The Meat Cleaver Stays Clean

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

When a movie opens with a narration by Christopher Lee speculating about the existence of disembodied spirits of natures benign and malign, you expect some sort of endearingly cheesy-yet-earnest Hammer affair, along the lines of something like The Devil Rides Out. It’s incongruous at the start of something entitled Hollywood Meat Cleaver Massacre, but this incongruity is natural since Lee’s scene was actually recorded (along with an accompanying epilogue) for an entirely different project and tacked onto this film after the fact to give it some star power, to Lee’s great annoyance.

Once we get into the movie proper we are introduced to Professor Cantrell (James Habif), a pre-eminent expert on the occult teaching at a Los Angeles university. We meet him as he is lecturing his class on a bit of folklore concerning Morak, an ancient Irish vengeance spirit, depicted as a generically Lovecraftian monstrosity in a painting depicting Morak’s summoning by a figure who doesn’t look entirely unlike the Professor. On his way home the Professor encounters one of his students, Mason (Larry Justin, who looks like a young Tom Waits who hasn’t worked out how to dress properly yet) and has a nasty altercation – despite the Professor being perfectly cordial with him, Mason acts like an unruly schoolboy instead of a college student, and his fragile little ego gets all bent out of shape with the Professor tells him off for being a douchebag.

Naturally, under circumstances in which an authority figure has told you off for behaving completely unacceptably in an educational context where there was no reason to sign onto his class if you didn’t want to, the only way honour can be satisfied is through bloody revenge. So, that evening Mason cajoles his buddies into conducting a little home invasion of the Professor’s place, which they agree to for no apparent reason. By the end of the night, Cantrell’s wife, daughter, son and dog are all dead, and Cantrell is badly brain-damaged. Left paralysed from the neck down, unable to communicate, and drifting in and out of consciousness, Cantrell does have one option open to him – he can call out with his mind to Morak, so that vengeance can be had against those who destroyed Cantrell’s family for no reason.

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