A Padlocked Shed, Hooks of Cold Steel — a Maniac on the Loose!
Four college gals out for a weekend trip at the lake find themselves stranded on a desolate road late at night when their car breaks down. Down-home knight in shining armor Billy Townsend (James Pickett) picks them up and offers them a place to stay the night, with assurances that they will get the vehicle fixed promptly in the morning. Back at the Townsend Homestead, Billy’s Pa (Charles Kissinger) isn’t too happy with the prospect of visitors. “You know what happens to you when you get around women!” he says, and sure enough, all of these women inevitably wind up dead.
It would be forgivable if you thought this was the plot synopsis for the entire film. In fact, it probably should be. Instead, this is merely the first 20 minutes or so—the set-up for the rest of the movie—and none of these women are the final girls that you would expect. The rest of the running time is unevenly dedicated to a blooming romance between Billy and waitress Sherry (Sherry Steiner)—which begins with Billy getting drunk and pissing himself, believe it or not—and the domestic drama between father and son, before the slasher elements return for the final act. But by then, it’s nearly too late, and we’ve already been bored to tears by the endlessly padded footage of people walking through fields and bar bands playing entire songs, and not even a full-on horror assault can completely salvage this wreck.
That’s not to say that THREE ON A MEATHOOK doesn’t have anything going for it. For one, it’s got that title—a stellar drive-in title if I’ve ever heard one. Beyond that, though, the horror elements are pretty good, and there are a few nasty surprises to be found. There’s one particular scene where a victim is beheaded that would be a true standout even in a much better film. Also the finale was a noble attempt to keep things interesting, even if it was a combination of absolute gibberish and PSYCHO babble. Actually, there are a number of “nods” to Hitchcock’s classic, but none so blatant as in the end. If someone skilled with a pair of scissors got ahold of this, they could honestly cobble together one heck of a short film.
THREE ON A MEATHOOK was written and directed by William Girdler, whose debut film ASYLUM OF SATAN had been released just the previous year. Girdler’s other “famous” films—ABBY (1974), GRIZZLY (1976), and THE MANITOU (1978)—were still to come, but this one was (loosely) based on the Ed Gein murders, same as PSYCHO and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, one of which it beat to the screen and one of which it obviously didn’t.
Most of the performers in the film didn’t go on to achieve fame, and as the closing credits don’t list character names, it’s not always known who played what part. We do, however, know the performers in the three primary roles: Leading man James Pickett only scratched together three film roles in his lifetime—all of them for William Girdler. He had some success as a poet and a playwright, though, and his play DREAM MAN was adapted into a film in 1991. He was a community activist with a focus on AIDS awareness, the disease that eventually took his life in 1994.
Charles Kissinger was a regular in Girdler’s films, but Kentuckians knew him best as the Fearmonger, shadowy host of the Louisville area Shock Theater program FRIGHT NIGHT, which aired on Friday nights from 1971-1975. Unfortunately he never appeared as the Fearmonger in any of Girdler’s movies.
Sherry Steiner (now Sherry Schwartz) went on to cofound the Fundance Film Festival at the Brunswick prep school in Greenwich, CT in 2004. Beyond that, however, I could find no definitive information.
The band that had the opportunity to use this film as a music video was named American Xpress, by the way. The band itself never got very far, but a few members continued to play music in various other groups for decades. I was only able to track down a single member, but he was willing to discuss a few of the details surrounding their involvement in the film.
According to Eben “Mikk” Mastin, who played trumpet, trombone, and sang for American Xpress, William Girdler saw the band performing at the Office Lounge in Louisville, KY and approached them about appearing in the bar scene of THREE ON A MEATHOOK. Beyond their performance there, Mastin also played harmonica for the film’s score—which is amusing, as he didn’t even know how to play the harmonica. The band had no contact with the cast, and they broke up shortly after the film’s release.
Mastin, at least, moved to Nashville to pursue his music career and performed with some successful acts, including the Marvells. Later, he quit music and took up acting, and can be seen in small roles in the 2002 film THE BADGE, and 2012’s HITTING THE CYCLE. His real bread and butter, though, is the stage, where he has appeared in over 100 theatrical productions. Among these was The Hermit of Fort Fisher alongside aspiring filmmaker Richard Davis. And now Richard Davis is casting Eben Mastin as Van Helsing in his upcoming horror movie CULT OF DRACULA.
I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for that in the near future, just on the off chance that he breaks into song.