Color, 1971, 83 mins.

Directed by Guido Zurli

Starring Victor Buono, Brad Harris, Karin Field, Franca Polcelli, Carl Stearns / Music by Alessandro Alessandroni / Cinematography by Enrico Betti

Format: DVD - Image/Something Weird (MSRP $24.98)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono

Though not your traditional leading man, the rotund and compellingly odd Victor Buono had earned enough of a reputation for his grotesque turns as the mama's boy songwriter in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the patriarch in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte to ensure a long career in Hollywood as a character actor. However, he got to take the center spotlight in Lo Strangolatore di Vienna (The Strangler of Vienna), a bizarre Italian/German black comedy retitled Meat Is Meat for the English market. Sex and violence maven Harry Novak picked it up for Box Office International and changed the title to The Mad Butcher, its most famous incarnation, though the print for this widescreen DVD edition still bears the onscreen title of Meat Is Meat. By any name, it's one of the oddest Eurosleaze items you'll ever see.

After spending three years in a mental institution, Otto Lehmann (Buono) returns to his home and business accompanied by his blonde, shrewish wife (Franca Polcelli). When he's not busy spying on his sexy neighbor (Karin Field) who enjoys undressing in front of the window, Otto peddles his yummy sausages around town and tries to rebuild his reputation as one of Vienna's finest butchers. Unfortunately his temper gets the better of him when he strangles his wife, then grinds her up into sausage meat for public consumption. Mike (Brad Harris), a nosy newspaper reporter, begins to suspect that Otto might be responsible for the growing number of disappearing acquaintances, but his cries to the police fall on deaf ears. Meanwhile Otto's business begins to boom, and people just can't get enough of those plump, juicy, meaty treats.

Despite the sick subject matter and the obvious parallels to the grim tale of Sweeney Todd, The Mad Butcher contains nary a drop of a blood during its entire running time. All of the murders are restricted to strangulation, while the grinding scenes are limited to darkly humorous shots of linked sausages pouring out of Otto's machinery. Instead the film earns its R rating thanks to heavy injections of cheesecake topless nudity, thanks to Otto's voyeurism, but any genuine sexuality is used only for comic effect. Buono is actually quite good in the leading role, wearing a variety of wacko Austrian outfits and bantering with the police and customers. The tone is very similar to another contemporary European black comedy, Bluebeard (with Richard Burton), which combined skin and sick laughs with a similar candy colored visual palette. The eccentric score by spaghetti western legend Alessandro Alessandroni (credited as Alex Alexander) features a catchy Bertolt Brecht style motif; in fact, you'll half expect Otto to start singing "Mack the Knife" as he strolls his human meat cart around town.

The image quality of Something Weird's DVD is quite nice, from Novak's well preserved negative preserved in the U.S. The letterboxing adds some much needed breathing room compared to past VHS editions, while the mono sound comes through just fine. All of the dialogue has been dubbed (as it is in every version due to the multinational cast), though Buono and Harris loop their own voices. Of course, this wouldn't be an SW disc without those crazy extras, and you certainly get them here. Apart from the U.S. trailer (which contains some major spoilers), you also get a ton of other Novak trailers including the astounding Mother (which teams Buono with Julie Newmar -- how about a DVD of that one?!), Caged Virgins (the Americanized Requiem for a Vampire), Rattlers, Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, and a hidden trailer of Kiss Me Quick. Don't forget to try out that "Maim" option on the navigation menu, either. Other morsels include "Cannibal Island," a B&W mondo look at native flesheaters partially culled from silent era footage, and the more memorable "Cannibal Massage," a gritty 20 minute film (sans credits) in which a New York businessman keeps going back for nude backrubs from a burly black masseuse before relenting to a most bizarre and perversely executed fate. The last five minutes will leave most viewers, particularly the devout, numb with disbelief.

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