the film near the end.
Third, not every performance is a disaster (is that a backhanded compliment or what?) and Elke Sommer is also very pleasant to look at. She has great legs and Santostefano goes to great pains to let us know this, possibly hoping that if he does, we won't back out of watching the film so quickly.
And that's about it. The rest of the film is a mess. Even the Frankenstein stuff isn't usually handled right and when Severed Ties goes into Frankenhooker mode, rather than being entertaining or funny, it instead shows you what a genius Frankenhooker director and writer Frank Henenlotter is (please make more films, Frank).
In fact, most of Severed Ties plays like an unfunny comedy. It's more like a really, really bad Saturday Night Live film (as if most of them were funny in the first place). Curiously, it even has Garrett Morris, an SNL alumni, in the cast. Morris turns in one of the better performances, and even that isn't too good. It seems obvious that Santostefano intended Severed Ties as at least a black comedy, but those don't usually work when the film is as good as Porky's minus the jokes. Just throwing in gore and a severed arm with a mind of its own doesn't make a black comedy. Munchies, a film in a similar vein, was funnier and more entertaining than this, and that pretty much stank, too.
In light of this, I can only recommend Severed Ties to horror film completists and those who can watch a film for gore alone, ignoring all other elements that usually go to make an entertaining or good film (say, fans of Fulci or Argento's worst work). Although I'm even reluctant to recommend it to the above because there's a 90% chance that Severed Ties will make you want to burn your Fango collection, and that would be a bigger disaster.