Barn of the Naked Dead
There are many ways to evaluate an exploitation movie, but one of the simplest is to just figure out how many inherent lies there are in the title. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a highly accurate title - it takes place in Texas, there's a chainsaw and enough people die to qualify it as a massacre. On the other hand, an obscurity like I Eat Your Skin has a completely false title, with no skin or flesh eating whatsoever. But what about a title that is neither completely true, nor completely false? This brings us to Barn of the Naked Dead. How accurate is this title? Well, the movie does feature a barn, and in the end it's got a lot of dead bodies in it, but none of them are nude. With a two-thirds accuracy rating, this unknown little thriller shot in the southwest must at least be worth a passing look, right? Well, maybe not...
Meet Simone (Manuela Thiess), Sheri (Sherry Alberoni) and Corinne (Gyl Roland). These three beautiful young women are on their way to Las Vegas to become showgirls. However, when they choose to disregard advice to get their radiator fixed they end up getting stranded in the desert with night falling. The three go to sleep in the vehicle and the next morning they are awakened by the handsome young Andre (Andrew Prine), a sweet man who offers to give them a ride to his house and call them a tow truck. They accept his invitation.
Andre's house is actually a ranch in the middle of the desert and, as it turns out, Andre is a bit of a lunatic. He quickly takes the three girls prisoner and chains them up in his barn, which is filled with other women he has captured, some of them sick or insane. Andre regards the women as animals, and himself as the ringmaster in a circus. He forces his captives to learn tricks and rehearse performances, whipping the girls if they step out of line or don't learn quickly enough. When one girl proves to be untrainable, Andre paints her with animal blood and sets her loose in the desert with his vicious pet mountain lion in hot pursuit.
Why is Andre doing this? It seems he has some major issues with women, and has had them ever since he was a child and his mother ran out on him and his father. To make matters worse, the military used the surrounding land as a nuclear testing range, and his father got too close. Now dad is a slobbering, homicidal mutant that Andre has to keep locked in a shed. When Andre realizes that Simone looks just like his long lost mother, he convinces himself that his mom has returned to make the family whole. He takes Simone back into his house where she begins trying to find some way to escape. But will she succeed in freeing herself and her friends, or will it be up to their worried manager Derek (Chuck Niles), who is desperately searching for them.
Almost impossible to see aside from several obscure VHS and overseas DVD releases, Barn of the Naked Dead is both cheap and badly made, failing to deliver most of the exploitive thrills that are implied by its overblown title. It's not just boring, it's also unpleasant to watch. It's certainly difficult to remember a film that was more ugly in its misogyny, or one with a more pointlessly downbeat and nihilistic ending. Although not particularly brutal by the standards of today, an overall feeling of nastiness just pervades the entire movie with its frequent whippings, beatings and killings. Trying to make amends for its unpleasant treatment of women the script tries to inject a glimmer of feminism into the proceedings. When one of the captive women is asked why Andre does what he does, the response is "Because he wants to control us, like all the other men." For gullible audience members this may serve to ameliorate any guilt they feel from enjoying such a spectacle, but it's really just hollow posturing.
Many an exploitation movie has been helmed by a future acclaimed Hollywood director early in his career. Dementia 13 (1963) has Francis Ford Coppola, Seizure (1974) has Oliver Stone, and this movie has Alan Rudolph, director of such films as Choose Me (1984), Equinox (1992) and Breakfast of Champions (1999). Though not as famous as his mentor, the late Robert Altman, Rudolph has won his share of critical acclaim for his works. On Barn of the Naked Dead he was hired after principal photography had already started because the original director, producer Gerald Cormier, found himself overwhelmed and needed someone else to helm the project (portions of the film were directed by Andrew Prine until Rudolph could take over). Ironically, through the type of mix-up that occurs with poorly documented low-budget productions, many critics have confused Rudolph and Cormier as the same person, to the point where the Internet Movie Database lists Gerald Cormier as a pseudonym for Rudolph.
Whatever strengths Rudolph may have brought to his later productions, none of them seem to be on display in Barn of the Naked Dead. The movie is slow-paced, incoherent and depressing, and it rarely is able to capture the inherent eeriness of its desert locations. But despite all of that, there is still something about the movie that manages to always hold my attention, if only in a macabre way. As bad as it may be, as non-humorous as its badness may be, I still find myself drawn to the movie in a way that guarantees I will watch Barn of the Naked Dead more than once.
Legend House presents Barn of the Naked Dead in a non-anamorphic transfer letterboxed at approximately 1.85:1. Overall the quality is not good. The image is soft, fuzzy and lacks detail, and colors generally have a very faded look to them. Dark interiors break up into pixels, and what look like tape dropouts occur sporadically. However, all of these issues are overshadowed by another larger problem, which is a bizarre issue that I have never encountered before.
This transfer is interlaced, meaning that each individual frame is actually made up of two separate frames (pause an interlaced transfer during any shot of movement and you’ll see what I mean). That’s a problem, but not the problem I’m referring to. The problem that I’m referring to is the presence of bizarre motion anomalies that I will simply refer to as “rogue frames”. To visualize what I am talking about, imagine a sequence of four frames. The first is the very last frame of a given shot. The second is the transition frame caused by the interlacing, which is half of the last frame combined with half of the first frame of the next shot. Then the third frame is fully belonging to the next shot. But instead of continuing with the shot, the fourth frame suddenly becomes the first frame in the sequence. And this is an effect that will repeat itself over and over every four frames throughout the entirety of the movie (if my description seems confusing, I apologize; unfortunately this phenomena defied all my attempts to document it with screenshots). This causes any scene of moderate to fast movement to appear jerky, and during the beginning of new shots you will see a frame of the last shot.
It is hard for me to exaggerate just how tiring on the eyes this is. I had to watch the film in several parts because of the strain it put on my vision. The exact cause of this anomaly is a mystery. My colleague Rhett suggested a pulldown effect caused by forcing a 24-frames per second film to run at the 29.97 frames of second for video, which would explain it except that these “rogue frames” show up even during the shot-on-the-video special features, and even during Legend House’s computer generated logo animation. Clearly there is some sort of authoring defect with the disc as a whole.
The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono, and sounds flat, muffled and compressed, to the point where dialogue even gets difficult to understand.
Legend House has actually put together some nice special features for this release. The first is a twenty-seven minute interview with Andrew Prine, conducted by Johnny Legend. Now in his early seventies, Prine is in great spirits and describes the chaotic shooting conditions that he encountered in Barn of the Naked Dead. He reveals, amongst other details, that much of the movie was ad-libbed. Prine also discusses some of his other genre movies like Simon, King of the Witches and Centerfold Girls, as well as what he's up to today.
Johnny Legend returns in a fifty-two minute episode of something called Gore Beat (apparently Legend House produces a new episode for each horror DVD they put out), which, rather humorously opens with John Landis reading the standard FBI copyright warning aloud, and then adding “And this government says its okay to torture, so I wouldn’t fuck around if I were you!” Although it has nothing to do with Barn of the Naked Dead, the segment is quite entertaining and informative. Legend interviews Landis, Brian Yuzna, Fred Olen Ray and Ray Dennis Steckler, covering movies like Schlock, Bride of the Re-Animator and Bio-Hazard. Although it’s a bit overlong, it's never less than entertaining.
The special features are wrapped up by a short preview reel showing clips from some of Legend House's current and upcoming releases.
Barn of the Naked Dead is a bad movie that here sports a bad transfer, bad audio mix but surprisingly good supplements. As if to add to the confusion surrounding this disc, there have been rumors that this is not an authorized release, followed by the addition of the movie (under its alternate title of Terror Circus) to Code Red’s release schedule in what is claimed will be a properly licensed release struck from the original negative. With Code Red’s glacial release process I’m not going to hold my breath, but fans who are interested in this title might want to wait until more details are available.
Movie – F
Image Quality – D
Sound – D+
Supplements – B
Great review, my friend, my interest is definitely piqued. The title card is awesome, but what the hell is a cheetah doing there? If this barn has cheetahs, I'm renting this tonight.
Funny story on the title card, it very awkwardly and very abruptly pops up onto the screen, which makes me think it was taken from a separate print from the rest of the film.
No cheetahs in the barn, just nude and scantily clad women. But they all have clothes on when they die! :D
Perhaps the Naked is referring to some animal that is obliterated in the barn? One could hope.
Well, you dont have to wait too long, BCI wants us to release this by the end of the year, and here are some screen shots to show you how much difference between the "other" transfer versus ours, which was taken from the Executive Producer's camera negatives, and your screen shots also showed something interesting: they covered the legal copyright with theirs, which is a no no.
Anyway, here they are, let me know what you guys think
Hey Bill, thanks for the post of clarification. Funny that they'd cover up that copyright too, good observation. You can see even from those small caps that your transfer is sharper and with more dark level detail. As always, looking forward to your new stuff.
Excellent news guys, those screenshots look like a mammoth improvement! Send me a screener of this when it's ready and I'll give it the full review royal treatment.
I'm glad I decided to read down here because I probably would have bought this at the next DD sale regardless of image quality. I figured no one would ever release this again, but Code Red has thankfully proved me wrong once again.
Let's be fair: Code Red has weathered some distribution problems in the recent past, and only signed a new dist. with BCI at the end of last year.
Barrel Entertainment released one DVD last year, and has had NO news update on their site since 2004 (barring the release announcemnt of last year's DVD, Malpertuis). THAT'S glacial.
As entertaining as Johnny Legend can be, I doubt his schtick will get me to buy the Legend House edition of 'Barn...", especially after seeing the new caps from Code Red.
And, as usual, great review...
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