The trailer for Doris Wishman's 1983 splatter cash-in A Night To Dismember makes the film look genuinely disturbing, like one of those questionable South American horror cheapies where the gore is unleavened by the niceties of plot or character, and there's an outside possibility that one or more of the impalings may not have been faked. Then the movie starts, with a complicated 10-minute narration describing a series of "murders and deaths" surrounding a family whose daughter has been in an asylum. While the narrator lays out a befuddling array of facts about "the case," Wishman cuts rapidly between footage of human butchery, lovely outdoor photography, and handheld shots of feet walking. Eventually A Night To Dismember settles into a steady rhythm: New characters show up, converse in overdubbed and asynchronous non sequiturs, creep around tacky apartments, and then meet their untimely ends to the accompaniment of disconnected pieces of stock music. Wishman made her reputation directing drive-in nudies and roughies in the '60s, and became a midnight-movie staple in the early '70s with her Chesty Morgan action pictures Double Agent 73 and Deadly Weapons, in which the heroine crushes enemies between her mammoth breasts. A Night To Dismember was completed after exploitation movies had crossed over to the mainstream, and Wishman's raw, disjointed style couldn't find a buyer. In the commentary track on the DVD, a peppy but scattered Wishman explains that she finished filming the raw material for Dismember, then cut together a trailer to raise money to finish the movie. But after a couple of her reels were stolen from the lab, she had to construct a new story from outtakes and voiceovers. Still, the results aren't especially different from a typical Wishman film. She's always tacked on dialogue after the shooting was done, and she's always relied on cutaways to feet. Wishman shares the commentary track with her cameraman Chuck Smith, and Smith's constant jocular interruptions disrupt what might have been insightful recollections about moviemaking on a shoestring, and about how much of what's happening on the screen is intentional. Between the artful nature scenes, the ugly interiors, and the kitchen-sink soundtrack, A Night To Dismember could almost be an avant-garde Guy Maddin homage to wincingly awful cinema. Instead, it's likely sheer coincidence that A Night To Dismember has become its own entity, a convoluted exercise in viewer endurance that perfectly evokes its title.
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