Perhaps you’re familiar with the concept of “Stockholm Syndrome,” in which hostages bond with their captors. I’ve discovered there’s a cinematic equivalent. If you dive deep enough into a dubious niche of movie history, circumstances may compel you to believe that your surroundings are tolerable. Commonly, this manifests as people making excuses for bad movies from favorite filmmakers. Uncommonly, this manifests as obsessive cinephiles making excuses for entire subsets of movies. Which brings us to Human Experiments, a universally derided mishmash of horror and women-in-prison elements. Had I encountered this movie at any other phase of my life, I likely would have found it cruel and exploitive. Yet because I watched Human Experiments late in the process of watching every ’70s movie, I graded the thing on a curve. So while I can plainly see that the flick is trashy and undisciplined, I can’t help but appreciate a certain kind of boldness. Writer-director Gregory Goodell commits to a grim storyline and follows that storyline into all sorts of unpleasant places. So even though the movie isn’t about anything, and even though it feels much longer than its brief running time, Human Experiments cannot be accused of meekness.
Rachel Foster (Linda Haynes) is a nightclub singer who, though circumstances too convoluted to explain here, stumbles onto a murder scene. Arrested and convicted for killings she didn’t commit, Rachel falls into the care of Warden Weber (Mercedes Shirley) and demented prison shrink Dr. Hans Kline (Geoffrey Lewis). While Weber employs merciless rules to strip away Rachel’s rebelliousness, Dr. Kline uses her for strange experiments in transforming personalities. Long story short, this leads to scenes of Rachel discovering that fellow convicts have been brainwashed, and, eventually, to grotesque sequences of Rachel trying to escape through insect-filled catacombs beneath the prison. It’s all quite distasteful, from the leering nude scene accompanying Rachel’s arrival at prison to the surprising sequence in which her attempt at private self-pleasuring is rudely interrupted. And then there’s the bit during which B-movie stalwart Lewis, giving an oddly robotic performance, taunts an experiment subject with instructions to compliantly eat her “poe-tay-toes.” Human Experiments is too dumb and linear to seem trippy, per se, but it’s also sufficiently perverse and rangy to leave familiar exploitation-flick rhythms behind.
Human Experiments: FUNKY