(US - 1979)
Directed by Gregory Goodell. Written by Richard Rothstein. Cast: Linda Haynes, Geoffrey Lewis, Ellen Travolta, Aldo Ray, Mercedes Shirley, Darlene Craviotto, Lurene Tuttle, Jackie Coogan, Marie O'Henry, Wesley Marie Tackitt, Caroline Davies, Cherie Franklin, Bobby Porter, James O'Connell, Teda Bracci. (R, 85 mins)
There's a welcome drive-in grunginess to HUMAN EXPERIMENTS, a forgotten women-in-prison/psychological thriller mash-up that's just been rescued from obscurity thanks to a new Blu-ray release from Scorpion. It's not surprising that it looks and feels a lot like a TV-movie, as director Gregory Goodell went on to spend the rest of his career largely on teleplay duty for movie-of-the-week offerings like the 1986 Martin Sheen alcoholism drama SHATTERED SPIRITS for ABC and the 1992 Patty Duke supernatural thriller GRAVE SECRETS: THE LEGACY OF HILLTOP DRIVE for CBS, among numerous others. An early screenwriting credit for Richard Rothstein, who went on to create the HBO anthology series THE HITCHHIKER and co-write 1992's franchise-spawning UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, HUMAN EXPERIMENTS is Goodell's only feature film to date and he took the opportunity to revel in some hard-R sleaze with some skin and some gutter talk (including 1950s Hollywood vet Aldo Ray dropping a C-bomb), and a really grim downer of a scene where the heroine masturbates after moistening her fingers with her own tears. Despite the potential, it isn't nearly as over-the-top as a lot of films with a similar setting behind bars, but it still somehow ended up on the UK's infamous Video Nasties list (to lump the comparatively tame HUMAN EXPERIMENTS in with the likes of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and FACES OF DEATH shows how absurd the whole situation was). While its fusion of genres never quite gels and the villain's master gaslighting plan doesn't make a whole lot of sense, the whole project is offbeat enough, and demonstrates a well-deployed since of bitter irony in its denouement that it ends up an interesting curio even if it's not entirely successful.
HELLHOLE. It doesn't have the merciless scenery chewing of a heroin-addicted Ray Sharkey, but it does have a committed performance by Haynes in what was her only top-billed headlining gig. She's an absolute trooper in this, especially in one horrific scene where she's locked in solitary and cockroaches, spiders, and other insects are poured directly on her through a grate in the ceiling in an attempt to get her to break and let go of "Rachel" and become what Kline wants her to be. Born in 1947, Haynes had a short run in Hollywood in the 1970s, with a handful of feature films and several TV credits. Her most notable roles were as the love interests to dour and paranoid mob flunky Jason Miller in 1975's underrated THE NICKEL RIDE and to unravelling, vengeance-obsessed Vietnam vet William Devane in 1977's ROLLING THUNDER. Haynes had a quality that was hard to pin down, one that can best be described as "the cute girl next door who hit some rough patches and had a habit for falling for the wrong men but wants to get her shit together and settle down." This made her a very natural and unaffected presence in most of her films but Hollywood simply didn't know what to do with her. According to Goodell on the Blu-ray commentary, even the producers of an exploitation grinder like HUMAN EXPERIMENTS tried to talk him out of casting Haynes because she "wasn't glamorous enough." That's precisely why she's perfect for the role of a loner musician with no family or friends disappearing down the back roads of America, barely scraping by with pick-up gigs in shitty dive bars. You don't need to know what it is to know that she's running away from something, which, for better or worse, makes HUMAN EXPERIMENTS the perfect starring vehicle for Linda Haynes. The film was in and out of American drive-ins and grindhouses in a week, but it--or more specifically, Haynes--found some acclaim in Europe, where Haynes won the Best Actress award at the 1981 Sitges Film Festival in Spain, which focuses on the fantasy and horror genres. HUMAN EXPERIMENTS ended up being her penultimate big-screen project, as she would abruptly retire from acting in 1980 at just 33 after supporting roles in the Robert Redford prison drama BRUBAKER and the Emmy-winning miniseries GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES.
|A publicity shot of Linda Haynes|
from the mid-1970s