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Elite Entertainment presents
A Night to Dismember (1983)

"Mary, Vicki's sister, didn't want Vicki at home neither."
- Detective O'Malley, Narrator (uncredited)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: November 07, 2001

Stars: Samantha Fox
Other Stars: Diane Cummins, Bill Szarka, Saul Meth, Miriam Meth
Director: Doris Wishman

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (extreme violence and gore, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:09m:00s
Release Date: October 30, 2001
UPC: 790594367428
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C+ DDC- B-

DVD Review

A Night to Dismember begins when young Vicki Kent (Samantha Fox—the porn star, not the pop star) is released from the state asylum where she was sent years ago for a violent murder. Her siblings Mary (Diane Cummins) and Billy (Bill Szarka) don't want her at home, so they attempt to frighten her into insanity so she'll be re-committed. Vicki experiences strange hallucinations, and a number of people are extravagantly murdered. But as Detective O'Malley (uncredited) investigates, he begins to wonder if Vicki is truly the culprit.

To fully appreciate A Night to Dismember, one needs to appreciate the circumstances surrounding its production. The negative was stored at Movielab, a concern that went bankrupt—in the process, half of Wishman's original footage was lost to damage inflicted by a disgruntled employee. She spent eight months reconstructing the film in heavily modified form, shooting additional footage to make something coherent out of it. It should also be noted that the film was shot on a very low budget, so low that synchronized sound recording was not possible. The soundtrack was assembled after the fact, using stock music, dubbed voices (in rare dialogue moments), and sound effects. The story is carried primarily by narration over silent footage, courtesy of Detective O'Malley, a character who doesn't interact with the story to any great degree otherwise (neither the onscreen actor nor the voice-over narrator are credited).

Thus, A Night to Dismember is a marvel of unhappy accident, restricted budget, and good old-fashioned exploitation production values. Only a few minutes of film pass before a young woman undresses for her bath and is promptly murdered by an axe-wielding killer. The sequence is only vaguely related to the rest of the movie, and is notable mostly for a two-in-one exploitation shot of a nipple protruding above the bloodied bathwater. Another character, purportedly someone's wife taking her "usual afternoon stroll in the garden", wears a blouse that is so low-cut it's almost not there—she only appears in one shot before the narration informs us she was also murdered. Vicki Kent takes time out from her burgeoning dementia to do a strip-tease for Detective O'Malley, who watches through her window with decidedly unprofessional interest, though the characters have never met each other and do not otherwise interact. Afterwards, Vicki has a psychedelic sexual dream in which she makes love to a faceless man, using many of Wishman's favorite optical tricks from the 1960s.

There is also a great deal of gore. A few impressive stabbing and impalement shots equal anything seen in Tom Savini's early work, but most of the horrific stuff is clumsily executed. Two lovers' heads are apparently so tenuously attached to their bodies that a simple bump from a knife is enough to knock them clean off; afterwards, a head seen burning in the fireplace is clearly made of white plastic. The fingers are chopped off of one poor woman's hand, though it's obvious onscreen that she has simply tucked her forefingers underneath her "stubs," which are not dressed to suggest severance of any sort. Several axe murders are laughably inept—blows which begin with great momentum in one shot end with a light tap on the victim in the next, "painting" blood onto a shirt or a neck without penetration.

There is also a good deal of entertainment value to be had by figuring out which scenes were shot originally, which were shot after the Movielab disaster, and which were drawn from earlier Wishman efforts. A Night to Dismember runs only 69 minutes, barely feature-length, and the cobbled-together, salvaged nature of the production is often evident. The first sequence in the film, supposedly involving relatives of the Kents but otherwise unrelated, concludes with the murderess dying by accidentally "falling on the axe" she used to murder her sister a few moments earlier. A thrown-in shot of Billy circling ads in a newspaper is accompanied by narration explaining that, wishing to drive his sister Vicki to insanity, he looks for ideas in the paper. A lengthy chase takes place on a two-story bit of stairwell, with the characters running up the same steps repeatedly. Other bits of footage are reused and repurposed, with the narration struggling to find a throughline for the plot; "Detective O'Malley" even has to make up a reason for his detailed knowledge of the case after the fact (it seems EVERYONE in the Kent family kept a thorough diary!).

The post-production sound editing is clumsy, with abruptly cut and often inappropriate music, and most of the male and female voices are dubbed with little regard for characterization or consistency. Vicki's poor father (played onscreen by Saul Meth) sounds different every time he opens his mouth, even using the narrator's voice at one point, and most of the lip-synch is approximate. The sound of paper being ripped up in one scene is marred by microphone thumps, and hiss and noise levels vary whenever a new sound element is introduced. Sets and props are borrowed from Wishman's home and friends with little "production design" in evidence, lighting is often amateurish, and the story as it exists in the final cut is hallucinogenic at best.

But, while everything about A Night to Dismember evidences haste and cheapness, it's still surprisingly entertaining, if only in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 manner. Doris Wishman made her way into the exploitation business at a time when female directors and writers were rare creatures, even adopting male pseudonyms for some of her early credits. She directed such 1960s' "classics" as Nude on the Moon and Bad Girls Go to Hell, and somehow her off-the-cuff style survived intact through this 1983 release, the last film she directed. Production values have risen tremendously since the 1960s, even where direct-to-video horror and nudie flicks are concerned, and this holdover from the golden days of exploitation is worth seeing for its sheer chutzpah and echoes of the past—the classic "Hypno-Wheel" effect even puts in a welcome appearance.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: D

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Elite presents A Night to Dismember in its intended theatrical framing, at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio in anamorphic format. Unfortunately, it appears that a film source was not available (not surprising given the film's production history), and the DVD has been drawn from a videotape master. The film was shot on 16mm, and Elite appears to have massaged the image to preserve as much quality as possible; there isn't a huge loss of detail, but there are abundant video artifacts including noise, smearing, and vertical rolling bands that are very distracting in darker scenes. Black level is poor, though color is better than one might expect and the film is certainly watchable in this form, but it's not able to meet Elite's usual high standards.

Image Transfer Grade: D

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The low budget nature of the production is also evident in the audio department. Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural format (ProLogic-decoded to the center channel), A Night to Dismember was shot in silent form, then given a cobbled-together soundtrack consisting of stock music, dubbed voices, and clumsily-recorded sound effects. Music cuts are abrupt and often hilariously inappropriate, dialogue is muddy (even though it's completely "looped"), and all of the audio suffers from hiss, noise, and even a few microphone "bumps." The transfer in this case represents the original film more closely than the video image does, but it's still an awkward, inept soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Doris Wishman, director of photography C. Davis Smith
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Pre-Production Promotional Trailer
Extras Review: Elite Entertainment supports A Night to Dismember with 8 picture-menu chapter stops (adequate given the film's running time) and a couple of great Doris Wishman extras.

A Promotional Trailer provides evidence of Wishman's exploitation-bred production style—she created the trailer BEFORE shooting the actual movie, using the promo to market the anticipated product to potential distributors. In this case, the 5-1/2-minute trailer focuses on a berobed host figure, who insists that audiences will be terrified by A Night to Dismember in hilariously hyperbolic fashion. Clips of gory killings, most of which appear in the final film but aren't directly tied into the story, sell the blood quotient, and leftover footage from other Wishman productions helps flesh out the proposed story. Unfortunately, the only record of the trailer that survives seems to be archived on home videotape, full of smearing, glitching and warbles (the feature looks terrific compared to this promotional piece.) But it's a lot of fun and provides some insight into Wishman's style, which somehow survived into the 1980s.

Producer-director-writer Doris Wishman also contributes an entertaining commentary track, along with her regular Director of Photography, Chuck Davis. The two worked together on some seventeen movies over the course of Wishman's career, and they often sound like a long-married couple, bickering over memories of production details and shooting locations (the interiors were shot in the homes of Wishman, Davis and friends). Wishman browbeats Davis about giving away upcoming plot points and "secret" effects details, Davis responds with jokes and friendly little digs, and the two seem to thoroughly enjoy the discussion. Wishman shares a Chesty Morgan anecdote, Chuck makes a few incongruous South Park references, and a picture of a longterm friendship born in "the business" emerges. The track isn't rich on production detail or cinematic insight, and Wishman's quintessentially New York speaking voice may grate on some ears, but this commentary is still a great addition to the DVD.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A Night to Dismember is classic Doris Wishman exploitation—inept in every way imaginable, to the point that it becomes genuinely entertaining. Elite's DVD suffers from a video-mastered transfer, though it appears to be the best element available. Not recommended in the conventional sense, but exploitation and horror fans with a sense of humor and an affection for the "old school" will definitely want to give it a spin.

 


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