They’re there. Just when you’ve given up hope of finding shining fecal matter at the bottom of the filmic pool, one catches your eye with a title alone. And when you crack open the fetid artifact and find it filled with everything you’ve wanted and more, well, it’s cause for celebration. Welcome to Help Me…I’m Possessed, a whack-a-doodle mélange of Al Adamson, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Mad Scientist flicks, and a heaping dose of insanity. It isn’t good, but it sure is wonderful.
Premiering in October in Orlando, Florida, Help Me (AKA Nightmare at Blood Castle) was given a limited theatrical release in ’76, followed by a brief life on video as The Possessed in the ‘80s. No matter which format you didn’t see it in back then these are different times, and even an obscure oddity like this gets a fancy Blu-ray to be preserved forever. Lord help us, never mind the possessed. (Have I mentioned there is no possession in the film?)
Okay, let’s see what heady concoction the filmmakers have dreamed up for us: we start with two teenagers making out in a car; well, that’s an assumption because the screen is so dark that it’s hard to tell. Anyway, a gaggle of tentacles come flailing into view and kill the love-struck teens. Enter Sheriff Taylor (Jim Dean), who heads on over to the nearby sanitarium owned and operated by Dr. Arthur Blackwood (screenwriter Bill Greer) to ask a few questions. Not only of the doctor, but also his child-like sister Melanie (Lynne Marta – Joe Kidd), and neither are any help to the law.
This is probably for the best, as Blackwood’s sanitarium (also a castle) houses the requisite torture dungeon, complete with hunchbacked assistant Carl (Pierre Agostino – Superstition 2), wall clamps, and a guillotine. (Which I think was standard for this particular castle model.) Is the monsterus tentaculus somehow connected to Blackwood and his experiments? You bet your dime store bippy it is. Complicating things further is the arrival of Blackwood’s wife, Diane (co-writer Deedy Peters), who’s never been to the castle even though Arthur has lived there for seven years. As Diane settles in, she soon realizes that weirdness is afoot at Chez Blackwood, and joins forces with the sheriff to stomp out her husband’s chicanery. But will they be too late?
To truly embrace art, one must appreciate the low end of the spectrum as well as the high; Help Me is ambitious in its attempt to meld several sub-genres along with a message about the singularity of evil, except it falls completely short in nearly all areas. Of course, many will just outright dismiss a film like this as straight up trash; which is true, except it isn’t a cynical cash-in by a major studio looking to exploit the latest trend in terror. Help Me was made with love by filmmakers with more moxie than talent, and I’ll take that any day.
If you’re expecting cheap sets and a locale that looks eerily similar to a mini putt course on the outskirts of L.A., you’re covered. If you need (mostly) stilted performances and ridiculous wigs, you’re set. If you’re hankering for florid dialogue delivered with awkward aplomb by the screenwriter himself, sit back and check off that box. Help Me hits every endearing trait of enjoyable schlock in a very tidy 76 minutes.
It also features some decent effects too; the decapitations work fine, the whipped and flayed nurses look swell, and our Lovecraftian monster is vague yet charming. Modest in budget shouldn’t hamper the imagination, a manifesto that Bill Greer truly believes in, at least here. (He would go on to write many episodes of Charles in Charge, speaking of horror.) The idea of isolating evil in people and having it manifest physically recalls several later Cronenberg tropes, without the underlying psychological pinning he exceled in. So I certainly won’t discredit Greer in the ongoing timeline of body horror; I mean I’d rather praise him for this than the career of Scott Baio.
And this film should be praised, within the parameters it presents: an energetic capsulation of drive-in staples – scantily clad women, hunchbacks, dismemberment, flogging, outmoded gothic death traps – told with a sincere and straight face. Help Me wants you to love it, and it’s hard not to give in.
It’s always the biggest kick to stumble across a dusty gem; unearthing the deserved is one of the great joys of being a horror fan. Do yourself a favor and track down Help Me…I’m Possessed. It’s the bewigged Lovecraft mad scientist torture flick you didn’t know you needed. Until now, neither did I.
Help Me…I’m Possessed is available on DVD as The Possessed + Demon Love Child, a double feature from Code Red.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: THE CHOSEN (1977)