Originally titled Nightmare Circus and then rechristened Terror Circus, this horror flick truly deserves its final moniker, The Barn of the Naked Dead, not so much because the title accurately describes the movie’s content—it does not—but because the title captures the film’s sordid aesthetic. Taking the ’70s trope of misogynistic killers to an absurd extreme, the picture introduces a character who kidnaps women, chains them inside a barn, calls them “animals,” and trains them to perform circus tricks. Whenever one of the women gets out of line, the psycho punishes her with a whip or by leaving the woman alone with a hungry lion or a lethal snake. Even though modern history has proven that men who treat women this horribly exist in reality, it’s one thing to make a thoughtful drama about the monsters in our midst (e.g., The Boston Strangler or Helter Skelter), and it’s another thing to transform the flailing of pretty girls into drive-in entertainment. Further, it’s galling to learn that The Barn of the Naked Dead was cowritten and directed by Alan Rudolph (under a pseudonym) early in his career. After all, once he blossomed under Robert Altman’s tutelage, Rudolph made a series of offbeat indie films with strong female protagonists—atonement for participating in this project, perhaps?
Anyway, the plot is painfully simple. When three showgirls experience car trouble while crossing the desert on the way to a gig in Las Vegas, handsome stranger Andre (Andrew Prine) offers to drive them to his house, where they can use a phone to call for help. Once there, the showgirls discover a barn full of captive women, and they’re added to the prison population at gunpoint. Eventually, the lead showgirl, Simone (Manuela Thiess), gets Andre’s attention because she reminds him of his long-dead mother. This precipitates lots of dialogue scenes about Andre’s abandonment issues. However, it’s hard to take the character stuff seriously since The Barn of the Naked Dead also includes a killer mutant who is horribly scarred from radiation poisoning. Adding to the overall unpleasantness is a dissonant score by Tommy Vig, which waffles between repetitive go-go grooves and sharp atonal stings. As for leading man Prine, he doesn’t come close to elevating the material, instead offering a mundane screamy-twitchy turn in the familiar Anthony Perkins style.
The Barn of the Naked Dead: LAME