‘Prime candidates for murder!’
Three on a Meathook – aka 3 on a Meathook – is a 1972 [released 1973] American horror film written and directed by William Girdler (Abby, Day of the Animals, The Manitou). The scenario was loosely based on the real-life story of serial killer Ed Gein. It stars Charles Kissinger, James Pickett, and Sherry Steiner
Pat Patterson (director of The Body Shop aka Doctor Gore, in 1973) supplied the gory makeup effects.
A very 1970s exploitation movie obviously patterned after Psycho to the extent of lifting structural tricks (a long prologue introducing not one but four women who get killed off in one bloody night to make way for different central characters, a lengthy post-climax psychiatric explanation and a cut to the killer catatonic in a strait-jacket with a voice-over), and other gambits (a post-murder “God, what have I done?” bit from outside the house, a twist in the ending involving a mother who is here a reverse Mrs Bates: supposedly dead and buried but actually alive and eating people!) from the Hitchcock film.
Written, directed and with music by William Girdler, it is also one of those thrown-together off-Hollywood efforts that scatters its gore effects – all very H.G. Lewis (Blood Feast; The Gore Gore Girls), though there’s a neat decapitation stunt with the actress’s head pinned to a wall as the body falls away – sparingly into a film that otherwise dawdles in its hippie-inflected, counterculture way (note the secondary character’s soliloquy about a young husband’s Vietnam draft notice ‘they sent him an invitation to die in one of their wars and a month later they sent me a telegram saying he had done so’) in vaguely tedious fashion.
After the chicks, notable for their bikini pale patches in nude scenes, on a rural break stay the night at a farmhouse and get massacred, we follow sensitive hulk Billy (Charles Kissinger), who is told by his farmer Dad (James Pickett) that he’s the killer but never remembers his crimes, as he goes to the big city to forget – taking in a rerun of The Graduate – and getting blind drunk in a bar where the band American Xpress are playing. He hooks up with free ‘n’ easy bartender Sherry Steiner and they have an idyllic day of wandering together, that leads to an invitation for Sherry and her widowed friend to go to the farm.
Incredibly, Billy works out that he’s not the killer, but never seems worried about who is and whether the guests will be in danger (Dad takes a pickaxe to the blonde). After a bit of wandering around the farm, Sherry finds three new nude girls hung on meathooks in the veal pens and Dad hacking away at a leg in the kitchen, whereupon mad Mom shows up and gets the accidental chop. Then Billy gets into a suit to hear the shrink explain everything he’s been too dim to puzzle out.
Overall, Three on a Meathook is notable for its lack of urgency, with very few sudden spurts of over-in-a-flash action and horror between fuzzy aimlessness.
“Three on a Meathook banks on a seething climax, lots of tan-line nudity, and a swell twist ending. It almost works. Although the film wallows in a cold, distant regionality that cushions the dated shortcomings (merciless wah-wah pedal wanks, montage padding), it’s still restricted by technical poops.” Bleeding Skull
“It shamelessly throws up a mixture of gratuitous nudity, nasty murders and even finds time for some groovy music. The film revels in its hick psycho-boy meets hippie bar-chick romantic sub-plot before climaxing with a gore soaked twist ending.” Hysteria Lives
“Director William Girdler does a fine job with all the gory exploitation goodies. He delivers on the blood and dismemberment and shows more than a fair share of female flesh. While the film tends to drag during Billy’s courtship of the waitress, there’s enough of the red stuff to go around to make up for it.” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum
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“It’s a film with two great bookends and nearly nothing in between, filled with more padding than a shoe store and more bad music than a Waffle House jukebox. This is a case where the prototype is much less satisfying than its more accomplished contemporaries like Deranged and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Brett Gallman, Oh-the-Horror
“With really fake-looking gore effects and mostly bad acting (there are even a few instances where the screen just goes blank for no reason), Three on a Meathook has one of those great grindhouse titles that is better than the actual movie.” Cinema Knife Fight
” …displays a few redeeming qualities which would have been nice had Girdler hung onto later in the game. Such as a primitive enthusiasm … Some of the camera angles, while not “arty” in the pretentious and rather abrasive sense, show a good college try at making the most of an economically bankrupt situation, and a well-chosen cast demonstrates more talent than is generally associated with such a miniscule budget.” Dave Szurek, Temple of Schlock
“Includes the usual Girdler trademarks: splashy gore (courtesy of Pat Patterson), endless padding, and mind-numbingly bad rock music.” Brian Albright, Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews (McFarland, 2012)
“Outside the decapitation gag and a nicely-shot “discovery” moment of revelation with three corpses on the aforementioned meat-hooks, however, the film feels flat and remote, as if we’re watching the whole thing from a distance. This approach actually diminishes the sense of horror, rather than augmenting it. John Kenneth Muir, Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV
“This is an odd character study-cum-slasher mix, with perhaps slightly too much of the former. Still, the abrupt killings are efficiently done (a fun beheading, a nice quick jab stick in the bathtub) and Girdler’s low budget definitely contributes to the grisly mood.” The Terror Trap
The film was distributed theatrically in the United States in 1973 by Studio 1 Productions. It was released on VHS by Regal Video, Inc. and then via Video Treasures.