HUMAN EXPERIMENTS (1980) AKA - BEYOND THE GATE
D. Gregory Goodell
VHS (Supposedly Coming on DVD From Code Red - Some day)
Linda Haynes plays a country western singer who ends up running afoul in a small redneck town and gets blamed for a particularly savage multiple murder. Because of this she ends up doing a life sentence in a women's prison slash sanitarium where the warden is doing bazaar behavior modification experiments using the inmates.
After a truly gripping opening ten minutes where Haynes stumbles on the house filled with fresh dead bodies and a teen boy waiting with a shotgun that she is forced to kill in self defense, the movie slows down and changes gears. There is some really unsettling scenes when we first get into the prison establishing how far degenerated several of the clearly experimented on inmates are as well as a humiliating bit of preparation by the guards and nurses. But after that it is really dull going for a looooong stretch of time. Nothing scary happens, and nothing sleazy really happens either for a good half hour, making this neither work as a horror film or a women in prison flick. Not until a prisoner hangs themselves at the 45 minute mark and then Haynes masturbates with her own tears about ten minutes later does the movie hit any kind of peak. After about the hour mark that great low budget bugaboo the crappy performing band makes an appearance, this time no name band called SATAN AND THE LUCIFERS! I also forgot to mention the creepster opening moment when bar owner Aldo Ray tries to get her to make it with him and she refuses and he calls her a cunt. Super classy guy.
A lot does need to be said for Linda Haynes performance though as she is quite good with the limited material going for the slow burn breakdown. Geoffrey Lewis is creepy as shit as the doctor running the joint too, with lots of scenes of his eyes filling the frame as he looks through the metal slats that peek into the doors on the solitary confinement rooms or or as he talks about his entomology hobbies.
Unfortunately the movie feels endlessly padded with lots of scenes of the women eating in the mess hall, or working in the fields, or sleeping. Yes we get it, they are in prison but the movie needs to get on with the storyline , not lingering around waiting for something to happen.
Finally in the last fifteen to twenty minutes the movie takes off and begins to move along and take shape. As Haynes character attempts to escape the prison, the film turns inside out and literally becomes a vivid horror film. She begins to find bodies of other inmates who have been part of the experiments and hallucinate her worst fears. By the end we realize the full extent o the awful things the doctor is doing to his patients and with the full cooperation of the other inmates.
By no means a successful film, but there is a mean streak throughout HUMAN EXPERIMENTS that makes it fascinating, and there is certainly pieces and parts that are undeniably effective. Too bad this is a movie that is not as strong as a whole as it is in parts. If only that midsection could be tightened up this could be a really good movie. The opening is great and the last twenty minutes are solid. But the midsection is very hard to get through.
Review © Andrew Copp